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'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

McKittrick Canyon (Guadalupe Mountains National Park)

Fall colors are not something you expect to see while living in the desert, but Cara and I were able to take a short day trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX for a saunter through McKittrick Canyon. This trail is very popular in the fall because of the many bigtooth maple trees that show their colors in late October and early November. We arrived early on a Sunday morning to beat the crowds and the weather turned out to be beautiful.

I’ve visited the Guads on several other occasions and experienced near hurricane force winds and freezing cold in the winter and thunderstorms and stifling heat in the summer. The mountains are rugged and boast the highest point in Texas —Guadalupe Peak at 8,751’.

Read my posts: The Top of Texas and Bush Mountain

Texas Madrone Tree

The McKittrick Canyon Trail is a mostly flat gravel path that is suitable for young children or ultramarathoners who’ve been too unhealthy to run much lately —aka me. This was the perfect adventure to pull me out of my funk since I hadn’t been outside much lately. When we first started the hike, I couldn’t image there would be any colorful foliage because we were surrounded by succulents, cacti, scrubby bushes and brown dead grass. We passed a few alligator juniper trees; so called for their bark that resembles the skin of an alligator.

Berries on a Texas madrone
The most amazing trees, though, were the Texas Madrone. These are easy to identify because of their pinkish orange smooth bark that peels away from the trunk. In the fall they sport bright red berries that supply food for birds. In addition, Native Americans and the Tarahumara of Northern Mexico made many uses from madrone trees. 

Alex Shoumatoff in Legends of the American Desert writes, “[Tarahumara] eat their red berries, treat kidney ailments with their bark and flowers, and make balls for the [rarájipari] game from their wood.” Rarájipari is the Rarámuri running game that most of us know from the book Born to Run

Watch the Rarájipari game:

Indeed we passed many madrone trees that were full of berries and I had to stop at every one to take pictures. The towering cliffs and mountains added to the beauty, but we still hadn’t seen a single maple tree. We continued on through a dry wash with travertine terraced rocks on one side. We also passed a few gnarled and twisted dead trees along the way and crossed the creek bed once again; this time with a shallow trickle of water.

Finally a few orange and red trees appeared and then became more abundant as we made our way deeper into the canyon. The trail continues for a long way eventually connecting to the Tejas and Blue Ridge trails in the interior of the park. This would be a good trail to run one way from the McKittrick visitor center to the Pine Springs trailhead, a distance of 18 miles, provided you had a shuttle. 

We came to the creek again and this time had to hop on small rocks to keep from getting our feet wet. Eventually a short side trail took us to an old homestead. Wallace Pratt, a geologist working for Humble Oil, built a cabin in the canyon as a summer retreat for his family and their guests. This is an amazing structure built mostly of stone including the roof! The grounds are peaceful and shady making a perfect spot to rest and enjoy a snack on a hot day. Volunteers open the cabin so you can go inside to enjoy the wooden rafters, beams and furnishings. 
Pratt Cabin

This was the end of the line for us, but the trail continues on to a grotto in another mile and then to the Notch, a steep climb with many narrow switchbacks. A trip to the Notch and back would be around 10 miles. We rested at the Pratt Cabin for a short while and then moseyed back to our car for a total of five miles. On the way out, Cara spotted a herd of collared peccaries (Javelinas).

The hike was well worth it and gave us a taste of fall especially since we had been experiencing many days above 80 degrees. It’s difficult to see fall colors when living in the desert, but McKittrick Canyon makes it possible. The best time to go is a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Don’t forget to fill up with gas because there are no facilities in the area unless you continue on to Whites City, NM near Carlsbad Caverns. On the way home I learned that my Honda Fit can travel at least 30 miles with the gas light on. 

See you on the trail. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Franklin Mountains Trail Runs 2017

This past weekend I volunteered at the Franklin Mountains Trail Runs, a weekend long trail fest in Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso, TX. The Franklins are a rugged gem in the far corner of West Texas where everything bites, stings or otherwise, kicks you in the ass. I was a bit disappointed this year because I haven’t been able to run due to some health issues I’m dealing with right now. In years past, I have manned the Mundy’s Gap aid station, the highest in Texas, but knew It wouldn’t be safe for me to hike up there at this time. I hope to recover quickly and get back to running, but only time will tell how I progress. In the mean time, I’m taking short walks and enjoying time outside with my dogs. 

Spectators waiting for their runners to finish the 50K.
Mike finishing the King/Queen of the Mountain

Monday, October 2, 2017

Running the Forgotten Reach of the Rio Grande

The Forgotten Reach of the Rio Grande, from Ft Quitman, TX to Presidio, is usually dry as a bone year round. Even when water is released from reservoirs upstream, the water is mostly depleted due to irrigation before reaching the Forgotten Reach. The last several years have been different though. Part of this stretch of river near Ft Quitman has actually been flooding. I set out on a rainy morning to explore the Texas-Mexico border to see what I would find.

The ghost town of Banderas, Mexico
Downstream from Fort Quitman (20 miles south of Sierra Blanca), and before it reaches the village of Porvenir… the river enters into what has become known as the Forgotten Reach. At this point, choked with constantly advancing tamarisk trees [salt cedar], it loses force and direction as it multiplies into numerous small streams. It emerges, almost sucked dry, upstream from Candelaria, as a gentle, small stream, ankle-deep as it widens or jumpable at the narrow sections.   —Jim Glendinning, Big Bend Now

America in the foreground. Mexico in the background.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Taking a Step Back

I’ve taken a step back from my long distance training and am focusing on recovery and getting faster at shorter distances. All of my ultras were slower than in previous years and I was beginning to think I was overtraining or burning out (which may be the case). A few things came to light this summer though. Recent blood work showed that my vitamin D level was low while I was also experiencing low energy levels. I finally discovered, after several wheezing episodes, that I am also having food sensitivity or allergy issues which means I have to rework my race nutrition strategy. I will spare you all the boring details, but I’m confident that after some readjustments, I’ll be back in the saddle training for some future ultra trail races

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

North Franklin Peak via the S. Ridge

No Hike for Old Men. I first read this article in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine when I first moved to this region years ago. While I'm not exactly an old man (almost), I became alarmed after reading it, but equally intrigued.  The article chronicles a traverse of the Franklin Mountains ridgeline here in El Paso, TX. Some of my running buddies also want to hike the entire ridge sometime this Fall so I have been out exploring some routes in the Franklin Mountains State Park.

Mammoth Rock and S. Franklin Peak
Trans Mountain Hwy below the ridge.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Yellowstone National Park

Before my last race, the Bighorn 100, my family spent a week in Yellowstone National Park. I didn't run very much since I was tapering and resting before the race, but we walked the boardwalk trails and watched wildlife. The geologic features are absolutely amazing in this place, our nation's first national park. The weather was cold with some rain and even snow while we were there, but we didn't let that put a damper on our fun. As always, whether I'm running or not, I take a lot of pictures so I wanted to share some of my favorite photos of God's Country.

(Click photos to enlarge)
Brown-headed cowbirds follow bison because they stir up bug when they graze.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bighorn 100 Mile Trail Run

After a grand week in Yellowstone National Park with my family, I find myself sitting nervously on a wooden bridge overlooking the Tongue River in Dayton, WY. Last week, we experienced cold, rain and even snow in the park and today’s forecast is calling for rain showers.

Pre-race selfie
Cara and Maddie in the Bighorn Mts.