The craters ("Makhteshim") in the Israeli Negev are a unique geological phenomenon. They were not created by meteors or by volcanic activity, but by a slow erosion process of a mountain peak by water and wind. A creek drains the water at the bottom of the crater and erodes the crater rim at one end, through which it exits the crater. This is the only natural opening in the crater rim.
The crater called "The Large Makhtesh" is actually the second largest after Makhtesh Ramon. It size is 14km by 6 km, and its maximum depth is 410 meters. The creek at its base is called Nachal Khatira.
During the British Mandate period oil drills were carried out at various sites in the crater, but failed. At that time the British authorities closed the whole area to Israelis. This made hiking into the crater a risky challenge for adventure-seeking Israeli youngsters. Today the whole crater is open to the public, the rim is a nature reserve, and there are discussions about declaring the whole crater one big nature reserve.
The paved road descends into the crater along its western rim, coming from the direction of Yeroham. It crosses the crater and courses parallel to the Khatira creek, and leaves the crater at its eastern natural opening beside the creek. There are unpaved roads leading to various sites of interest inside the crater.
A road trip to the Large Makhtesh which involves a few short hikes can include Mt. Avnun (for a sweeping view of the crater from the western rim), the petrified trees (at the bottom), the "Large Fin" and "Small Fin" (short climbs to hills near the eastern rim), and the most popular of all: the Colored Sands Park near the eastern rim.
The sandstone at the bottom of the Large Crater (Makhtesh) has undegone oxidation with many different minerals, creating beautifully colored sand: chalk-white, yellow, orange, vermillion, red, purple, blue...
In a designated area in the crater you can dcrape off colored sand from the sandstone to take home as a souvenir. When visiting the Large Crater, this is the children's delight: they arrive with glass bottles and jars and with scraping spoons, and immediately set to work to fill their bottles with layers of colored sand. The result can be beautiful and unique. An astute peddler sells overpriced empty glass bottles to those who forgot to bring the with.
The adults also join in this creative activity, but there are also some eucalyptus trees which provide some shade for those who wish to rest while their children are keeping busy.
At the bottom of the crater ("The Large Makhtesh"), one of the attractions is the petrified trees.
These are the remains of ancient tree trunks, some with a diameter of 1.5 meter, which have been petrified. You can still appreciate their shape and size. The tallest trunk is 10 meters long. They date from 120 million years ago, from a period when this area was a large forest (hard to believe today, in the middle of the desert)!
Mount Avnun offers a sweeping, panoramic view of the Large Makhtesh (crater) from its western rim. It is 656 meters above sea level, and about 400 meters above the bottom of the crater.
An short unpaved road leads from route 225 up the mountain, to a parking lot near the top. From there you can walk to a natural viewing platform, and / or climb the remaining part to the top (a short and easy hike) to see the panoranic view from there. The whole crater lies beneath you, you see the serpentines of the road descending into the crater, the creek of Nachal Khatira at the bottom, Mt Matmor rising in the middle of the crater, and the colored sandstone in various places at the bottom.
Yeroham is a desert town, and a green park with a lake in its center is unusual, unexpected and very welcome. The Yeroham Park is a pine tree forest which was planted in the 1980s by the KKL (Jewish National Fund, which is responsible for forstation in Israel).
The artificial lake is a reservoir created in the Revivim creek upstream from a dam. In the beginning the water was clear enough to swim in, but over the years it has gotten murky and rather dirty. Still, we saw fishermen who had actually caught flathead mullets and tilapias.
There is a pleasant, shaded picnic area and a nice and modern playground for children.
We came here during Passover, the park was not overcrowded, but the sounds of blaring music coming from the small cafeteria disturbed the peace and quiet.
Don't get fooled by the name! While it is bigger than the Little Crater, the Big Crater is much smaller than Ramon Crater. Anyway, here you can find colourful sands and rocks. These are quite popular by the kids.
See more in the travelogue.
This closeup of the colored sands more vividly shows the crazy patchwork of colors that you can find here, they run from purple to yellow, from brown (rust) to almost pure white, the orange was my favorite.......you will see pockets dug out where people have removed sand, it looks sort of like a mad prarie dog city...
At the "Colored Sands" park in Maktesh Gadol it is legal to dig and take home some of the sand...here you can see a whole wall of powder grey that has been "sampled", these marks were caused by children digging into the wall with soft drink bottles, trying to dig out a little sand to take home as a souvenier.