Kaukab Abu al-Hija to Arbel (J40-42, J5-6)

A remote arm of the Jesus Trail network begins up in the hills a ways north from Nazareth, and crosses the northern ridge of the Beit Netofa Valley, exploring some terrain even more remote and bucolic than that on the Jesus Trail, before meeting up with the main trail to climb Mt. Arbel. My first impression was to be struck by how much greener it was up here than down around Nazareth, due mainly to the lack of cultivated land (these wild bushes and cypress trees were the only sign of verdance at the time).

the beginning of the hiking route 
The trail begins on a sweltering July day

Washed-out color in the photo was not intentional, but helps convey the heat I was experiencing

And the haze, likewise

this is more what most of the area looks like right now 
The valley here is just below Tel Yodfat, the site of a Masada-like siege by the Romans of some Jewish holdouts. 
Josephus was among them, and they met a less bloody end than those at Masada, allowing him to 
become an important historian

wadi (stream valley)
After passing Yodfat, the trail wound down into a wadi

entrance to some kind of cave 
Just behind the olive trees, you can see the entrance of one of the region's trademark caves. Very useful for 
cellars, tombs, and hiding if the king or the latest empire is after you

Dead dry grass gives the land its characteristic summer hue, and spiky plants seem to flourish

The massive network of rocky trails around the Galilee would be ideal for 
mountain bike exploration

The occasional fence up here marked someone's farmland; otherwise, the land in these hills is 
mostly wild

Near Khirbet Cana, cultivated olive groves began appearing


olive groves everywhere on the first day of hiking 

so much green 

the picture doesn't show it, but you could actually see nazareth's skyline (aka the plaza hotel and the mosque on top of the hill) from here, although extremely hazy
Although the picture doesn't quite reveal it, from here, I could look across the Beit Netofa valley 
and just see the hilltop of Nazareth across the way, with its skyline barely visible. I looked out over
 this valley all the time from Nazareth, from the opposite direction

this was by far the greenest part of the galilee i'd seen in summer 

Scrubland and rocks everywhere, with little shade. Today was an exceptionally cloudy day, 
for summer

beit netofa valley 
Savanna-like conditions transformed into farmland

looking down at the path i'd hiked earlier 
On top of Khirbet Cana. According to the Jesus Trail guidebook, this ruin may be a more likely site
 for the biblical Cana wedding than is Kafr Cana, the traditional site

From Khirbet Cana, the trail turned up the side of a hill. Not a huge hill, but in the heat, with a heavy 
backpack, it was more than hard enough to climb. From the top I found a wonderful view of the 
Sakhnin Valley. Beyond its collection of little villages, you can see a large ridge declining from the 
1151m peak of Mt. Meron down to the Mediterranean down to the west

the sakhnin valley, view from a mountain i climbed on the hike
After coming downward from these hills, I found a campsite just off of a fairly major highway 
(Route 65) with my tent barely concealed amid a patch of scruffy trees. I shlepped up into the 
nearby town of Eilabun to get some food and water, then returned to watch night fall over the 
Arbel valley. The nights are a cool relief from the daytime weather, though they don't last 
long enough

there were hundreds of cows in the wadi leading to mt arbel 
Once I reached the smoother upper reaches of Nahal Arbel, cow pastures and enclosures began to prevail. 
My non-stealthy campsite had also attracted the notice of a farmer I passed, who asked if it had been me 
in the tent

As the wadi walls got steeper, the cow-land receded. Here, I found a ruin of something - perhaps an
 old watchtower?

Several kilometers down the wadi, I finally came to the foot of the trail that led up Mt. Arbel. The heat was so intense that I had no desire to climb the cliffs, but the thought of the view made me push on, somehow. I reached the top and was only able to stay up there for a few minutes before I had to flee for the shade and the cold spring water that awaited below.

i still somehow had the energy to climb mt arbel after all the walking in the heat 
Up on the cliffs of Arbel, there are the remains of some sort of cliff fort or dwelling. I've heard 
various stories about people using the sides of cliffs throughout the years, but I'm not sure who
 this particular "castle" belonged to

wadi hammam, the bedouin town where i slept over last time i hiked this area 
Down below, the village of Wadi Hammam sits at the foot of Mt. Nitai, the hill whose foot you see 
at left.

this is a different hyrax than the last picture. 
The coney or hyrax, a large rodent-looking creature found all over the region. Not actually a
rodent, though; it's in a monophyletic group along with elephants and manatees!

these little guys were everywhere...i wish i had more zoom on my lens though 
They are especially profuse on Mt. Arbel, for some reason

At the foot of the cliffs is this fantastic spring. It's the only spring I drank from, at the guidebook's 
advice. As with many springs, the natural source has been tapped by a pipe to carry the water 
into a more accessible pool

i sat in here for like half an hour 
The water was incredibly cold and refreshing

the natural spring at the foot of arbel cliff. you have no idea how good this cold water felt after hiking in the heat
I sat with my feet in the pool for 30 or 45 minutes, recovering from the heat. Then I made my way 
down to the nearest bus stop and set out for Nazareth