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Bitronot (crevasses) painting in a landscape

Bitronot Ruhama Reserve, Northern Negev Tranquility

Bitronot Ruhama Reserve, Northern Negev - Peace Upon Earth

Bitronot (crevasses) painting in a landscape

Bitronot Ruhama Nature Reserve, Northern Negev

Bitronot Ruhama – Israel’s wide, open spaces; Getting there, the north Negev; Bitronot Ruhama – Beauty that cannot be overstatedNative and invasive; Kibbutz Ruhama – settling the Negev; Glorious moon over the wilderness;

Note: please be patient if page loads slowly. There is a lot of media here. My apologies.

Bitronot Ruhama - Israel's Wide, Open Spaces

If you look at Israel’s map, you see a narrow noodle stretched north to south, with a bit of a belly in the middle. In this belly a unique nature reserve can be found where, uncharacteristically, you get a sense of space, deep peace and open country. This is Bitronot Ruhama, an area not highly familiar even to Israelis, not to mention tourists…

Calm beauty of rolling hills, wild flowers, green and yellow patches, desert trees spread among deep crevasses in the Negev loess soil.

Bitronot Ruhama -Getting There and the Northwest Negev

The best sites are those you never heard of

Like most, I haven’t heard of Bitronot Ruhama before. The reserve is located in a relatively lowly-toured part of the country.  I came to know about it from a Facebook post rich with amazing, stunning pictures. I made a quick, impromptu decision to go there.

Driving forlorn roads is a great opportunity to discover

Once Waze (the Israeli GPS system) got me out of the main roads (#1, then #3), I found myself on 3-digit 2-laner country roads, lined with fields and meadows. 

This area is the widest stretch in a narrow country, and although precipitaion is low (~200 mm annually), farmers can have wide spacious plots to grow crops like wheat and cotton.

But, behold, what are these strange tiny trees looking a lot like imitation olives?

            Jojoba Plantations, Northwest Negev              Jooba plantation. Northwest Negev

Jojoba plantations in the Northern Negev 

I stopped to check and photograph. Using the pictures of these large plantations, I could later investigate what they were. The highly recommended “Botanics for Lovers ” Facebook group provided  immediate answers. One person opted for olives, but the majority identified the bushes as Jojoba… 

Venturing on Google, I discovered that Jojoba is, indeed, a new dynamic branch of  Negev agriculture. It is produced and exported globally for the cosemtics industry. Kibbutz Hatzerim is, apparently, the largest jojoba producer in the world!!!  

Holiday driving and off the beaten track

Bee hives, Northern Negev
Somebody needs to fertilize the fields

I was 15 minutes from destination when police turned us around due to an accident. It was Passover vacation when even the religious could go travel. Roads were packed, and unskilled drivers were all over the place. This delay cost me an extra 40 minutes of going around, getting on the #4 which is one of my least favorite highways, but I eventually arrived at Bitronot Ruhama. Only, where is the reserve?

Waze is always a great help, even for out-of-the-beaten-track locations like this, yet this time it led me to an agricultural dirt road, not very friendly for my tiny Seat Ibiza.

Bedouine and the settled land 

I came to realize that Bitronot Ruhama was a large, undefined area you could reach and venture in myriad ways. 

To play it safe, I parked by the Kibbutz, right outside the gate. I read there were many car thefts and break-ins in the area, most probably by bedouines.

And, indeed, a busy Bedouin tent encampment was located right outside the Kibbutz. Three dogs were barking at me. One was held on a leash by a young guy. I could not tell for sure regarding the other two. I howled at the youth to keep their dogs restrained, but was ignored. Despite my apprehensions, I decided to take the chance,  Holding my multiple-purpose walking stick in hand.

A showcase for coexistence?

At the first fork in the dirt road, I met a Kibbutz lady walking happily, carefree and unconcerned. She told me the Bedouins never did anything improper. I took it from her and let my worries fade.

The walk was marvellous. I cut through several paths, climbed on a steep little hill, holding on to tenacious grasses to avoid slippage, then stopped for a short meditation positing myself on Mother Earth, and breathed the incredibly clean, pure air. 

Bitronot Ruhama - A Beauty That Cannot Be Overstated

The Bitronot (crevasses) frame and “paint in” the landscape, creating “abstract” designs. Watching this from a hot air baloon must be magnificent indeed.

Small crevasse shaping the scenery around it - Bitronot Ruhama  Small crevasses shaping landscape, Bitronot Ruhama

Lego pieces of land at Bitronot Ruhama, Negev  Bitronot Ruhama - beuaty of land pinated in by crevasses

There were grasses and seasonal flowers, some of which seem to have a domestic origin, and then this special magic the crevasses seem to frame around the fields and pastures.

      Wheat and daisies in the wild - Bitronot Ruhama Meadows of grasses and flowers - Bitronot Ruhama Sweet pea in the wild - Bitronot Ruhama

Native and Invasive

Throughout the Bitronot Ruhama Nature Reserve ,seasonal streams create deep creases (bitronot) as the water carves its way down the soft loess soil. In the winter, the land is covered with carpets of red anemones as well as buttercups, irises and ophryses (a type of wild orchid which mimics a bee).

Do we, humans,count as an invasive species on Planet Earth?

Strolling the beautiful hills, I came across several magnificent trees, two of which are pictured below. One is native, the other is considered invasive. Elsewhere, it can be the other way around, as I elaborate below.

And aren’t we, humans, the self-proclaimed judges of who should live and who should die – a special case of an invasive species on this planet?

Tamarisk AphyllaAbraham’s tree

Tamarisk aphylla (below) is the only “salt cedar” with a tree form. It is a native of southern Israel, both on the coastal plain and in the Negev and it is very highly adapted to dry, desert climates.

Famously, Abraham planted a Tamarisk tree (eshel) near Beer Sheba (Genesis 21: 33). The Romans used the tree in their seige of Massada. Going even further back, archeological excavations from the Upper Paleolithic period, 25,000 years ago, revealed remains of Tamarix aphylla. Then, as now, the trees were used for building and fire fuel.

The tree’s global distribution reaches over the Arabian deserts and North Africa, but it has also been transferred to other continents. 

In the American Southwest, my second homeland, other Tamarisk species, namely T. ramosissima and T. chinensis, are considered invasive and highly damaging to the local riparian systems. 

A few species of Tamarix host aphids that secrete a sweet substance.  Some identify it with the manna our forefathers ate in the desert. Bedouins prepare a tea from the leaves used to alleviate the pains of childbirth.

Acacia saligna

In contrast, the beautiful tree pictured below, Acacia saligna, is considered an invasive species in the coastal areas of Israel. This scientific article estimates its significant economic damage…

In the Negev, however, research found that the tamarisk and the acacia do not compete with each other for water. The tamarisk uses deeper ground water, and the acacia makes do with the superficial.

Kibbutz Ruhama - Settling The Negev

Kibbut Ruhama as viewd from the Bitronot
Kibbutz Ruhama, viewed from the Bitronot

With my very poor spacial abilities, I came back on a different road, and instead of landing by the parking lot, found myself on the outskirts of Kibbutz Ruhama, 450 m from the car.

Once again I was struck by the sweetness and simplicity of Kibbutz life.

These were the buildings which welcomed me as I walked on the road circumnavigating the Kibbutz:

    Kibbutz Ruhama, northest Negev Kibbutz Ruhama, northest Negev Kbbutz Ruhama simplicity

Kibbutz Ruhama – down to earth

Ruhama – a kibbutz with a nature reserve

Kibbutz Ruhama, in its very special and precious natural setup, serves as a center for local tourism and  hot-air ballooning.

This sculpture welcomed me by the parking lot:

Sculpture at entrance to Kibbutz Ruhama

A bit of history

The Western Negev became part of the State of Israel due to a clever operation nicknamed “11 Dots”. In 1946, immediately following the holiday of Yom Kippur, 11 villages were erected overnight in an effort to include the northern Negev within the borders of the nascent state. 

Ruhama was first established in 1911 with the vision to enhance agriculture in the Negev. An artesian well was dug in to provide water for the settlement. The initial settlers were expelled by the Ottomans in 1917, but the well prompted the Allied forces to select Ruhama as their headquarters for conquering the land from the Turks. 

More attempts to settle the spot were curtailed by the Arab riots of 1929 and 1936, but the Kibbutz was successfully re-established in 1944.

The original 1911 settlement is considered the first modern Jewish settlement in the Negev desert. Atar HaRishonim,  a site to commemorate it, is located just outside the Kibbutz fence. It features several buildings, the well and 100-year-old farming tools. Unfortunately, my itinerary did not permit me to visit it.  

The Way Back - Glorious Moon Over the Wilderness

It was that incredible Passover moon shining over the highway as I drove back to Jerusalem. Other drivers, too, could not resist the call to take the photograph, and several of us stopped by a deserted bus stop to eternalize the moment, a magnificent ending to a magnificent day. 

r      Moonlight over route 3, Northern Negev    Moonlight over route 3, Northern Negev

Passover moon over the Northern Negev

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Great post! I’ve never been to this area. Reading about your experience, I’m motivated to visit. Thanks true sharing!

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