About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I spend countless hours running in the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, TX. I call it "going to church". I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Lost Dog Trailhead

One morning last year I was running my regular route from the Lost Dog Trailhead in West El Paso, TX when I stumbled upon some survey stakes along the trail. This land, adjacent to the Franklin Mountains State Park, is owned by the city and managed by the Public Service Board (water utilities). Some of it has been sold off for development in the past. I was concerned that the stakes indicated another development plan on my beloved trail system along the foothills of the Franklin Mountains. 

Development along the foothills of the S. Franklin Peak.
The red "box" shows the trails that would be lost.
Well, before long my suspicions were confirmed and the City of El Paso was working on a rezoning and taxation plan known as TIRZ 12 that was too complicated for my small brain to comprehend. These are the trails that I run regularly during weekdays before I go to work. Many locals also ride their mountain bikes or walk their dogs here. It’s also very popular with the residents who live in the surrounding Cimarron neighborhood.


The infamous I Love U rock!
Some locals said the development plan was a done deal and that it was too late to save the trails. However, others said, NO, there is a chance to get the city to preserve the land as open space. Anyway, the trail users and open space advocates mobilized and let the city council know how much they wanted the land to be preserved, but the council voted to develop the area anyway. 

Gopher snake (non-venemous)
Then there were online petitions that were presented to the council, but they said, no again, these e-petitions aren’t good enough you will need hard copy signatures of registered El Paso voters only. So then there were petition drives and social media campaigns and enough voters signed the petitions to get the council to allow the citizens to vote on the proposition at the next election.

My personal trainer and life coach, Taz survived a rattlesnake bite years ago
 on the Lost Dog Trail, but he is still going strong today!
Read about Taz here: Emergency on the Trail and here: Taz Update

Thankfully, El Pasoans love their Franklin Mountains and surrounding foothills because they know that spending time outdoors in nature makes humans happier, healthier and perhaps even smarter. If you doubt us, read The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. In the end, they voted overwhelmingly 89% to 11% to “preserve in its natural state, for all time...” the area known as Lost Dog Trail. The moral of this story is that, although difficult, it IS possible to fight city hall for the greater good of the community and even win sometimes.

Here's what El Paso saved. Please enjoy these photos and videos of the Lost Dog area as well as the adjacent Franklin Mountains State Park.

A few reptiles I spotted while attending my "church" one Sunday morning.







Eagle Claw (Turk's Head) cactus
Claret cup cactus
Apache plume
Ocotillo cactus
Feather dalea
Shaggy Stenandrium
Early bloomer cactus
Yucca blooms
Yucca amongst ocotillo
Shin Dagger (lechuguilla)
What happened here?
Nature is so weird!
Franklin Mountains State Park

See you on the trail




Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Grand Canyon R2R2R 2019

A barrage of rockfall startles me as I slowly plod upwards towards the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Rocks rain down crashing through the trees landing in a pile at the base of a cliff where the trail turns a switchback. Parts of the North Kaibab Trail are littered with rocks and boulders and a sign posted earlier warned: “Look and listen for falling rocks…A trail crew is currently working on the slopes…there is a high potential for rockfall. Use caution when hiking in this zone.” Well, what does that mean? Use caution? What am I supposed to do when rocks come down? I didn’t bring my hard hat.


Rocks litter the N. Kaibab Trail

Monday, March 25, 2019

Bataan Memorial Death March

KABOOM! Uh-Oh! I think I pooped my pants a little bit. Nothing like having soiled running shorts before you’ve even completed the first mile of your marathon. Just kidding, but those starting canons at the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, NM were loud. Really loud!. Surprise!

Heading through the misters
Every year I show up before dark, along with thousands of other marchers, to honor the survivors and remember the fallen of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines during WWII. There are always some survivors in attendance as well as members of congress and other dignitaries. This was my eighth year braving the cold, wind, heat, sand and hills of the 26.2 mile course. No matter how much we suffer though, we can never fathom the horrors that these WWII heroes endured. This event, the largest joint military/civilian athletic competition, ensures that the survivors know how much we appreciate their sacrifices. At the time of their march and detainment, POWs thought they were completely abandoned as the following poem attests, 

We're the Battling Bastards of Bataan,
No Mama, No Papa, No Uncle Sam,
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces,
And nobody gives a damn!


—Frank Hewlett


Sunday, March 10, 2019

Old Pueblo 50 Miler

Some parts of Arizona received record snowfall recently including the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson where I’m about to embark on another epic running adventure. The Old Pueblo 50 Miler is one of the oldest ultramarathons in the US and has been on my bucket list for quite a few years. They offer distances of 25, 50 and, new this year, a 75 mile race. Several days ago runners received an email from the race director that read,

“Mother Nature sometimes likes to enhance our adventures. We have been receiving a lot of rain and snow in the high country…that means the high possibility of flooded stream crossings from snow melt…PLEASE BE PREPARED FOR ANYTHING. Plan on getting more than just your shoes wet.”

Santa Rita Mountains, Coronado Nat. Forest

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Lone Star Hundred 100K

Why didn’t I bring my trekking poles? They were sitting right there in plain sight with all the useless running gear when I left this morning. But I thought to myself, no the 100K course doesn’t go on Schaeffer Shuffle, you won’t need them. Well, I could sure use them now as I traverse an oversized Lego block strewn slope up to the spine of the Franklin Mountains while bursts of unrelenting wind sting my face. My ankles twist and roll as I try to keep my balance on the shifting jagged rocks of the scree field that leads to the big cottonwood tree by the spring in the Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso, TX.


Oversized Lego blocks. (Minimalist shoes NOT recommended)
I really have nothing to complain about though. I just passed a friend who is running the Franklins 200 miler that started on Wednesday of this week and has been going for more than three days already. I think about the fact that I’m only on my first 32.5 mile loop of the Lone Star Hundred 100K so I just suck it up and focus on making it to the tree. Very high log steps are placed willy-nilly on this trail that leads to the spring. Boulders and large roots augment the steep stairs but I still have to use my hands in a few places to climb up. Did I mention trekking poles would be handy here? 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is a gem in the Desert Southwest near Las Cruces, NM. I ran several sections of the Sierra Vista Trail here recently and have explored many of the other trails in the past. Links to my other adventures in the monument are listed below.


The national monument encompasses about 500,000 acres and includes the beautiful Organ Mountains and the Potrillo Volcano Field. The Sierra Vista Trail runs along the base of the Organs affording tremendous views of the mountain chain.The entire trail is around 30 miles long and the Sierra Vista Trail Runs are held every year in March.They offer many distances including a 100K and several relay races so there is a race for everyone.


I picked a nice sunny day and ran the trail from the Pena Blanca Parking area off of I-10. 

Directions: Exit the Mesquite, NM ramp from I-10 and head East on B059. Soon you will be on a dirt road. At mile 3.25 the road takes a sharp left, but you will continue straight until you see a large gravel parking lot on your left at about mile 4.5. (There are also several easier to reach trailheads off Soledad Canyon Rd and Dripping Springs Rd in Las Cruces, NM; in Vado, NM and Anthony’s Gap, NM404, near El Paso, TX.)

Monday, January 14, 2019

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Bandera Texas is the Cowboy Capital of the World (yes, the world!) and the future home of Amy’s Sweet Ass Honey Co. More on that later, but for now I’d like to tell you what happened at the Bandera 100K this year. Heavy rain caused the rangers at the Hill Country S.N.A. to cancel the race. Tejas Trails moved the event several hours away to Camp Eagle, but by this time I was already in Central Texas with Cara and Maddie visiting family. Also, we had plans to stay with our friends who live in Bandera, TX so we kept to our original plans and had a good time vacationing in Austin, San Antonio and Bandera. 

Texas Hill Country outside of San Antonio
Our friend Amy and her husband Michael live several miles from the state park in Bandera and frequently ride their horses on the trails there. Amy told me that the park has a new superintendent who is very particular about the trails and that park staff and volunteers spent many hours restoring eroded and rutted trails after recent floods. In addition, they had a serious gully washer the week of the race so the Bandera Trail Run was a no go.

Maddie, Cara and Amy (L to R)
Eisenhower Park, San Antonio, TX
The day after the heavy rain we stopped in San Antonio ("San Antone" if you are Texan) and I was able to run the trails in Eisenhower Park. I’ll tell you about the trails in just a bit, but wanted to first let you know that this is home of the Alamo City Ultra that Trail Racing Over Texas put on last year. There are about six miles of different trails and the Alamo City Ultra used a 5K loop that was repeated 10 times for their 50K. The park is just on the outskirts of San Antonio where the Texas Hill Country starts. The area is mostly made of karst formations which are defined as “landscape underlain by limestone that has been eroded by dissolution producing ridges, towers, fissures, sinkholes and other characteristic landforms.” In other words, it’s some gnarly ass terrain to run on.

Gnarly stairs
Big roots
San Antonio is very protective of their water quality because all the surface runoff from rain pours through the porous karst formations into the Edwards Aquifer which supplies the city’s drinking water. Eisenhower park is in the recharge zone so they request that you pick up all your dog’s poo lest it run into the aquifer. Gulp! In addition, cities like San Antonio and Austin purchase tracts of land, that are off limits to people, to protect their precious water source.



I picked a great day to run in the park; the weather was warm and sunny. I started out on the Hill View Trail going counter clockwise. It was pretty smooth with a slight incline at first and then gave way to some bumpy limestone outcrops. Pretty soon I hit a steep section of stairs that were shored up with some cedar timbers to control erosion. Roots and loose rocks fill the steps making for some treacherous footing. I continued to climb and then reached a section of smooth protruding limestone; some very porous in spots. I was mostly under a cover of juniper (mountain cedar) which dominates the Hill Country. Prickly pear cacti and sotol, a succulent with thin, waxy, serrated leaves, line the trails.

Sotol

Once at the top of the escarpment, I passed by a fence; the perimeter of Camp Bullis, a training base for the Army. Throughout my run I could hear machine gun fire in the distance. Soon I started down another trail with high steps of wet smooth rock which made them quite slick. My foot slipped out from under me a few times, but I finally made it back down. Then I turned onto a paved path for a short distance and ran to a wooden tower that affords great views of the Alamo City skyline and the Texas Hill Country with upscale houses interspersed along the rolling hills.


San Antone skyline
After taking in the sights, I took off and continued along the main trail. When I arrived back at the parking lot I decided to go around again, but explored a few of the inner trails crossing a few picturesque bridges and a field with several bat houses. I was impressed with the trails in the park and knocked out almost 7 miles. While Eisenhower isn’t a large park, there are a variety of trails from easy paved paths to steep treacherous technical trails. 


Field with bat houses
The following day, I woke up early and ran to Helotes, TX which is also on the outskirts of San Antonio. I lived near here for five years where I trained for some marathons and a few ultras. I rarely run paved roads anymore, but wanted to run one of my old haunts, the Scenic Loop through Grey Forest. The best place to start is at the John T. Floore Country Store, a historical landmark, where a sign boasts “Willie Nelson Every Sat. Nite”. In fact, Willie performed here frequently in the early days of his career and still returns occasionally. I actually had the opportunity to hear him play at Floore’s when I lived here. 

Floore's
Helotes Creek
Anyway, I ran through the little town of Helotes and then crossed Bandera Hwy 16 where I picked up the Scenic Loop. This is a very popular road for cyclists and there is just enough gravel shoulder to safely run along the side of the road, but be careful. You will cross Helotes creek several times and also run along the meandering stream where there are nice views. I passed many beautiful stone homes under ancient towering oaks and one historical mansion, the Marnoch Homestead. 

Helotes Creek frequently floods and erodes the limestone
Marnoch Homestead
Eventually I reached the city of Grey Forest (“A Scenic Playground”) home of the Grey Moss Inn, a restaurant that was established in1929. The picturesque homes in this area are reminiscent of a miniature Christmas cottage village sitting under Spanish moss draped trees. The best part of the scenic road though, is a train passenger car and caboose that have been recently restored. I’ve always been a train buff since my model railroading days as a young lad so I stopped to admire them before I turned around to head back to Helotes. 

Scenic Loop


Following my run, the fam and I drove to our friends’ house in Bandera Texas where we visited and got to know their horses, dogs and cats. They live on a 15 acre spread where trails lead from their house to the equestrian trails in the state park that we usually run on during the Bandera Trail Run. Bandera proper is a small Texas town with western wear shops, a general store, restaurants and plenty of cowboys roaming about. We had breakfast in the O.S.T. (Old Spanish Trail) restaurant that features a John Wayne room and where you can literally saddle up to the bar; the barstools are actually horse saddles. 

O.S.T. Restaurant

While visiting Amy’s ranch, I took a particular liking to her donkey, Queso who, in true Texas style, came included in the purchase of her house and land several years ago. (Leave it to me to befriend an ass.) Amy eventually plans to raise bees and start a local all natural honey company so she can lead Queso drawing a wooden cart through the streets of Bandera to peddle her honey. So the next time you run the Bandera Trail Run or happen to be in the Cowboy Capital of the World keep an eye out for Queso and Amy’s Sweet Ass Honey.

My buddy, Queso
See you on the trail.