Excavations in the area show that the Nabataeans, an ancient people that ruled the region for a few hundred years beginning before 300 B.C., lived and farmed here; more recently, Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion pushed for development of the Negev, and even spent the last 10 years of his life on a kibbutz in the desert.
Though there is still empty space aplenty, there is also ample agriculture and research into improving it, communities of Bedouins who have settled here, and more.
Experimental olive grove
There is also work on planting other crops like wheat between the trees, taking full advantage of the land and water that is available. And this has far-reaching implications: Desertification is happening all over the world, and some of the Israeli methods of halting the spread of the sand are being used in places like the Sahel, in Africa.
When I visited, I was treated to fresh olive oil from another nearby grove; these trees won't just hold off a desert, they'll yield a saleable product as well.
Mosque in Derijat
Life near the Dead Sea
The sea's water levels have been falling for decades, and they are now dropping at a rate of more than 1 meter (about 3 feet) every year, thanks to a drastically diminished Jordan River flow.
Date palms are among the only trees seen here, but even those have issues: The receding water levels are causing thousands of sinkholes to open up, and some date palm groves have been abandoned because of the danger of sinkholes forming beneath them.
In Qasr al-Sir, a village that was recognized in 2003 but that is still struggling to modernize, solar panels are a marked contrast to the old and often run-down structures on which they sit. The free electricity they generate, though, is allowing the Bedouin here to focus their limited income on other things.
Israel is also home to some stunning bird migrations; 500 million birds cross the country on their way from Europe to Africa every fall, and then head back north again in the spring.
The vines sprout from the same sand and crumbled rock that covers the region, fighting through drought and diminishing rainfall. [Harshest Environments on Earth]
Wine has made a big comeback in Israel, largely in the past two decades or so. In the Negev, drip irrigation techniques allow grapes to grow where otherwise they couldn't.
At Derech Eretz, Kish wants to start producing white wines as well as reds, a more difficult enterprise in the desert due to required lower fermentation temperatures.
Sunset over the wires
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's Sede Boqer campus sits on the edge of the canyon, and David Ben-Gurion is buried alongside his wife within steps of the canyon wall.