Day 7: Highs and Lows

Trip Start May 19, 2009
Trip End Jun 16, 2009

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

(Day 7, Ein Gedi, Israel) Time to leave the oppressive heat of Eilat and head north, into the Negev Desert, where, believe it or not, it's cooler. We squeeze ourselves and all our stuff into our tiny rental car. Across the valley to the east, the massive mountain ridge that is Jordan rises and keeps us company while on the desolate highway, punctuated only by a bus stop here (alas, we have no room to pick up hitchhiking soldiers), a nature reserve there, a junction now and again. We take one of those and head into the center of the desert. It's hardly barren: there is rocky scrub and some trees, but it's bright and empty on the winding road. Jordan still accompanies us, though--an English-language pop/dance countdown on "Spin Jordan" radio, one of our few choices, but perfectly adequate.

Two hours later, we come out of an elevated pass to be greeted by an expansive vista of a vast valley. This is the lip of the Machtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater), one of the largest such features in the world. Again, a view that's hard to describe. Hopefully the link and pictures will do some justice to it...

We proceed across the bottom of the crater to the far side, up a road with half a dozen switchbacks to the small town of Mitzpe Ramon ("Ramon Viewpoint") and its visitor center, perched precariously on the edge of the seemingly endlessly long, incredibly high valley's edge. Lunch outside with a view that can't be beat, then a visit to the center, an educational film, an more views: one from the center's roof and one from another spot not far away, which literally hangs over the edge of the ridge. According to the displays, we can see as far as 42 km (26 miles) away. Simply stunning. I'm so glad we took the detour off the straight-shot road from Eilat to the Dead Sea.

We press on, past Sde Boqer (where Israel's George Washington, David Ben-Gurion, retired) and Dimona (most famous for having Israel's nuclear reactor--that must have been what we saw in the distance a mile from the fence along the road, where signs warned that stopping and /or photography was forbidden; luckily, we stopped to take a snapshot of the "camel crossing" sign just moments before). More desolate, twisting, winding roads and there!--another high-up view, this one of the rugged, dusky, salty hills undulating towards the Dead Sea below us, the lowest point on the face of the Earth.

Kevin wants to find a road sign that says "Sodom," since the ancient city is here, too, but "Mt. Sodom" is the best we can do. Past the big hotels and massive factories that exploit and process the mineral-rich waters, we find Kibbutz Ein Gedi perched just above the sea, our green oasis and home for two nights. It's a lush place, with botanical gardens, a pool, and a wide variety of guest houses. We take a walk among the cacti on show, have a nice dinner in the dining hall (served by young kibbutz members), and take in the view of the dry river bed (wadi) and Dead Sea below us. Another episode of Israeli "Idol" auditions and early to bed, since we plan on being up 90 mins. before sunrise to ascend Masada.
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