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The unexpected beauty of the Negev offers a wonderful opportunity to
enjoy a two-day getaway. Promising a myriad of biblical archaeological
sites, hiking trails, Bedouin hospitality and even some delightful
boutique wineries, the Negev desert is the perfect place to get away
from it all and enjoy it all.
Abraham reproved Abimelech because of the well of water, which
Abimelech's servants had violently taken away. (Genesis 21:25)
…Wherefore that place was called Beer-sheba; because there they swore
both of them (Genesis 21:31)
How did Abraham achieve
greatness? As the Bible tells us, he knew where to dig wells. He could
access water, even in the desert. Drive just a few minutes east of the
modern city of Beersheba, named for the oath sworn by Abraham and
Abimelech 3,000 years ago, and you’ll see how the search for fresh water
has shaped Negev life for thousands of years. Man could only settle in
places where he could find water for himself and his flocks. Tel
Beersheba was such a place.
With remains dating back to the
Chalcolithic era, you can see how successive civilizations settled
there, where the Hebron and Beersheba Streams merge. Climb down a
200-foot-deep ancient cistern that dates back to the time of King
Hezekiah in the 8th century BCE. It’s the largest one ever found in the
Don’t miss the hewn-stone alter. Its design, in
violation of the Lord’s commandment that altars be built of undressed
stone, proved that King Hezekiah faced great challenges when he embarked
on a course of religious reforms. When visiting the remains of the
residential settlement, marvel that some of these homes were built
almost a 1,000 years before King Hezekiah ruled. This has been
designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and as you survey the
remains from the lookout tower, it’s easy to understand why.
you’re back in your car, follow the signs to Route 40 south. As you
head south, notice the impressive chalk plateaus as well as the tamarisk
trees that dot the landscape. These are just like the tamarisk trees
that Abraham planted in Beersheba when he made the oath to Abimelech
promising that he would deal honestly with him.
In less than an
hour, you will find yourself at Kibbutz Sde Boker, home to Israel’s
first prime minister, David Ben Gurion. Just past the kibbutz is the Ben
Gurion Institute. Follow the palm tree-lined access road into the
institute where you’ll find a cafeteria that offers a variety of food at
Take a moment to visit Ben Gurion’s grave. As
you near the end of the short walk from the parking area to his final
resting place, you will be overwhelmed as you look out over the
expansive breaks in the rock that form the Zin Valley. The majestic
view, striking in its stark beauty, was a constant source of inspiration
to the country’s first prime minister who worked the earth with his own
hands to make the desert bloom.
you believe grapevines grow in the Negev? See for yourself at the Sde
Boker Winery located in Kibbutz Sde Boker. Zvi Remak was born in the US
and he is delighted to introduce visitors to desert wine. He’ll be
thrilled to pour you a glass. Why not buy a bottle so that your
designated driver can enjoy a glass at the end of the day. Imagine
opening a bottle while you watch the mountains reflect the purple and
pink hews of the setting sun.
For nature lovers, a short drive
south from Sde Boker is the Ein Avdat National Park , where you’ll have
the unique opportunity of walking in a desert canyon. The path winds its
way along a spring-fed stream through magnificent chalk cliffs. Look
out and see ibex grazing as they gracefully navigate the rocky cliffs.
If you’re lucky, you may be able to see eagles nesting on the cliffs.
While there is a path that is designed for experienced hikers which
involves ascending a large set of stone steps, there is an equally
breathtaking circular route for novice hikers that is relatively flat
and can be completed in an hour. If ancient culture is what you are
after, don’t miss the striking ancient Nabatean fortress of Avdat, a
UNESCO world heritage site situated along the ancient Nabatean spice
And now for a night like no other. A trip to the Negev
would not be complete without unparalleled Bedouin hospitality. A few
minutes from Ein Avdat you’ll find Khan Chan Hashayarot offers five
Bedouin tents of various sizes to provide you with an idyllic Bedouin
experience. Whether you are traveling on your own and looking to meet
other lone travelers, or with your family, you’ll find a tent that is
perfect for you. The tents, decorated with colorful mats, are made of
goat wool and provide warmth during the cool desert nights. Step outside
the tent and view a sky blanketed with stars. Far from city lights,
you’ll be able to easily spot Orion, Ursa Major along with a host of
other stars and constellations you had only read about. If you want to
spend a night in the desert but aren’t ready for the tent experience,
Chan Hashayarot has furnished cabins as well.
After a deliciously
restful night, wake up to a full Bedouin breakfast including Bedouin
coffee served with array of homemade breads, cheese and puddings
colorfully displayed on a balcony overlooking the desert.
The Khan will arrange special camel tours and other outdoor adventures for you if you wish.
south on Route 40 to Mitzpeh Ramon, home of Israel’s largest crater, or
machtesh. This machtesh was not created from a meteor collision but
from an unusual geological process where erosion caused the collapse of
heavy limestone that covered the softer sandstone underneath. There are
only six in the world and three of them are here in Israel. As you
stand at the Machtesh Ramon Lookout you’ll have a chance to view the
length and breadth of Israel’s largest machtesh. It’s 40 km long,
between 1 and 15 km wide and over 500 meters deep. Situated on the
machtesh’s northern edge, it’s the perfect spot for viewing the various
geological features. Look out at the nearby Givat Gaash (Volcanic Hill),
a basalt-covered hill resulting from a pre-historic volcanic eruption.
Look south to the tabletop mountains of Mount Ardon and Mount Arpek.
Don’t be surprised if some ibex wander past you as you explore! The new
Ilan Ramon visitor center overlooking the crater is a must see as well.
for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, either hike down into the
machtesh itself or enjoy a jeep ride to the crater’s bottom, or get a
local private biking guide, rent bikes and ride inside the crater. The
hike is four to five hours so this is only appropriate for very
experienced hikers. Bring lots of water with you as the trail is not
shaded. If you choose the jeep option, you’ll enjoy all of the natural
beauty without breaking a sweat. Drive to the middle and see the
“carpentry” shop. These “wooden” planks are actually ancient geological
prisms. Or drive along the northern wall and see the ammonite fossils;
large snail remains that indicate that this desert was once covered by
water. But even if you decide to just enjoy the vast beauty from the
observation point, enjoying the yellow and pinks of the surrounding
sandstone mountains, you will enjoy an unforgettable morning.
some man-made fun, drive five minutes from the Machtesh Ramon Lookout
to Desert Archery World and giggle your way through a desert archery
course designed for the whole family. The rubber-tipped arrows are safe
and the various sizes of bows mean that even children as young as nine
can join in the fun. Traveling with younger children? Visit the nearby
Alpaca Farm where you and your children can hand feed the alpacas and
400 llamas. You can even try weaving in the wool house and learn about
the process of shearing the animals.
Grab fast food in the town
of Mitzpeh Ramon and head back on Route 40, past Sde Boker and turn left
a Mashavim Junction onto Route 222. You’ll arrive at Khirbet Halutza a
UNESCO World Heritage Site that was part of the ancient Nabatean Spice
Route and served as a way station for Nabatean traders traveling between
Gaza and Jordan. The Nabateans were a nomadic people who came to
Israel almost 400 years before Jesus and existed here until the 7th
century. These expert desert farmers ultimately converted to
Christianity not long after Constantine made it the official religion of
the Roman Empire and, eventually, this became the most important city
in the Negev. You can see remains of the Byzantine church basilica as
well as remains of the only known Roman style theater in the Negev.
on route 222 and then turn left onto route 232. If you’re traveling
during the winter months, look for the beautiful red anemones and purple
irises that can be found along the way. Follow signs to the town of
Talmei Yosef for the final stop on your two-day Negev getaway.
how Israel has made the desert bloom and join agronomist Uri Alon at
the Salad Farm for a tour where you’ll not only learn about desert
agriculture, you also have a chance to eat fruit right off of the vine.
From strawberries to peppers to tomatoes, you’ll learn about the latest
advances in greenhouse technology, while enjoying some of the most
mouthwatering fruits and vegetables imaginable. Savor the taste of pita
baked before your eyes and then served with fresh olive oil and hyssop
while you watch homing pigeons carry out their jobs. Then see if you
can navigate your way through a passion fruit maze. Eating your fruits
and vegetables was never this much fun!
After a few hours at the
Salad Farm, it will be time to leave your Negev getaway, but don’t
despair. As you traverse the Negev landscape, you’ll be able to enjoy
the magnificent colors as the setting sun reflects its brilliant color
off the Negev’s sandstone mountain.
If you go:
Ben Gurion’s House - www.bgh.org.il (08) 659-2120
Kibbutz Sde Boker Winery firstname.lastname@example.org -(050) 7579-212
Ein Avdat www.teva.org.il (08) 655-5684
Avdat National Park www.parks.org.il (08) 655-5684
Khan HaShayarot – www.shayarot.com (08) 653-5777
Ilan Ramon Visitor Center www.parks.org.il (08) 658-8691
Mitzpe Ramon Tourism www.parks.org.il (08) 658-8691
Desert Archery World www.desertarchery.co.il
Alpaca Farm www.alpaca.co.il
Khirbet Halutza www.parks.org.il (08) 655-5684
The Salad Path- www.salat4u.co.il (08) 998-2225
Onnie Schiffmiller is a licensed tour guide and contributes regularly to Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.