Palestinian mountain gazelle

Canyon Critters

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The sun was directly overhead when we arrived at the trailhead. The asphalt was gummy.

“Bring everything you need to survive for an hour and half,” I chirped. “Maybe two hours. Hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and an extra bottle of water.”

Our crew didn’t need my reminders. On the previous day we had hiked from Nazareth to Sepphoris, an accomplishment in any season. It is a notable one at the end of June with the temperatures scraping three digits.

We entered the canyon below Nabi Shu’ayb.

We entered the canyon below Nabi Shu’ayb.

Even in this season of scarcity I hoped to spot some wildlife on the trail. Today we aimed to follow a stream that trickled through the canyon (Arab. wadi) from the plain near Nabi Shuʿayb (the traditional burial place of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses) to the moment where the canyon released its travelers on the edge of the Sea of Galilee.

The canyon is called Wadi Hamam or “Valley of the Doves.” It forms one leg of the ancient highway connecting the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea. Jesus likely walked this path in Eastern Lower Galilee.

I don’t know what wildlife encounters an ancient traveler would have had, but five kinds of critters surprised us.

The trail runs through the tangle of brush at the edge of the stream.

The trail runs through the tangle of brush at the edge of the stream.

Our first critter appeared out of nowhere. I stepped through the thicket and almost ran into a cow. It was standing in the water, blocking our path. She raised her head. Menacing horns protruded from her brow.

City-boy Mike confessed: “I said ‘Holy _____! Look at those horns. It’s a bull. We’re all gonna die.’ Later I asked for forgiveness.”

“Yah! Git!” I coaxed. The cow moseyed on, yielding the road.

A few minutes later Thunder Bobby hollered, “What’s that?” Our second critter of the day, a pudgy hyrax, looked down from his overhead perch. Like everyone else under this sun, he was slow to move. He watched us carefully with beady black eyes. Finally he barked a warning to his hyraxian homies (see our previous post on these “Wise wee folk” of the Wadi Hamam here) and crawled out of sight.

Back in 2014 I spotted this hyrax in about the same place. He may have been a grandpa to our friend today.

Back in 2014 I spotted this hyrax in about the same place. He may have been a grandpa to our friend today.

Our third critter encounter came as a result of Lightning Seth’s keen eye. High above us, he spotted the movement of a Palestinian mountain gazelle. We all watched in amazement as the gazelle (unlike the cow and hyrax) sprinted and leaped with vigor across the steep slope. By the time I finally got my camera unholstered it was already gone.

This particular species is iconic to the region. For more on its endangered status, see here.

Lightning Seth was quick. He caught the gazelle on his phone. Watch the video below.

Later, we spotted two more on the opposite side of the canyon.

Our fourth critter encounter was also on the slope above us.

I turned back to see if the group had successfully crossed the stream. Movement caught my eye. It was a wild boar. A pumba. A big pig.

And he was not running downslope into the Sea of Galilee (!) but upslope and away from it. I caught the still image. City-boy Mike caught the video that follows.

The celebration of bacon was a part of our conversation for the rest of the day.

The only thing I managed to capture was his twitching tail disappearing into the brush.

The only thing I managed to capture was his twitching tail disappearing into the brush.

Caves appeared in the ancient limestone above our head as we approached the opening of the canyon. Here was our fifth critter sighting.

At first I thought it was school children. City-boy Mike saw the bit of color as well and hollered, “Hello!” “Hello!”

A couple of goats appeared at the mouth of one of the caves.

I’ll bet there was a shepherd dozing inside.

The goats came out to have a look.

The goats came out to have a look.

During our walk in Eastern Lower Galilee, I had hoped for some animal encounters. Cows from the nearby village were a given. Maybe goats. The other critters were a pleasant surprise.

Far from being a“valley of the shadow of death,” the Wadi Hamam with its stream and thicket turned out to be a veritable “valley of life.”


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Our current group of Bible Land Explorers are from Roanoke, Virginia. They are not content to “do” the usual tourist tour, but have specifically requested special engagements like hiking portions of the Jesus Trail.

If you are interested in experiencing the land of the Bible in a fresh way, consider joining one of our future trips. Our 2020 and 2021 tour schedule may be found here.