Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Israel's Desert Regions are Great Tourism Spots, Despite Summer Heat

It's mid summer, and many people would think that Israel's desert regions are the last places to visit when daytime temperatures soar to as much as 42 degrees Celsius (109 F). Actually the desert has a lot to offer, including the Negev and Arava regions, where an annual rock festival is due to take place on July 29 and 30 in Park Golda, about 20 km outside of Beer Sheva.

"Actually, the weather in many desert areas is much more comfortable than along the coast , due to much lower humidity and cooler nights" days Eran Doron, the organizer of the Moon Nights Desert Rock Festival. Besides events such as this festival, many people are attracted to the desert due to the sheer beauty and serenity of the terrain, especially at night. For star gazers, taking in the desert sky from places such as Mizpeh Ramon (where Israel's largest astronomical telescope is located) is a delight that has few equals.

"I often bring my family here, and we camp out so we can see the stars better", says David Miron, a high tech engineer who lives in a small village near Netanya. David says that he has been an amateur astronomer for years and is never bored by the fantastic views of stars and constellations from Mitzpeh Ramon. For those who don't fancy camping out, Mitzpeh Ramon has the Ramon Inn that offers guests excellent accommodations, as well as desert trekking tours by camels or jeeps. The Inn has a spacious indoor swimming pool and has tours available for guests who want to learn more about the unique ecosystems of the Mitzpeh Ramon valley; which was actually created by centuries of wind and water erosion, and not by a falling asteroid or meteor as some people believe. Information about the hotel and area touring can be had by calling 972-8-6588822.

Both the Negev and Arava contain a number of nature reserves, including the well known Hai Bar wildlife reserve near Kibbutz Yotvetah. At Hai Bar, visitors can see native Negev and Arava wildlife such as wild asses, Nubian Ibex, gazelles, and other species, including ostriches in natural surroundings. Kibbutz Yotvetah has one of Israel's largest dairies with a 550 cow dairy herd. The Kibbutz also has large mango and date plantations that are irrigated by a large underground water reservoir that is said to have much more water in it than the Sea of Galilee (Kineret). Many Negev settlements have "tapped" this water source for agriculture; and although the water is considered as too brackish to drink, it is adequate for growing many crops, including tomatoes and peppers, olives, pomegranates, and others. Those interested in learning more about the unique ecological projects being conducted in the Negev and Arava can contact the Ramat Negev Agro Research Center, www.moprn.org/, where educational tours are conducted concerning the use of underground brackish water in local agriculture.

For those who seek surface water in the desert, it can be found in pools at the Ein Avdat Canyon, located not far from Kibbutz Sde Boker, where Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, spent his last years; and is buried with his wife Paula. Evidence of human settlement, dating back to prehistoric times, has been found in the canyon, most likely due to the availability of water that is trapped there by springs and during winter rains. Sde Boker has both a nature reserve and a number of environmental and agricultural field schools, including projects dealing with solar energy.

For bicycle touring enthusiasts a number of bike trails are available along the legendary Nabatean spice routes that were in use more than 2,000 years ago. So whether you are interested in a desert rock festival, a wilderness trekking experience, or simply a night of uninterrupted star gazing, the Negev and Arava regions have much to offer. More information can be had through the Ramat Ha Negev website: www.rng.org.il

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