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."

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
Well, this should make for an interesting day indeed. At least it is supposed to warm up later and the forecast isn't calling for rain. About 125 of us start out in the dark on the 25 mile loop from Kentucky Camp, a former gold mining area. At first, the course takes us along a rutted forest road where I stare at the oval of light from my headlamp so I don't trip. In a few miles the cloudy sky begins to lighten a bit with an orange ribbon of glow highlighting the mountainous horizon. I turn off my light and tuck it into my pack. I’ll most likely need it again this evening unless I’m fast enough to beat the sun.


This part of the course is on the Arizona Trail, an 800 mile route that starts on the Mexico border and travels north, through the Grand Canyon, terminating on the Utah border. Soon we transition onto a grassy single track trail. In fact, this entire area of the Coronado National Forest is mostly a high desert grassland important to livestock grazing. Succulents such as sotol, yucca and bear grass grow on the slopes and trees in the forest include juniper, mesquite and oaks.


I run along the undulating hills for a while and then, at mile four, begin a steep climb focusing solely on making it to the aid station near the top which is another five miles. To think about running 50 miles in one day is too much to fathom so I will concentrate on running from aid station to aid station. Most of them are about 5-6 miles apart, but this first one is just over nine. 


There were a lot of blowdowns along the course
The course turns left off of the Arizona Trail making a horseshoe. I power hike and reach a pond and marshy area where large broken oak limbs from the snow storm are strewn about the trail. Must have been a violent storm to damage such majestic and mighty trees! In several places the course has been rerouted cross country around downed trees and flooded areas. Views of snowy Mt Wrightson and the Santa Rita mountain range are spectacular. Soon I am near the top where exists an array of communications towers and other ironmongery marring the view. Far in the distance, on the desert floor near Tucson, is a blue green lake; a mountain range rising up behind it. 



I make it into the aid station where helpful volunteers fill my water bottles. I grab a handful of the largest and most perfect looking blueberries I have ever seen. They appear to have been GMOed, grown near a nuclear plant, or something unknown but I don’t care. They are delicious and also magical giving me the extra energy I need to slog the rest of the way up this mountain.


I take off and hike along a rocky incline with a narrow ribbon of pathway hugging the precipitous slope. There are several snow patches where I’m very careful not to lose my traction. A fall here would mean a quick glissade to the bottom of the mountain unless you happen to go nuts first into a tree trunk. Neither scenario sounds fun to me so I’m extra cautious. I make it past the snow, but the trail is very rocky and tricky in places. I run down and arrive at a trail junction where crags awash in yellow green lichen tower above me.



I make it to the half way point of loop number one and my feet are still dry. I start to wonder if the water crossing warning was overblown. Pretty soon though, I come to a stream, but there is a log placed across it so I do my best balancing act and stroll right over with no problem. Pretty soon I reach another creek and there is just a narrow log placed across which makes for a trickier passage, but I manage just fine. The third water crossing however, is more like a wide western trout stream and I have no choice but to wade through the freezing runoff of snowmelt. In a few minutes I make it to the Cave Creek aid station with sopping cold feet. I take a quick food break and fill my water bottles. 


The dirt road that leaves the aid station is mostly runnable, so I try to make up some time. My goal is to finish loop one at a four mph pace so I frequently consult my gps watch to see how I’m doing. This motivates me to run sections that I might otherwise be tempted to walk. I see two ladies ahead of me and speed up to try to pass them. All of a sudden one lady eats the dirt. She sits on the road while I catch up to ask, “Are you alright, I have a first aid kit if you need it.” She jokes, “No I’m OK, I just tripped on nothing.” “It happens,” I say and wish her well. 
Mt Wrightson (9456')
The vistas of the snowy mountain range are tremendous here and Mt Wrightson, an almost perfect pyramid shaped peak, looms in front of me. Gray jagged rock outcrops protrude through the white slopes reminding me of my time spent hut hopping in the Alps years ago. The weather is warm now with occasional chilly gusts. It’s not long though, that I reach another water crossing and don’t hesitate to wade right through.The water is flowing fast, but is only about shin deep. 


Soon I cross another stream and another and another. I finally realize that the road I’m running follows Cave Creek and crosses back and forth numerous times. For sure I’m going to have wet feet all day because once I return to Kentucky Camp at mile 25 I have to do this loop again in reverse. I run for a stretch and then the trail turns into a shallow creek with flooding all around. I following the flagging through the stream and then come to a waterfall where a mini torrent of water is creating rapids through a rocky little gorge.

Is she levitating?
I decide to charge my gps watch so I can leave my power bank in my drop bag at the start/finish area. I run along for a time fiddling with my electronic gadgets because the connection to the watch is a bit finicky. I reach another wide swollen stream, but I don’t see any flagging. There’s usually ribbons on either side of the water crossing to mark the route. I decide to wade through and go a little farther. No course markings anywhere in sight. I must have missed a turn. Bonus miles are the last thing you want when running a 50 miler. I remember from studying the map that the AZ trail turns, paralleling the road. I specifically told myself to be careful and not miss the turn. Well, I turn around and backtrack almost a half mile and discover my mistake. Large fallen tree limbs are blocking the trailhead, but pink flagging is clearly marking the way. In addition, there is plenty of blue “wrong way” flagging on the route I took. I simply was not paying attention due to fiddling with my watch.


Anyway, the AZ trail is beautiful here. I reach a swift stream flowing across a water smoothed rock outcrop. I step in, where the water roils through rock gardens creating rapids while mini waterfalls churn the water into a froth as it makes it’s way through the channel. Once across there are interpretational signs describing the mining history of this area. Placer mines require a great deal of water to extract gold so a three mile stretch of water pipe was installed to bring in water from a reservoir. The project cost around $200,000 in the early 20th century only to produce several thousand dollars worth of gold. Instead, perhaps the miners should have run the Old Pueblo Trail Run for an equal amount of misery at a fraction of the cost. 


I run for a while and reach the last water crossing of the first loop. This one is a bit deep with rapid flowing water so someone has been kind enough to rig up a climbing rope for runners to hang onto while fording the river. I continue running over hill and grassy dale interspersed with gray boulders. At last I finish loop number one in about 6:40 averaging four mph. Volunteers bring my drop bag where I grab some apple slices and boiled potatoes. I put on sunscreen, thank the volunteers and take off as quickly as possible. I try not to dawdle in aid stations because I always want to be putting miles behind me.



The wind has picked up and the sky is quite gloomy with strange saucer type cloud formations hovering above the hills. Just for fun, I decide to count all the stream crossings on my way back around the course. I’m pretty tired by this point and struggle on the constant up and down grind. Several times my toes become numb after crossing the cold water. I don’t  have any blisters, but having wet feet is causing sharp pain in my toes. I soldier on trying my hardest to not think about the discomfort. Sometimes it subsides only to return again later; mostly when I’m running downhill. 



I grow lost in my thoughts and time gradually passes. I begin the steep climb to the high point of the course at Jerry’s Pass (6232’). The arduous task causes me to get very hot and I begin to sweat profusely making my shirt damp. The wind is strong on the ridges which chills me at times. It’s very uncomfortable being both hot and cold at the same time. Soon I’m very grouchy so I eat some food to try to bring my sugar and energy level up. 

The tricky trail leading down to the aid station
I slog on climbing ever higher and higher towards the pass. At last I make it to the top and start down towards the aid station. The trail is narrow with grass hidden rocks; lined with prickly vegetation. The slope is steep and there are patches of snow. I take my time to make sure I don’t have an accident. Finally I make it to the aid where the sun is waning. Volunteers ask if I have warm clothes and a headlamp for the evening. I assure them that I'm prepared to finish the race and I promptly get out of there.


The sun begins to set and the sky slowly turns from yellow and pink to a fiery orange. I can’t help but stop frequently to admire the scene and snap a few pictures. The route is a very steep downhill section which really does a number on my feet. One of my middle toes is very painful as I speed down the road. Some uphill sections bring temporary relief, but before long, I’m heading back down again. It’s completely dark at this point so I navigate by headlamp. I worry about missing a turn so watch the course markings very carefully. Some markers are reflective which light up very brightly when the beam of my light hits them. 


When I reach mile 49 according to my gps, I come to a pond that I don’t remember passing this morning. I continue down a steep dirt road arriving at a T intersection. I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to go left, but there are no course markings. I fear I missed a turn so start looking around. I see a headlamp bobbing down the steep road so wait for the runner to arrive so I can spill the bad news. We commiserate for a few minutes and go separate ways on the road to see if we can find any course markers. Nothing in sight. 


Unfortunately we have to slog back up the steep road to figure out our error. After the pond we see pink flagging on a sign for the AZ Trail. Earlier, we had missed a very faint grassy single track path. We continue on for a short while arriving at the dirt road. The same one we were just on where we could have simply turned left and arrived at this very spot. In just one tenth of a mile! Without marching up the steep hill! However, that would have been cheating and we wanted the satisfaction of completing the course properly.


At this point, I’m really ready to get the run over with and I try my hardest to keep a running pace. I’m in a lot of pain, grumpy and otherwise out of it. In the distance I see a string of strange looking lights on the horizon. Could this be the Kentucky Camp? I don’t think so because there are too many lights and they are hovering like the mysterious lights of Marfa, TX fame. Am I hallucinating? Soon I get a glimpse of some more lights, but these appear to be RV campers. My mind is playing tricks on me, but I keep running as fast as I can hoping I’m nearing the finish line.


At last, I arrive at a parked car where an older couple directs me onto another indistinct grassy path. “It’s only .7 miles to the finish, congratulations!”, they say. The trail is pretty steep and full of rocks causing me to trip several times. Seems more of an overgrown cross country route. I go down an embankment into what looks like a deep creek gully. It’s completely brushy and I don’t see the trail or any markers. I shine my light all around hoping to see a reflector, but there is nothing. I backtrack to see if I missed a turn. Come on! I’m only a quarter mile or so from the finish! Is this some kind of twisted Laz Lake joke or am I just too plumb exhausted to think straight?



I see a headlamp dancing down the trail behind me and the guy I was lost with earlier catches up and helps me find the way. He plows through the sticks and brush and spies a glow stick. Well, I wasn’t looking for a glow stick, but I’m just elated he found the route. We walk together for a while and suddenly I hear a bunch of cheering and a guy yelling at the top of his lungs, “YEAH, THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT!”  The finish line comes into sight and my new running buddy says, “We should probably run the last bit huh?” As much as I don’t feel like it, I dig deep and we take off for the finish line. What a relief it is to finally stop! My gps watch reads 53 miles in 14:20, but I suspect the mileage is a little less. A volunteer congratulates me and hands me a bag of finisher’s swag that includes an Old Pueblo belt buckle and a pint glass with the race logo and the phrases, “Git ‘er done” and “That’s what I’m talking about”.


Old Pueblo is a tough old school race where you better pay careful attention to the course markings. There are plenty of arduous climbs that will wear you out if you don’t pace yourself. I counted about 15 stream crossings on each loop, but perhaps these are dry in other years. The views are absolutely spectacular and the volunteers and race staff are top notch. Thanks to Bruce from Seattle for keeping me on the course!

See you on the trail.

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.