Mitzpe Ramon Visitors Center
of an Exhibition
by Devora Liss
Published on August 16, 2013
Visit Date: August, 2013
(An opening note: the word makhtesh is used here – describing a unique geological phenomenon found only in southern Israel and Sinai. English speakers erroneously refer to this site as the Ramon Crater. More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makhtesh).
The visitor’s center has five sections, and the transition between them is more or less timed.
The first room is dedicated to the first Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was killed aboard the Columbia. It features large photos of his flight career – with quotes about peace, bombing the Iraqi reactor in 1981, and his son’s dedication to becoming a pilot. There’s also a photo of the Columbia staff, his pilot and space jumpsuits, and a collection of his badges. A large group entered behind me, and the movie began, which showed pictures from throughout his life, talked about his career as a pilot, and mentioned the Columbia.
When the movie ended, the entire group was ushered into an elevator to the second floor hallway. There we saw another movie, this one about Ilan Ramon’s life and the Columbia.
Doors opened, and we were shown into another room, with theater-like seating, for another movie – with in-depth information about the Columbia. It included quotes from family members, video calls with his family from space, and footage of NASA when they lost touch with the shuttle. The movie ended on a positive note about the beauty of planet earth, and the curtains majestically parted, offering a breath-taking view of Makhtesh Ramon. Time for photos, the curtains closed, and we were taken to see a table with a few artifacts: flight log, piece of the Columbia, and a few other things.
Next we were ushered down a winding hallway, to learn about the makhtesh. A movie was projected onto a 3D model, summarizing eons of geological change, while interactive displays and photos demonstrated specific geological processes.
At the bottom of the hallway, we were taken into another movie, which featured the wildlife in the makhtesh, especially at night, when visitors are not allowed in. The movie focused on evidence of wildlife – tracks, food remnants, and more. The movie included excellent footage, including numerous baby animals (foxes, porcupine), rare wildlife (a tiger!), and predatory animals, including a snake catching a sand mouse. The movie was told through the perspective of researchers, who are allowed to enter at night with a special permit.
The first half of the visitor center was disappointing and confusing. I was not expecting to learn about Ilan Ramon, and it was unclear what the astronaut has in common with the makhtesh (besides the name). The sections dedicated to him were neither thematic nor chronological, resulting in a confusing and redundant experience.
The second half, on the other hand, was absolutely excellent. The 3D model was beyond impressive (I’ve included a photo of its dormant state), the interactive displays actually helped visitors experience and understand geological processes, and the photographs showed excellent examples of the precise geological phenomena – perfect for both visitors who’d hiked through the makhtesh and those who had not.
I asked two Park employees about the connection to Ilan Ramon and the makhtesh. The first didn’t know, the second explained that the astronaut had lived/trained in the area for a long time (yet his grave is up north), and that the visitors center was undergoing renovations at the same time the government decided to commemorate the astronaut. Again, not extremely clear.
If you visit Mitzpe Ramon, I do recommend a visit (adults 29 NIS, students 26 NIS), you will fall in love with rocks and learn a bit about a national hero, even if the connection between the two is somewhat tenuous.