Boasting the title of world’s largest makhtesh, Makhtesh Ramon offers hikers a series of otherworldly landscapes and interactive encounters with the region’s past. The crater itself was formed by millennia of climatic impact and erosion; but by the time the Nabataeans entered the scene, Makhtesh Ramon was well-established as a daunting geological rarity that happened to lie along the route of the civilization’s famous Spice Route.
In the southeastern stretches of the crater, hikers will discover some of the first traces left by the ancient trade route. Here, just a short distance from the Saharonim Spring, Khan Saharonim served as one of many caravanserai set up along the Nabataean Spice Route. These roadside inns provided weary travelers a place to rest, refuel, and find shelter from the bandits and marauders who sometimes attacked wealthy merchants in the empty expanses of the surrounding desert. Today, the ruins of this stronghold stand on the site chosen by traders for its proximity to the nearby spring, which served as one of the primary sources of water along the entire route.
North of Khan Saharonim lie the ruins of another such safe haven. The Makhmal Fortress, also established to accommodate traders along the Spice Route, is believed by some to mark the spot where travelers would typically ascend out of the crater to the higher ground surrounding it. There they rested before setting off on the next leg of their journey.
Although the Spice Route brought a significant number of people through the crater, other archaeological discoveries in the area remind visitors that civilization had touched the region prior to the rise of the Nabataeans. Just west of Makhtesh Ramon, a collection of deep reservoirs used to collect rainwater are generally considered to date back to the time of the biblical King Solomon. Known collectively as the Lotz Cisterns, local lore suggests that the reservoirs are a remnant of the king’s attempt to develop the area as a residential and agricultural outskirt of his kingdom.
Geological points of interest in Makhtesh Ramon and the surrounding areas are numerous. The Ammonite Wall in the crater displays a number of fossilized ammonites, the spiral-shaped predecessors of the modern nautilus. Though many of the largest such fossils have been removed for study, more moderate-sized ammonite fossils can still be found scattered throughout the crater.
Givat Ga’ash, the once-active volcanic hill in the northern stretches of the crater, points to the volcanic activity that once contributed to the shaping of the surrounding landscape. This volcanic history explains the presence of phenomena like Shen Ramon (the Ramon Tooth). This formation inside the crater was once hot magma resting underground. The magma cooled into solid rock and slowly pushed through cracks in the earth until it reached its current position – a sharp black rock formation standing out against the surrounding whiter stone of the crater.