Small & Big Makhteshs – Israel Southern Trails

Arava, Wadi Tzafit, the small Makhtesh, Wadi Khatira and the Big Crater

Duration 3 days

Distance – 65 km

Difficulty – medium

Start – Arava Crossroad

End – The Big Makhtesh, Yerukham.

Nearset towns – Be’er-Sheva, dimona,
Yerukham

Transport – bus or hitch hike

Preferred season – year long

 

Preface

the Makhtesh[1] (the Kh pronounced as a Spanish j or ge) is a unique phenomena in a global scale. Forming a perfect closed bowl (the small makhtesh ) and a bigger oblique one, these two phenomena makes for beautiful and interesting views. Going up from the Arava, the low land of the great rift valley, through Tzafit beautiful ladders-installed deep canyon and then through Khatira canyon, you get a great taste of diverse desert views, geology and, if you’re on the right time and lucky, a great bath in one of the amazing water cisterns and the wadis. Hiking in February-March makes for an outstanding experience, full of blooming flowers!

Planning

  • Towns : Access town is Be’er-Sheva.a closer but smaller town is Dimona. Trek ends in Yerukham.
  • You can also hike the alternative direction, from the big Matkhtesh down east to the Arava. this way you can reach the entry point by bus or train from Bash.You can also take a train all the way to Dimona, from TLV, Ben gurion airport, or any northern point which has a train station. Yet another confortable option is to take a bus from Jerusalem to the Arava Crossroad, where the Trek begins.
  • Getting There & Away
  1. Public Transportation: the Stating point is the meeting point of wadi Tzafit with Ha’arava Road. The Arava crossroad (צומת הערבה) can be reached by a number of busses heading to the Arava or Eilat from Be’er-Sheva or Jerusalem. From Be’er-sheva (abbreviated for Bash) are numbers :
    1. 397, which leaves around 7:30 and every round hour from 9:00 to 14:00.
    2. 393 which leaves between 7-8 am
    3. 394 which leaves on the afternoon and on 01:30
    4. And from Jerusalem: line 444 which leaves from the CBS of Jerusalem.
    5. To get back from Yerukham, where the trek ends you can catch bus number 58 that leaves approx every 30 min.All hours are due to changes through the season and should be reconfirmed at a CBS, by phone or online thourhg either : http://www.egged.co.il/Eng/ OR http://www.bus.co.il/ (the eng button is on the left)
  2. Road Map in English:
  3. Hitch-hiking : it is possible and not too hard to hitch-hike from Be’er-sheva (the best idea is to try from outside the city – e.g the interchange on the way to Dimona) to the Arava crossroad.Alternative Startif you choose hike the alternative path, from the big Matkhtesh down east to the Arava, you can take a train all the day from TLV or Ben-Gurion airport to Dimona, and then hitch-hike the last few miles to Ein Yorke’am Camping ground.
  4. Where to stay \ Eat: (כולל קישור (
    1. On the way In: it takes about 1.5 hours from Be’er-sheva to the start point, so it’s absolutely possible to stay on CS[2] at Bash. Other excellent options include the Moshvim (Hebrew plorall of Moshav, a special semi-communal setteling point) of the Northern Arava – among them Ein Tamar, Idan and Khatzeva, all muchc closer to the starting point and offering very friendly people, amazing tranquility and scenic views. You can CS at all of them, if you’ll ask in advance. Also on the way is Dimona, a not-so-small town, with a few simple restaurants, gas stations, supermarket, and some CS options as well. Just pick whatever you feel like.
    2. On the way Out : you can spend the night in Yerukham, couch-surfing (extramly lovely people) or at Midreshet Beyakhad Yerukham Youth Hostel (08-6598333, not everyone speaks English…), where basic accommodation is available.
  • Supplies
  • Supermarket : Also there’s a big Supermarket across the street from the CBS at B.S (from the CBS walk to the Train station, and go on the same direction another 100 m. )
  • ATM’s : are avaieble everywhere. In B.S, Dimona, Yerukham..
  • What to eat and how to pack in the desert
  • Water : water is of course an issue. It is best to arrived “feeled up” from Bash. in a case of emergency, water is available at the gas station at Ha’arava crossroad. Water for at least 2 days should be carried for the beginning, as water is not available on the first camping ground in Meitzad Tamar. On the other hand, the camp ground is very close to the main road from Basg to the Arava, so in a case of emergency, you can stand on the road holding an empty water bottle and wait for friendly epmatic drivers to stop and give you water.the next Water is available (only if approved by phone in advance ! contact north Arava Ranger Har’el Ben-Shekhar (at 057-7762067 ) for confirmation and information) at the east entrance (or actually draining point) of the small makhtesh (point 11) where a very friendly Bedouin guard is keeping an eye on a Mekorot (the national water infrastructure company) facility. Water can be refilled at his post. From there you must carry a 2-day water load again, all the way to Ein Yorke’am stone-water-cistern, were water can be obtained by either friendly drivers or, preferably, by hitching the 4 km along 206 road to the enternce to Oron Phosphate Plants. The last day is through the Big Makhtsh (” Hamaktesh Hagadol in Hebrew “) and ends at Yerukham, where water, food supplies, and bed, as well as ordinary transportation to B.S is easy available.
  • Relevant Phone numbers:
  1. Park Rangers : Har’el Ben-Shekhar (at 057-7762067)
  2. Field School (NPS): Khatzeva Field School 08-6581546
  3. Emergency : at a case of emergency, S&R teams are operated by the police.
  4. Cellular Covrage : Cellular Covrage is limited to mountain peaks and high grounds. These are available at least once a day
  • Camping in the desert
  • Safety rules while in the south :

The Route

  • Day 1 – from Ha’arava crossroad to Meitzad Tamar[3] 16 km

We start off from Ha’arava crossroad, where you can buy the last ice cream for the next days. Heading south along one of the marked trails you can either climb straight up the last part of Nakhal Tamar (Tamar canyon) or head south along the main road for 2.5 Km until you reach the opening of the Tzafit Canyon, where you turn west and start going up the canyon. While going up you’ll encounter a few dry waterfalls, where pre-installed ladders and roaps are found too, making the pass easy and fun. some Gevim[4] can be found, with the amount of water varying a lot according to the season and year. After 4 Km you’ll meet semi-paved road heading for the makhtesh. There aren’t many cars travelling on it. You continue with the marked trail up to the upper part of Tzafit canyon where the canyon becomes stip and narrow again, and shade is, thus, aviable. At the end of the 7 km canyon walk, you’ll reach Ein Tzafit (ein is Hebrew and Arabic for spring, and thus is Tzafit Spring). Water amount varies, like all other spring and Gevim in the desert, but in the winter it is full in many cases. Water should be filterd (e.g with a fabric) and purified before drinking. On the other hand, it’s “aמשיב חיים ” experience to bath in them. As sleeping in permitted only in marked camping ground, we turn north here, along the ____ marked trail heading for Meitzad Tamar. on the way, on the hill just across the road from the Meitzad (hill 455) there is an ancient watching tower. In Meitzad Tamar campground you’ll have cellular reception for all network. And that’s it.don’t expect a water tap cause there is none.

  • Day 2 – from Meitzad Tamar to the small Makhtesh 20 km

We start the day tracing back the last 2.5 Km of yesterday’s walk to Tzafir spring. From there we walk on, following the INT (white-blue-brown) marked trail for 3 Km to the bueatiful lookout on the Small Makhtesh (9) (Hamakhtesh Hakatan). If not too windy, the lookout is an excellent location for a breakfast or atleast a traditional cup of tea or coffee. A 500 m walk west willbring you to a nive “porch” overlooking the makhtesh, where some intimacy is avaible too.
From here the trail goes steeply down into the bowl of the makhtesh on the Khatira ancient ascent. Take out your walking poles, as the decline is sometime hard on your knees. Another 5 km walk inside the makhtesh will get you to the Mekorot facility (11) where some water and shade are avaible from the friendly beduin guard. On your way (10) you’ll encounter colorful sand, wherei it is allowed to take some sand with you (people usually bring a small 0.5 bottle and fell it with layers of different colors). From here we turn west, and walk for another 4.5 km to the base of Eli (= pestle) ascent (13). The ascent is not easy, so take a break to cooldown and load yourself with water before heading up. You’ll encounter some more colorfull sand (12) on the way here too. As you go up, the view is getting better and better till your reach the top of the ascent, which is ofcourse a good place to recover and enjoy the view (14). A small military base is located closed to the top of the ascent, where water are available in case of emergency. From here we’ll walk the last few Km to the camping ground (15) where it is allowed to camp.

  • Day 3 – from Hamakhtesh Hakatan through Khatira Canyon to Hamakhtesh Hagadol (the big Makhtesh). About 20 km

Waking up early, we head out toward Meitzad Tzafir, a bezantian outpost that guarded the important trading road that lied here.It is about 4 Km to the Meitzad Tzafir and another 3 Km to the beautiful saddle above the Yamin Canyon fall (17) here another trail joins from the north, and very deep geological fissure are found. Be carefull when you jump above them. This is a great place to have your 09:00 cup of coffee infront of the view, before you head down to the meeting point of Yamin and Khatira Canyons (18), 1.5 Km away and a some height below you. The meeting point (18) has lots of trees and shade. From here is a nice and not long way in the side Khatira Canyon until you reach the Palmakh Ascent (19) (Ma’a’le Palmakh מעלה פחמ”ח )[5]. Up we go and from here it’s just another Km to Ein Yorke’am (20), where a nice swimming cistrane is to be found, if you’re lucky and it rained enough. If it’s still early, you can continue the last part of the Trek today. Cross the road to east west side, continueing along the INT. After crossing the Railroad (carefully… J ) you enter the “ribs” of the Big Matkhtesh. As you start to head up, look at the inclination of the geological layers. From the top (22) you can enjoy some views of the Makhtesh, before leaving the INT (which goes on south), and head north with either the Green or Black marked trails. Both of them will get you to the ending point, the colorful sands Parking point. And from here you can just catch a ride west to Yerukham, where you can get whatever you need, or head back easily to Bash.

  • Starting and ending Points :
    – Start Point
    : Arava Crossroad (Tzomet Ha’arava צומת הערבה (
    – Ending Point : Colorful sands parking and from there to Yerukham (ירוחם )
  • Connection to the next Trek – the best option will be continuing to Sde Boker (שדה בוקר ) where you can start 2 – Ein Um Tzalakh Trek. The transportation can be done either by a bus from Yerukham, or by hitching.



[1] Literally, Makhtesh is the Hebrew word for a mortar, as in a mortar and a pestle. The name (which is also the scientific name used by geologists worldwide for this unique phenomena was given for the shape of the Makhtesh, like a closed bowl or mortar. For more info, see Glossary or Wikipedia.

[2] Couch Surfing

[3] Tamar ancient road outpost. Is a roman outpost, formed on an earlier Natabien site. The outpost was active between the 3-7 centuries.

[4] Gevim (גבים) are a kind of water imPermeable riverbeds (usually made of Chalk or Dolomtie) where some of the winters floods’ water are stored, forming naturally occurring pools of wonderful cold and refreshing water. Depending on the the stipness of the canyon, the amount of water that flooded, the geology and other factors, these pools sometime last all through the summer, making for wonderfull refreshments for hikers.

[5] The ascent was made by Palmakh marksman on training on a desert march on 1941 while they were trying to avoid British armed forces. The story is interesting and worth a big of reading