Tag Archives: makhtesh

Photo of the Week – Makhtesh

The Makhtesh HaKatan (Small Makhtesh) is the smallest (about 5km x 7km) of 3 makhteshim, a geological land formation in the Negev desert, known also as an erosion cirque. This photo was taken from the rim, looking down into the makhtesh.

Small MakhteshYou can click on the image for a larger view (which may take some time to load depending on your Internet connection). Please share this post with your friends by clicking on the icons at the end of this message.

The technical details – the photo was taken with a Nikon point and shoot camera in January (ISO 100, 8mm, F7.6 at 1/250 sec).

Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

Hiking the Makhtesh

Approximately 50km from the development town of Dimona named after the Biblical city of the same name mentioned in Joshua 15:21-22 are two examples of makhteshim or erosion cirques, unique to the Negev and Sinai deserts. So far geologists have only identified 7 makhteshim, Makhtesh Ramon, Makhtesh HaGadol, Makhtesh HaKatan and two even smaller ones on Har Harif in the Negev; there are two in the Sinai. One of the special things about the Makhtesh HaKatan is that because of its small size you can view it in its entirety, a 5km by 7km oval shaped bowl with steep walls of resistant rock, in this case limestone and dolomite that covered a softer layer of chalk and Nubian sandstone that comes in colors of pink, purple, yellow and green.

There are two access points into the makhtesh, Maale Hatzera on the northern wall is more gentle, an ancient camel pass and Maale Eli. We started our hike from Maale Eli a route originally discovered by local Bedouin that traverses the steep limestone (from the Cenomanian epoch 100 million years ago) walls of the makhtesh connecting the floor of the makhtesh with Hatzera Ridge. I’ve heard various reasons for the name – Eli means upper from the same root as ascend; Eli means pestle to the bowl-shaped mortar of the makhtesh. In fact, it is named after Eli Ben Zvi, son of Rahel Yanait and Yitzhak Ben Zvi who was the second president of Israel. Eli was wounded during a training exercise with the Palmach in the makhtesh in the 1940s and this ascent was discovered in evacuating him to the nearest road joining Beersheva to Maale Aqrabim, the Scorpion Ascent built by the British. Like Masada the Makhtesh HaKatan became a symbol of knowing the desert and the land of Israel by a people who had come home after 2000 years of exile.

We descended the steep walls of the makhtesh on a serpentine trail with the aid of rungs and railings, 400 meters to the floor of the makhtesh. From there we followed the red trail east (also marked as part of the Israel trail) passing hills and cliffs of colored sandstone to the mouth/exit of the makhtesh. The colors are produced by iron oxides, the sand from erosion of the Arabo-Nubian Massif carried all the way here by riverbeds. The hike is suitable for good hikers and should take about 4 hours.

By the paved road that leads to the exit is an electricity tower and piled at various levels are branches that look like the nest of some large bird – they were deposited there in 1994 and 2004 when there were torrential rains and the water reached that high.

For those looking for a long day hike you can follow the Israel trail starting at the Tamar fortress and descending into the makhtesh at Maale Hatzera. You walk south on the blue trail to the mouth of the makhtesh and when you get to the water pumping station you take the red trail west across the makhtesh climbing up at Maale Eli. Continuing another 10km to the Makhtesh HaGadol will take you past the spring of Ein Yorqeam, definitely worth a visit.

The British figured that it would be worth drilling for oil in the makhtesh, erosion has already gotten rid of the hard rock and hundreds of meters of sand. They did not find any but for the same reason it is worth drilling for water. The sand in the makhtesh acts as a large aquifer though the water is quite salty. The water is piped to a reservoir on Mount Tzafit from where it is used by industries on the Rotem Plain.

Makhtesh HaKatan

The Makhtesh HaKatan (Small Makhtesh) is the smallest (about 5km x 7km) of 3 makhteshim, a geological land formation in the Negev desert, known also as an erosion cirque. A makhtesh has steep walls of resistant rock surrounding a deep closed valley which is usually drained by a single wadi (stream bed). These walls were made of an outer layer of hard rock, limestone and dolomite, covering a softer layer of chalkstone and sandstone. Erosion washes away the softer layer and eventually the hard layer of rock collapses creating a crater-like valley. The layers of rock can still be seen in the walls of the makhtesh, the sandstone comes in many colors.

The following photos of the multicolored, textured sandstone were taken while hiking in the makhtesh, abstract paintings by the hand of God.

Negev touring and Dead Sea

Here’s a 2-day itinerary to explore and understand the desert.

Day 1 – Arad to Avdat: geology, water and Nabateans
  • Ein Yorqeam
  • Makhtesh HaGadol: colored sand, petrified trees
  • Ben Gurion’s tomb
  • Lake Yeruham, we saw 1000s of storks
  • Avdat, Nabatean/Byzantine city
  • overnight at Carmei Avdat (on cheese/wine route) on site of Nabatean farm, rock drawings, wine tasting
Day 2 – Negev to Dead Sea to Jerusalem
  • Makhtesh Ramon: HaMinsara – black prismatic rocks, Ein Saharonim – Nabatean caravanseri on the Spice route,
  • Synagogue at Ein Gedi from Roman/Byzantine period
  • St George’s monastery, perched on the cliff at Wadi Qelt