Saturday, February 11, 2012

Green Traveler: Mitzpe Ramon, Israel

August 17-19, 2011 --  Israel's water crisis really comes into focus when traveling through the arid Negev desert. But the potential to power the nation through solar energy also becomes clearer as the sun shines down upon uninhabited, non-arable land as far as the eye can see. The Jacob Blaustein Institute of Desert Research, on the Sde Boker campus of Ben-Gurion University near Mitzpe Ramon, is a world-class research facility with world-class researchers hard at work finding solutions to water resource sustainability and tapping into solar power in Israel. The institute operates the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center, which is home to the world's largest solar dish. The director of the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center, David Faiman, believes that the Negev could be home to massive solar energy plants that could meet Israel's future energy needs.

For eco-conscious travelers, a visit to The Jacob Blaustein Institute of Desert Research and Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center should definitely be on the itinerary. However, make sure to reserve a tour ahead of time. I did not book ahead of time, and therefore was not able to walk through the facilities. The Mitzpe Ramon area offers much to do for the outdoor enthusiast. There are great hiking trails at Makhtesh Ramon (a stunning geological formation cratered out through millions of year of erosion) and Tzin Canyon next to Ben-Gurion University and the tombs of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and his wife Paula. There are also places to rent mountain bikes and explore the Negev using pedal power. Geofun Desert Cycling Center specializes in Negev bike tours. For those travelers interested in animal conservation, there are lots of Nubian ibex and other animals to observe. Although unfortunately you will probably see many people illegally feeding the ibex human food despite the many signs warning visitors that human food can injure or even kill the ibex.

And a green place to stay is the aptly named Green Backpackers Hostel, which uses rooftop solar water heaters like many buildings throughout Israel. In fact, Israel is the world leader in the use of solar energy per capita with 85 percent of the households today using solar thermal systems, estimated to save the country 2 million barrels of oil a year, the highest per capita use of solar energy in the world, according to Wikipedia.

Click here for more observations of Mitzpe Ramon and Midreshet Ben-Gurion on Josh's Travel Blog.

Here are more pictures from Mitzpe Ramon and Midreshet Ben-Gurion. Click here for the Flickr set.

Here is a panoramic video montage of Mitzpe Ramon and Makhtesh Ramon.