Go with the flow

This month's rain may have filled the streams; navigating Sataf's streams, getting wet is unavoidable.

almond tree 88 (photo credit: )
almond tree 88
(photo credit: )
The Sataf nature reserve, overlooking the ravine of Nahal Sorek, stars in this hike in the Jerusalem Hills, a short distance from the city. The walk also includes a lesser-known trail on the other side of the stream-bed, ending in Moshav Even Sapir. On the way, sites and scenery combine to tell a story of the hills: ancient agricultural cultivation. This three- to four-hour hike presents a bit of a challenge, but it is suitable for those with experience in nature walks.
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At Sataf, the Jewish National Fund has developed a large hillside project with various trails and points of interest. This hike centers on one trail: the green. But since it overlaps with a section of the Israel Trail, two markings show the trail: the green, of course, and the national orange, blue and white. Flyers and information are available at the Sataf visitors' center. All trails begin 20 meters from the center - go down a few steps and in two minutes you will come to a T-junction. Our green trail is to the left. (The blue to the right is another Sataf walk, circular.) Descent is the name of the game, as our direction is Nahal Sorek, the most prominent of the streams flowing west from the Jerusalem Hills toward the sea. At another juncture you will bid the red trail good-bye and stick to the green. Look left to the deep ravine; on the opposite side is Even Sapir and the monastery of St. John of the Desert (to which we'll refer later). Ahead to your side are the remains of the Arab village of Sataf, abandoned in 1948. A Jewish settlement named Bikura was briefly here after the War of Independence, after which it served as a training ground for paratrooper Unit 101. When the JNF undertook the project years later, it cleaned up and secured these remains to ensure safety. You will reach the heart of the Sataf reserve, where the marking briefly becomes yellow. Follow signs to the left to Bikura Spring, below the ruins. Even if you don't, you can't get lost here because of the layout: the remains, along with Sataf Spring, are higher; Bikura Spring is lower. It is actually a good idea to cover both. Afterward, the green trail clearly resumes with steps descending to Nahal Sorek. Bikura Spring is an outstanding example of a key component in the Judean Hills' cultivation for thousands of years: an intricate irrigation system drawing on layered springs, a geological phenomenon. Water naturally seeps through porous rock layers such as limestone and dolomite, only to get stuck on an opaque, non-permeating layer of clay. The water seeks an outlet, and so a spring is born. Our ancestors realized that output can be substantially enhanced by carving out an underground cave at this point to ease the flow. From the cave a tunnel is dug in the rock, and the water flows into a large plastered pool outside, which acts like a reservoir. Now irrigation can be controlled and directed through a network of channels to cultivated plots all around. With flashlights (a must) and an adventurous spirit you can see this system at Bikura Spring. The tunnel isn't hard to negotiate. Continue and look left at the large terraced patches being worked today. You will come to a junction and to the right is a worthwhile detour, a little higher to the other layered spring, Sataf Spring. To the left the green trail resumes and becomes a bit harder on the knees. A series of steps (less than 10 minutes) leads down to the stream-bed and the nearby Sorek parking lot, off road No. 386. This, incidentally, can also serve as a termination point. Due to the unusual rainfall in early April this year, there may actually be water in the stream! Don't be afraid to get your boots and socks wet. It's a temporary discomfort that is preferable to losing your balance in acrobatics. Now turn left on a tarred side-road, a continuation of both the marked green and national Israel trails. You are walking by the stream-bed, no longer part of the Sataf (you can see the huge Hadassah complex and Har Ora with antennas, highest point in Jerusalem). After about 15 minutes, you come to a widened section of the road with clearly marked trail signs directing you to the right. For two minutes it's a wide tarred path, but it quickly turns into a narrow, intriguing trail amid tall pine trees and rich Mediterranean vegetation. You continue up the green trail along a small stream called Nahal Youssuf. A word of caution again: you may have to get your feet wet! On the way you go through a round underpass beneath road No. 386 (Ein Kerem-Bar-Giora). You soon come to a tall stone wall that looks like a dam. But this construction, said to date back to Byzantine times, was designed to prevent the erosion of fertile soil rather than block water. By this device, the farmers in antiquity sought to enlarge the cultivated surface of the valley at this point. When you circumvent the wall a fine view of terraced hills is revealed, a landscape that has always joined man-made endeavors with the hilly topography to produce a variety of fruits and vegetables. Nowadays the chicken coops of Even Sapir are located above the terraces. The trail ends at Handak Spring, also an ancient layered spring - actually two in a single complex. The area isn't as clean as in the well-tended Sataf. From the spring, trail marks take you up to the road leading to the moshav, to the right. Option: Those interested may continue to the Franciscan monastery of St. John (the Baptist) of the Desert, by Even Sapir. Perhaps the Scripture, referring to John, meant a desert of mountains. Clinging to the mountainside, this church with a grotto and a small, renovated chapel has its roots in the Byzantine era. The peaceful site affords a view of the Sataf. It is a good 15-minute walk from the end the trail, or a short drive. Keep to the lowest road. How to get there: Sataf is a one-minute drive from Har Eitan junction traffic circle, roads 395 and 396. The Sorek parking and picnic area is off Road 386 (orange sign Hebrew and English, "Sataf"). To get to Even Sapir - go down past the Hadassah traffic circle. After a one-minute drive, a sign points left to side road "Even Sapir." After three minutes, enter the moshav gate and proceed right on the main road to the other end (signs Almora restaurant). The road goes down to the right and then turns sharply to the left. Park there. The end of the Green trail is a couple of minutes' walk from this turn on a poorly maintained section.