The Sataplia Nature Reserve

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Matrix: An art installation in the middle of the nature reserve

Kutaisi Stop Over

It was early spring last year and we were on our way back to Tbilisi from Georgia‘s port city of Batumi. The city of Kutaisi, Georgia’s second largest city, happens to be on the way and is home to some of  the UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Bagrati Cathedral, the Gelati Monastery and the Motsameta Church and I didn’t want to pass the rare chance of photographing these medieval churches so we took advantage of the remaining hours of daylight photographing these religious structures then ended the tour with a visit to Sataplia Nature Reserve.

The Sataplia Nature Reserve

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

A replica of a dinosaur skeleton on display in one of the buildings

The nature reserve is located in the mountains some six kilometres from Kutaisi.  It was established in 1935 but was closed to the public during most of the Soviet era.  The place has been undergoing major improvements and was not yet fully open to the public at the time of our visit. It was just fortunate that my Georgian colleague, Amiko, was able to pull some strings and arrange for us to be allowed into the reservation.

True enough, most of the buildings and facilities inside the nature reserve were quite new but we were promptly allowed into the place and assigned a tour guide who spoke good English.

Jurassic Footprints

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Footbridge over Footprints

Jessie T. Ponce PhotographyJessie T. Ponce PhotographyThe first building we went into was actually an enclosure that protected and preserved a curious scientific finding in the area.  Scientists from the Ilia Chavchavadze State University have discovered 100 million year old dinosaur remains in the canyon of the Abasha River.  At first, two distinct tracks, presumed to belong to a dinosaur, were discovered in the rocky soil of the canyon.  This led to the discovery of the remains of an herbivorous dinosaur then other well-preserved dinosaur remains near the village of Sataplia in the canyon of the same river in the 1960s.  Studies of these fossils led scientists to claim that three previously unknown species of dinosaurs existed in the area in the Mesolithic Period, becoming extinct around 60 million years ago.

The building itself had controlled temperatures and provided specialized lighting to view the dinosaur tracks from a boardwalk – making it quite difficult to take photos of the tracks without specialized equipment (thus these grainy photos).  Background noises of dinosaurs echoed inside the building as we proceeded across the enclosed area.

A Caucasian Forest

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Spring Bloom 1

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Spring Bloom 2

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Function Hall in the Jungle

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Dinosaur Museum

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

Main Building

We emerged from the dinosaur building into a semi-dense forest and then followed a trail towards another special feature of the reserve.  Newly-built and nicely-designed buildings – a conference/function hall and a dinosaur archive connected by dirt trails — were already built inside the forest. We were told that construction of these structures was financed by a private oil company as part of their concession with the government for the installation of pipelines across Georgia.  What I particularly liked about the architecture was the way it combined modern design with use of  wooden columns, making the buildings stand out yet nicely blend with the surrounding woods.

It was early in spring so the trees were not so green yet but moss and wild flowers have already started to bloom on the forest floor.  The guide told us that wildlife such as deer and mountain goats occasionally roam these forests. Unfortunately, we did not find any during our tour.

We continued to follow a trail which traced the sides of a mountain then ended at the entrance of a cave. We spent several minutes touring the cave (another story) then emerged once again into the forest.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

An 'Enclosure' for Footprints

An Eagle’s View

Jessie T. Ponce Photography


Jessie T. Ponce Photography

View from Below the Skywalk

We followed the trail upward to the highest point of the reserve where we found the newly-completed glass view deck, a miniature version of the Grand Canyon Skywalk .  Steel beams and railings protruded about15 metres out from the top of a cliff and over a ridge.  Cut glass and splinters still scattered near the entrance and this somehow diminished my trust on the glass flooring of the view deck.  But, after seeing the guide walk on the glass without falling through, Amiko and I gingerly followed.

The view deck provided a glorious panoramic view of Kutaisi as well as the hills and plains and the distant snow-capped mountains. We took several photos while delicately walking around the glass deck then finally headed downhill to the exit where we gave profuse thanks and said goodbye to our guide.

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

A Majestic Panorama from the Skywalk

We have used up all our bottled water by the time we completed the tour so, on our way down from the reserve, we stopped by a natural spring and took several gulps of the fresh, cold water flowing from the mountainside – a fitting tribute to Sataplia and its natural wonders.