Springs Valley Trail
Don't hike this trail. At least, don't through-hike it. It's not meant for that; it has some nice little sections meant for day-hiking, but most of it goes through incredibly boring agricultural land and has nothing to attract a hiker. I set out to hike all of its 120km, simply because it was there, and was probably the first (and hopefully the last) to do so.
When I got a copy of the 2010 edition of SPNI map #3 (the Lower Galilee), I saw it and thought it looked great - it was a continuous orange line, just like the Jesus Trail (which also shares trail marking designation with it, an orange stripe between white stripes), and it went through some areas of the Galilee where I'd never been before. "Hey," I thought, "the Trails Committee know their stuff. I bet they set up a real nice hike down there." Well, only one way to find out, right?
So, armed with Dave's 50mm lens on my camera and my new hammock and tarp setup in preparation for possible early-winter rain, I started up Mt. Gilboa to do a day's worth of hiking before reaching the official trailhead. It was early December, time for the rain to begin in a typical year, so I brought the tarp even though summer was essentially still going on - full-on heat and everything.
Mt. Moreh seen from the south, on the western ascent of Mt. Gilboa
A variation in vegetation
...and then back to the JNF pines
These plaques commemorate various donors who have given the JNF money to help it make
historical Palestine look more like Europe
The shade is much appreciated, though
The top of Mt. Gilboa is a rolling range of hills, but the sides are steep and inhospitable
Looking down the steep slope
Massive fish ponds in the Jezreel valley
The side of the mountain
Mt. Gilboa in all its majesty
Just hiking along and oh, hey, it's Palestine! The Green Line runs right along the top of the Gilboa ridge
and the trail comes right up to the separation barrier
The fence is visible here - the pale straight line running between the two groves of trees is the road along it.
Up in this region, the barrier follows the Green Line pretty closely. Elsewhere, it blatantly swerves into the
West Bank in order to include some very large chunks of it. I'm pretty sure the Israeli regimes' game plan
all along has been to absorb as much West Bank land as they can, not so that they can keep a bigger chunk
of it when a two-state solution is implemented (since they know as well as anyone that that will never
happen), but so that they can eventually pass a law annexing it and then pronounce themselves done
with the peace process - even though the parts they'll take will leave the West Bank gutted. I'd be willing
to bet money on this happening within, at most, the next 10 years, probably sooner
On the borderline
Pastoral scene across the barbed-wire
The town of Faqua. My cross-cultural group stole 3 of those red signs off a fence near Beit Sahour;
I have one in my room now
The second night, after crossing most of Mt. Gilboa, I headed up to the orthodox kibbutz Merav for some supplies and water. Then I made my way down to the nearest woodsy-looking area and hung my hammock in spitting distance of the West Bank fence. I could hear the call to prayer and kids playing from the town just across the way - it was very surreal that this barrier existed.
Grasslands on the slopes of Mt. Gilboa
I'm now officially on the Springs Valley Trail - greeted by a gaping hole torn in the mountain for quarrying
The wadi I emerged from
Down in the valley, the scenery changed
Man-made oases here always feature well-manicured eucalyptus trees. These were my favorite tree
for a time - they grow huge and make me feel like I'm in Australia. However, they're an invasive
species here. They're great at absorbing water, so they were introduced to help dry up swamps,
but they ended up growing in other places and sucking up more water than they should. Still,
they make nice ornamental trees as long as you maintain them, and produce dense,
wildlife-friendly forests if you don't
Much more photogenic than most feral cats
The huge tel at Beit She'an. This city contains ruins from biblical times (up on top of the tel) and one of the
biggest Roman ruins in Israel, along with Caesarea
After passing Beit She'an, I began a long ascent of a ridge above the Jordan Valley, in the burning heat. My
destination for the night was Belvoir National Park, where I hoped I'd be able to get some snacks to
supplement my remaining food
I glimpsed the Sea of Galilee from up here, but just barely - the haze made it hard to see
I reached Belvoir after a punishing slog. It's a crusader castle in ruins - unique among castles in that
it was destroyed by humans rather than an earthquake. Once the Muslims took this castle from the
crusaders, they demolished it to prevent the crusaders using it again. The castle is built of dark basalt
and its deep moat is well-preserved - it looks very impressive. At this park, I bought a year-long park pass,
which I would have done at the beginning of my trip if I'd been smart. About a dozen park visits
and it pays for itself
At Belvoir, I was horrified to find there was not even a snack shop. But while I was sitting on the ridge
watching the sunlight on the hills of Jordan, some people who'd been grilling offered me a plate full of steak.
It was probably the most delicious thing I've ever tasted. They also gave me a container of strawberries
which I had for breakfast. People can be awesome
"Belvoir," French for "Beautiful View"
After Belvoir, I headed down into Nahal Issachar, one of two large wadis (the other is Tavor) that the
trail crosses. They both drain down into the Jordan, and contain a unique savanna-like environment.
They're very remote, so gazelles and wild boars are present in large numbers. Large, fairly isolated corridors
of land like this help connect and preserve natural habitats. I only saw about five gazelles and one boar -
but boars are scary, so I was OK with that
A very different feel than anywhere else in the Middle East
After climbing down into and up out of the two wadis and suffering plenty, I began climbing a long, uphill
section of the Israel Trail and suffering more. The terrain was really monotonous and the heat was killing
me. I ended with this view of the Sea of Galilee, though. The following spring when I hiked the same section,
I didn't find it anywhere near as difficult, and it was much more attractive in spring green instead of
From the ridge top, the trail split from the INT to head down toward the moshav Menahemiya. On
the way was a very poorly-planned trail segment. There were several places where I had to jump
down six feet or more from a cliff to a rock below, and in one case (the most egregious, shown here)
there was so way at all to do so with my pack on. I had no option but to drop my pack down, hope
nothing got damaged, and then jump down. I almost dropped it down with my camera in it before
remembering to take it out. I don't know what they were thinking routing a trail through here
I ended that night at Menahemiya, where I was able to do some grocery shopping. I got the essentials and some fresh fruit, but in my journal I wrote, "the mini market had no peanut butter, which actually made me feel like someone told me my puppy just died." I hung around chatting with the people hanging out by the town store and one of them invited me to crash for the night. He ran some kind of horse-based business at the moshav while his family lived down on the coast, and he fed me a typically Israeli meal involving schnitzel and some vegetables. He also seemed to be under the impression, somehow, that I was hiking down to Jerusalem through the West Bank, and warned me that this might not be the best idea.
That night, it rained - the first rain of the season, other than a brief, freak downpour in October. The weather remained hot for the rest of my hike, though. But almost as soon as I was done, and headed to Jerusalem to do some day-tripping around the West Bank, winter set in within the course of a day. One day it was hot and sunny, the next day cold and rainy, and although late, it was a good, wet winter. The past few years' rainfall had been below average and the normal drought condition was exacerbated (notably, the level of the Sea of Galilee was sinking), but this year started to get things back on track.
The morning after leaving Menahemiya, it was still drizzling. I walked out past the moshav's agricultural fields and the truckloads of Thai migrants working in them and then reached the Jordan river. Most of the river is lined by agricultural land, but a small section is preserved for neature walks. In early December, it was teeming with migrating birds, and I got to see them even closer than I had in the Hula Valley. I've never been really big on birds or birding, but seeing these exotic species from other continents was really impressive.
Typical view in the northern Jordan Valley - the mouth of Nahal Tavor
I don't know when or why these tracks were abandoned
The entirety of the 8-month summer, I learned to love clouds and the respite they provided from the sun
The Jordan Valley is 200m below sea level at the Sea of Galilee, and lower the further south you go, so the
foliage is very different than the hill country, and date palms are plentiful. They do grow in Nazareth
and even Jerusalem, but it's not quite their natural habitat
That night I ended up at Yardena, a moshav where, mysteriously, everyone looked Arab. I was walking around looking for a campsite after dark when a carload of teenagers who'd spotted me before scooped me up and delivered me to one of their houses, where the family fed me and asked me as many questions as possible with almost no mutual language. I'm certain they thought I was a crazy person for hiking in that area, and given my experience on this trail, I don't really have a leg to stand on in disputing that.
I also saw on the TV news that a huge forest fire had been ravaging Mt. Carmel. Apparently this was huge news, and I'd been totally oblivious to it while backpacking - this feature of long-distance travel being both a blessing and a curse. I also got a chance to check my email and Facebook, which I'd been going without for some time.
I then learned that this moshav was inhabited by Iraqi Jews, which explained the way everyone looked. In the morning I headed out at dawn, little knowing that I'd now seen everything worth seeing on the Springs Valley Trail. Even if I'd known this, though, I think I would have stubbornly continued to hike, determined to finish the trail now that I'd started it. I think there's a German saying about something like this - "Those who don't want to listen, must learn by feeling," or words to that effect. Oh well! Let this be my testimony to the world - don't through-hike this trail.
I didn't take any more pictures on the trail because nothing else was worth photographing. I
saw a few more cool things, like an abandoned military base, but everything else was mind-numbing
agricultural land or else horrible-smelling, sewage-filled streams like this (Nahal Harod)
I came pretty close to actually finishing the trail, but ten or twelve kilometers outside of Beit She'an, the trail markings began to get impossible to follow, and I decided to call it quits, as I should have several days earlier. I headed back to Nazareth, then to Jerusalem for a much more enjoyable week of sightseeing in Palestine, Shabbat dinners, and a chance to stay at Maoz's new Abraham Hostel.