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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Coloured Sand©

As one travels down the steep, snaking road intoMachtesh Ramon, Eretz Yisrael’s (and the world’s) largest “erosion cirque” (steephead valley or box canyon), the scenery changes sides frequently. At first to your left and then to your right, then left, the mighty, panoramic, heart-shaped machtesh lies spread out before you. This winding Route 40, which plunges down from the town of Mitzpeh Ramon into the crater, is actually called Maale Atzma’ut (Independence Ascent) and was paved in 1953 in order to connect to Eilat.

On your other side, the stone walls of the crater show layers of various coloured rocks, from dark red and pistachio green to orange and strong mustard-orange, and every shade in-between. The variety of colours of the different rocks is a unique geological phenomenon of the vicinity. The rocks are of granite, basalt, flint and sandstone and create a multi-coloured view. The minerals inthe rocks are the source of this diversity of shades. In other words, iron shows up as a reddish hue, while copper causes the green colour, sulphur is the source of the yellow, and manganese and cobalt form the black-coloured rocks.

Some facts and figures: Machtesh Ramon is 40 km long by 2-10 km wide. The crater is 500 meters deep; its rim is 1,000 meters above sea level, while the floor of the crater is at an altitude of 525 meters. It is a geological standout in Israel’s Negev desert. Located at the peak of Mount Negev. Mitzpeh Ramon (Ramon Observation Point), the small town located on the northern edge of the crater, is the only Jewish settlement in the area and is found some 85 km south of the city of Be’er Sheva.

 Founded in the 1950s as a military outpost, it then became a halfway-point station for local miners and road workers. Mitzpeh Ramon has a population of around 5,500, with about 12 to 14 shuls. Its mayor is Flora Shoshan (sister of former Israeli defense minister Amir Peretz). Her husband, Sami Shoshan, was the previous mayor.

An awesome (in the literal sense of the word) view of the machtesh can be seen from a promenade at the edge of the town. The walkway starts at what is called the Mirpeset and reaches an observation spot called Har Gamal (Camel Hill) about 1,000 feet above the crater floor. It earned this name because from a distance, this high little hill looks like a camel in the middle of the desert.

During the autumn, winter and spring the weather is relatively mild and Machtesh Ramon is a wonderful place to visit. Due to its height, Mitzpeh Ramon sees some snow in the winter. The vast region has many geological attractions. The ColoredSand Park can provide you, the children, and grandchildren a good half a day of great fun, as long as it is not too hot. In any event, bring a lot of water (no less than 3 litres per person for a trip that lasts half a day, is the recommended amount), head coverings, and sunscreen.

For years, tourists would dig out colourful sand — fun for them but damaging to the delicate natural balance of the machtesh. In order to prevent such destruction and yet enable the enjoyment of sand collecting, the Nature and Parks Authority allocated an area where all the colours would be concentrated—making a spectacular, colourful array — and tourists may take the sand from this spot.

Piles of all the possible sandstone colors were gathered from various spots in the crater, and brought here for tourists to collect for souvenirs or art projects. There are at least six or seven shades of pink, and also gray, green, orange, and numerous yellow shades of sand to be collected. Plent of space is here for the children to run around nonstop and still remain within sight of their parents, but most likely the kids will be enthralled with gathering the variety of sand from the mounds surrounded by rocks. One can bring many little plastic bags in order to collect the sand and take it back home, thereby keeping the colours separate.

It is not worthwhile to create layered bottles with different coloured sand at the park, because the sand needs to settle a few days without moving. One can take the sand home and prepare the bottles there.

Instructions to make rainbow-colored, sand-filled bottles with a sandy desert landscape in them:

Use see-through plastic or glass bottles. Carefully put into the bottle each layer of different sand until the very top of the bottle. Move the bottle extremely gently to place it in a spot where will not be moved for a few days. The sand has settled when a space is seen at the top of the bottle. Fill this space with more sand and seal the bottle.

The colourful-sands site is located on the south side of Route 40 (from Mitzpeh Ramon to Eilat).

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