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."

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Running Almost Mexico

I recently spent some time running our southern border in Hudspeth County, TX. With only three fourths of a person per mile it is the 45th least populous county in America. Loving, TX is number 5 with only a tenth of a person per mile. In comparison, New York County, NY is the most densely populated with 69,468 people per mile! (Wikipedia) No thank you! I prefer Texas, so the fam and I went to our family’s ranch in West Texas to enjoy a very quiet weekend in Almost Mexico.

Hudspeth along the border is much like the Big Bend area of Texas with a high wall of mountains in Mexico, the Quitman Mountains in the US and the Rio Grande slicing through the valley between the two countries. On both sides of the river, as far as the eye can see, is dry desert, rocky outcrops and sand hills dotted with creosote bush and gnarly vegetation. With only around nine inches of rain per year, it is one of the most inhospitable regions imaginable where everything bites, stings or scratches. It’s also one of the most beautiful. 

This stretch of the river is known as the Forgotten Reach of the Rio Grande because the water flow usually stops here after the farmers upstream in Fabens, Tornillo and Ft Hancock irrigate their pecan orchards and cotton fields. In the last several years though this area has been flooding regularly creating a bosque where waterfowl now flourishes. 

A hawk keeping watch on the border
I love heading out for a run in the early morning before the heat of the day to take in the the sights, sounds and smells of the desert. I usually head down the Indian Hot Springs Rd with several dogs in tow. The dirt road passes through several gravelly arroyos before reaching a twisty hilly section with eroded cliffs on each side. Sometimes coyotes yip at us, but usually we only see cows and horses hanging out by the road. I have also seen a pack of wild burros in this area. Occasionally I run into a rancher driving his F-150 on the way to tend cattle, bee keepers driving their flatbeds to collect the local honey or the border patrol driving ATVs on their way to do what ever the border patrol does out here. 

Indian Hot Springs Rd
Gambel's Quail
Quail chicks

Read: Disappearing Rio Grande (Indian Hot Springs)

On this particular weekend though, I didn’t see anyone on the road and simply enjoyed the peace and quiet with my dogs. The only sounds I heard were the moo of a cow, whinny of a horse, chirp of a bird or my dogs yipping as they chased jackrabbits. I appreciated how lucky I was while thinking of the miserable runners pounding the pavement in New York. Occasionally I stopped and looked into Mexico where I admired a beautiful moon setting behind the majestic mountains; the only blemish being a rusty four mile section of border fence.

On another run, I wanted to bird watch on the flooded section where the border fence ends, so I turned onto the Rio Grande levee road that is maintained by the International Boundary and Water Commission. Several years ago, the dirt road was completely under water here because the levee fence makes it difficult for them to get their dredging machinery next to the river to deepen the channel. They’ve since raised the road but flooded utility poles have started to lean and are in danger of completely toppling over.

On the positive side, waterfowl has migrated and made their home here. I ran the dirt levee road which is very flat with lush green vegetation lining the river banks. No fence impeded my view of Mexico and I was able to see many bird species including the Black-necked stilt, American avocet and different types of herons and egrets. A lone hawk, with eyesight four to five times stronger than a humans, perched in a nearby tree and kept watch on the border. How's that for border security?

Stilts and avocets
The highlight of my run though, was seeing a herd of wild horses that lives here. About a dozen horses were grazing in a field along the river bank free to roam on either side of the border. They spooked when they saw me coming, but one large dun stallion stayed behind and kept a very close watch on me. He frequently nodded his head and then took off running after the rest of the herd. It was a beautiful sight to see. Eventually I caught up with the entire herd as they stopped on the road looking on with curiosity. They must have been thinking: What’s this dude doing here? Doesn’t he know how dangerous it is running the border? He could be bitten by a rattlesnake, twist an ankle or lose a toenail from running too much!

"What's this dude doin' out here?"
Sweet acacia flowers
Anyway, 10 miles into my run, the heat started to get very intense. I brought two 20oz bottles of water and they were almost gone by this point so I turned around to head back. The desert heat in the summer is very intense and reached over 100 degrees on several days of my long weekend. The scrub vegetation provides no shade and you are lucky to make it several miles unless you are exceptionally fit and carry a great deal of water. The Chihuahuan Desert will kill you if you don’t know what you are doing. Be careful if you choose to run out here; you may not see anyone for days. Luckily for me I made it back to the ranch running on empty, but otherwise unscathed.

Sunrise at the ranch

We enjoyed our stay away from civilization and I saw some of the most stunning sunsets and sunrises of my life. We actually had one visitor who greeted me on the porch one afternoon. A four foot long bull (gopher) snake entertained us for a while as he crawled along the house taking cover in a bush in the yard. I finally caught him with a grabber and moved him away from the house. These snakes look venomous, but they are harmless unless you are a rodent.

Gopher snake

Other wildlife abounds here in the desert. In addition to watching the hummingbird feeder, I saw plenty of Gambel’s quail including a family with chicks. I sat with my daughter one evening watching bats while we waited for the large owl that lives in the palm tree in the yard to take flight. I also captured a picture of a small western screech owl who lives in a barn. 
Screech owl
Our southern border region in West Texas is teeming with wildlife and the quiet is downright spooky at times. Sometimes it feels like you are on another planet, but the running is spectacular. There are plenty of dirt roads that allow you to pick a hilly or flat course and you have a great view of Mexico. Hope you get to visit Almost Mexico someday.

Almost Mexico
See you on the trail.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Heart Attack Canyon Lincoln National Forest

As the name indicates, Heart Attack Canyon is no joke! I went to Cloudcroft, NM a few weeks ago to get out of the desert heat and enjoy some time in the Lincoln National Forest. I ran the Bluff Springs, Willie White and Wills Canyon trails that you can read about in my last post. Several years ago I ran the Rim Trail that mostly parallels the Sunspot Scenic Byway and noticed a sign pointing the way to Heart Attack Canyon. I became very intrigued by this side trail and thought to myself how hard could it be? Well, I went back to find out.

To reach the trailhead, I parked my car off of the scenic road on Atkinson Canyon Rd (first right past Upper Rio Peñasco Rd). I ran one mile to reach Atkinson Field where there is a corral and some cattle pastures. I had a hard time finding the Rim Trail (T105) because of all the fencing and cattle gates, but used my Avenza Maps App to help find my way. Once I was on the Rim trail I found the junction for Atkinson Field Trail (T111). 

Atkinson Field Rd

I started down this gnarly rocky trail which became very steep in just a short while. Soon I was in a badly eroded creek bed and wasn’t even sure I was on the correct path. A look at my map app showed that I was on the right track though. I couldn’t run at all because the route was so steep and technical with a lot of tree cover and brush lining the creek bed. Dry leaves covered the boulders, rocks, sticks and other tripping hazards which made the descent really tough. After 1.5 miles I reached a “T” where I turned left onto Alamo Peak Trail (T109). If you turn right the trail takes you to Alamo Peak where there once was a fire lookout tower but is now occupied by a US Air Force telemetry antenna.

Alamo Peak Trail
This trail was mostly smooth and flat with a few eroded sections. In a short while I reached West Side Rd (FR90), a wide well maintained dirt road, where I turned left. I didn’t think the forest road would be very interesting or difficult to run, but I was mistaken. The views of the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument and the rugged canyons of the Sacramento Escarpment were exceptional. Several years ago I ran a 50K race with almost 9000’ of elevation gain from Dog Canyon (Oliver Lee State Park, NM) up the escarpment ending in Cloudcroft, NM. 

Westside Rd (FR90)
The forest road was mostly uphill so I alternated between a walk and run on this stretch.  Finally I reached my destination; Heart Attack Canyon Trail (T235). I could have run this route in a clockwise loop descending Heart Attack, but that sounded like cheating so I made sure to ascend it to see if its namesake was all it was cracked up to be. I didn’t waste any time and started up the mountain. 

The first part was an eroded gully of smooth red dirt and very steep. The trail leveled off a little bit and followed the contour of the mountain, but before long, I was climbing straight up on a rocky path. It was really hot at this point and I had to stop frequently to catch my breath. My heart was beating out of chest and all I could think about was how many poor souls actually had a heart attack trying to climb this damn mountain! Nevertheless, I chipped away at the trail slowly and steadily. 

Heart Attack Canyon Trail

I hadn’t seen a single person all day and knew why when I neared the top of the trail. It became even steeper so I had to completely stop to rest in the shade a few times. The National Forest Service lists this trail's usage as “Light”. In other words, no one in their right mind hikes it. Anyway, after much sweat and toil I reached the top and was greeted by a grassy meadow with some huge shade trees. After a short rest, I picked up the Rim trail and headed North.

View from Rim Trail, White Sands on the desert floor
I thought my climbing was over, but I started to ascend again right away. My water was running low at this point, but I knew my run would be over in a few miles. I reached the top of the mountain where there was an excellent vista looking down to the desert floor below. The gypsum dunes, a remnant of an ancient sea, were unmistakable. I continued running through the forest and eventually reached Atkinson Field where I ran down the road to reach my car. The total mileage was almost 11 miles with 2700’ of ascent. It was a tough loop, but very well worth the effort and I didn’t suffer a heart attack even though it felt like it at times.

Westside Rd as seen from the Rim Trail

See you on the trail.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Bluff Springs Lincoln National Forest

I recently had an epic running adventure in the Lincoln National Forest just south of Cloudcroft, NM. Bluff Springs waterfall is a beautiful little spot along the Rio Peñasco Rd off of Sunspot Scenic Byway. Water tumbles over a bluff that is adorned by a hanging garden of riparian vegetation including mosses and ferns as well as a smooth algae covered stone. Tall majestic spruce and fir trees tower above the cliff. A short trail leads to the top of the waterfall where water weeps out of the Sacramento Mountains into a lush marshy area before plunging over the scarp.

Bluff Springs, NM

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Jemez Mountain 50 Miler

A young lady is bent over retching along the side of the trail as I approach. A photographer walks up to her. “Are you OK?”, he asks. “Oh yeah, I’m good,” she replies. I know she isn’t. We’re at 9000’ elevation on a hot morning at mile 15 of a 50 miler and have another 1500’ of climbing ahead of us to reach the top of Pajarito Mountain (10,440’). I have a lot of pressure in my head and am definitely feeling the altitude. Hopefully she can pull it together when she reaches the ski lodge aid station in another half mile.

The Jemez Mountain 50 Mile Trail Run started at zero dark hundred this morning with about 150 runners toeing the line. They offer three distances —50 mile, 50K or 15 mile. Pick your poison. There was a bit of drama leading up to the race because the Jemez Mountains, where the race is held in Los Alamos, NM are in an exceptional drought (D4, the worst possible) with very high wildfire risk. The course was changed because the forest is in stage 2 fire restrictions and rangers wanted to keep runners closer to town. The Atomic City knows wildfires. In 2011, the Las Conchas Fire, the largest in New Mexico at the time, burned over 150,000 acres threatening the town and the Los Alamos National Lab here. In years past the 50 mile course took us through the gorgeous Valle Caldera National Preserve, but no such luck today. The good news is that we only ascend Pajarito Mountain once, although we have another significant climb up to about 9600’ later in the day.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Everyday is Earth Day

Earth Day was last weekend where many people went out to hike or run a trail, clean up a park or plant a tree. Well, without fear of sounding like a Birkenstock wearing hippie tree hugger who greets everyone on the trail with namaste, I have to admit that, to me, everyday is Earth Day. I spend almost every morning running a trail and taking in nature. The visual beauty of West Texas where I live is stunning, but there are also the smells, sounds and even the feel of the Earth that I enjoy when I’m out on the trail. 

Moonrise Quitman Mountains in W. Texas

Monday, April 16, 2018

Team RWB Leadership Trail Running Camp

Last weekend I taught several trail running classes for our Team Red, White and Blue leaders who were attending the Leadership Academy in El Paso, TX. I’m not sure I was qualified for this task, but was flattered and honored for the invitation all the same. Our Team RWB leaders are very motivated and work hard to enrich the lives of our veterans by connecting them to their communities through physical and social activities. Several other of our El Paso chapter members also taught classes. Jessica covered trail running gear while her husband Tim, an orthopedic specialist, talked about running form and injury prevention. They are both very fast and accomplished ultra runners who are top finishers in some very tough races.

Highly motivated and passionate Eagle leaders!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Bataan Memorial Death March 2018

Last weekend I ran the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, NM. The weather forecast was calling for a hot day with high winds in the afternoon so that was incentive for me to run as fast as possible in hopes of beating the elements. If you don’t know Bataan, it’s one of the largest joint military-civilian athletic events in the country if not the world. Almost 8500 participants marched with heavy packs or ran/walked the 26.2 mile or half marathon route this year. In addition, 2000 volunteers helped make the event possible.

A handful of survivors from the original 60-80 mile death march during WWII were also in attendance and a 100 year old survivor, Ben Skardon, marched a portion of the course. The morning opened, as always, with a somber ceremony remembering the fallen and honoring the remaining survivors of the brutal march in the Philippines in 1942. The ceremony included the Philippine and US national anthems, a ceremonial roll call, prayer and F-16 flyover by the Air Force.