Waking up at 4:30 a.m.: not usually at the top of our list while traveling. (Stumbling home then? Well, when in Tel Aviv, check and check.) But when it's to take a 2-hour off-road tour of the floor of the Ramon Crater and greet the sun as it slides over the Jordanian Mountains, we can make exceptions.
Manned by Adam Sela from Challenging Experience, our Land Rover kicked up dirt and rocks as it careened through the desert hills, past scrambling ibex, gazelles, quails, and a loafing wild horse -- the awesomely named Syrian Wild Ass. Along the way he explained the phenomenally alive, if dead looking, eco-system of the Negev Desert, just which scorpions are the deadliest, and why this crater isn't a crater at all but a makhtesh, the largest of only seven such geological phenomenon in the world. Better than a coffee, we finished off with an adrenaline kick, lending our lives to ropes as we rappelled over the rim.
Little-touristed, the area has turned out to be a highlight on a route that usually ends with a float in the Dead Sea or sweat up the hilltop fortress ruins of Masada. The year-old stunningly designed Beresheet Hotel may have put Mitspe Ramon on the five-star map, but the desert itself easily tops six.