Talmudic scholars say that Negev means "dry," and Old Testament experts claim it means "south." Both are correct -- in literal terms. A vast wilderness of almost 10,360 sq. km (4,000 sq. miles), this desert is Israel's future -- for population expansion, for chemical industries, and for farming. In fact, studies show that one-fifth of the desert can be used for some form of agriculture.

This region is a constantly varying landscape of red, black, and yellow, accented by valleys, deep craters, and burnt-brown mountains. Craggy limestone walls, mounds of sandstone, and red and green dunes of sand are everywhere strewn with great blocks of black volcanic silex. Saw-toothed mountain ridges, abruptly hollowed out by the wild gorges left from the Great Middle Eastern Earthquake, starkly point back to the day when these mountains just fell down and this desert opened its granite jaws to everything living on top of it. In this petrified desert world, temperatures can range from 125°F (52°C) during the day to 40°F (4°C) in a winter dawn.

There are two possible routes into the Negev. The faster route is Hwy. 90, along from Sodom to Eilat. Or you can go to Beersheva and take the older and slower but more interesting route through the heart of the Negev to the Port of Eilat on the Red Sea. If you choose the latter, there are several major points of interest along this bleak but fascinating road. If you're driving, stop the car at some uninhabited spot and listen to the almost frightening stillness. Equally mysterious are the secondary roads -- cryptic paths winding their way into the flatlands and beyond the dunes, toward agricultural collectives. The Port of Eilat on the Red Sea is at the end of either route. Be sure to bring extra water, both for yourself and your car.