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."

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.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

My Year in Review 2018

2018 was a good year for running especially compared to a lackluster 2017 where I was sick for much of the year and had several DNFs. I grew stronger with each month in 2018 though, and finished the Jemez 50 miler for the fourth year in a row and also tackled two tough 50K races, the Mt Taylor 50K in Grants, NM and the Franklin Mountains 50K here in "El Chuco". I was also very fortunate to have finished my seventh Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands Missile Range, NM where thousands gather every year to remember and honor our POW war heroes who perished or survived the horrific march during WWII. To read my race reports jump on over to my Table of Contents page here.

Moonset over Banderas, Mexico from Hudspeth County, TX
Red-spotted toad in the Franklin Mountains S.P., TX
In addition to finishing these races, I trained diligently for the Bandera 100K that I will run next weekend in the Texas Hill Country. I also enjoyed some fine running adventures in the Lincoln National Forest in Cloudcroft and Ruidoso, NM. On several occasions I traveled up the road to Las Cruces, NM where I ran the Baylor Pass and Pine Tree trails in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument as well as parts of the Sierra Vista National Recreation Trail.

Black vultures (Hudspeth County, TX)
Vermilion fly catcher
Earlier this month I ran an unsupported 43 miler with over 8500' of vert in the Franklin Mountains to prepare for several upcoming 100Ks. I ran one loop of the Lone Star Hundred 100K but started from the Lost Dog Trailhead in West El Paso to make sure I got plenty of bonus miles. I was hoping for a 40 miler, but ended up with 43 total. I carried most of my food in my pack but, the day before, I stashed a few mandarine oranges, an apple and some chips in a ziplock baggie near the pavilion in the state park. Well, when I uncovered them during my run, a mouse or some other rascal had chewed some skin off the apple and gnawed through the ziplock to get to my chips. I was so hungry at mile 37 of my run though, that I devoured every one of those chips. As for water; I have established several personal caches throughout the park that I keep stocked.

Here's my Strava track that should actually read: Morning, Afternoon and Evening Run. (If it ain't on Strava, it didn't happen.)



Franklin Mountains State Park Eastside
The toughest part of my run was coming down the Upper Sunset Trail (Southbound) that is very steep and gnarly. I contemplated taking the park road that parallels the ridge instead, but decided not to wimp out. It was dark and I was plenty tired by this point and did a lot of rocking and rolling on the softball-sized rocks that fill the route. I almost ate it into the shin dagger and cactus that line the trail several times. I was beat by the time I returned to Lost Dog, but made pretty good time considering I had to climb the N. Franklin Peak at 7192' elevation early in my run.

Wild horses along our southern border
As always, I spent considerable time at our family's ranch in Hudspeth County, TX where I ran along the US-Mexico border and through the Quitman Pass. Wild horses meander back and forth across the Rio Grande that has been flooding here in recent years and many waterbirds have made this newly formed bosque their home. Just this week I went for a run and noticed yuccas blooming already in December; another sign of the global weirding that has become so eminent on our planet lately. While recovering from my runs I enjoyed some birding while taking many photographs highlighting the beauty of this rich landscape.

Weird! Yuccas blooming in December! (Mt Quitman background)

2019 is sure to be an exciting running year for me. After the Bandera 100K I will run the Lone Star 100K in the Franklins, the Old Pueblo 50 miler in Arizona, the Bataan Death March and Jemez 50 Miler in New Mexico and hopefully the San Juan Solstice 50 Miler in Colorado. In addition, I hope to return to the Grand Canyon to run the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R). Whew! I'm tired just writing that paragraph!

Sunset on the ranch
Quitman Mountains, Texas
See you on the trail.






Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Franklin Mountains Trail 50K

I love the sting of shin dagger in the morning, don’t you? There’s nothing like starting a 50K trail run on a cold dark morning, pointy vegetation lapping at your ankles and shins while you slog up a rock strewn trail that ascends 400 feet in about a half mile. The Franklin Mountain Trail 50K, held in the Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso, is the toughest of its kind in Texas. Later this morning we will climb up to the N. Franklin Peak at 7192’ elevation and the entire course has around 7500’ of total vert, qualifying it for the USA Skyrunner series. I’ve never run this race, but have been training on this course for quite a few years so I know every twist and turn, rock garden and Spanish bayonet plant to watch out for. Even so, one can never fully prepare for the Franklin Mountains; they will destroy your body and soul!


N. Franklin Peak
Photo: Trail Racing Over Texas

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

El Malpais National Monument

El Malpais National Monument is a gem just south of Grants, NM. I visited the day before I ran the Mt Taylor 50K so I didn’t do any running, but drove to a few scenic overlooks to take in the sights. El Malpais is a volcano field with lava flows, cinder cones, lava tubes and caves. The McCartys Flow, one of the youngest lava flows in the lower 48 states, can be seen here and is only about 3000 years old. 


Sandstone Bluff Overlook


Saturday, October 6, 2018

Mt Taylor 50K 2018

I try my best to not break my ankle as I navigate rocks and other tripping hazards at the base of Mt Taylor near Grants, NM. The sun isn’t up yet, so I steal a little bit of light from those running with headlamps around me. Wouldn’t it be a shame to get injured in the first half mile of the Mt Taylor 50K trail race? I’m careful and take my time; the sun will be up in 15 minutes anyway. Before long I’m power hiking up a forest road with about 180 other runners. The weather is perfect; about 45 with little wind and dry as a bone. We will eventually go to the peak at 11,300’, but not before we run a 16 mile hilly loop to make sure our legs are good and trashed before the brutal ascent. 

Mt Taylor as seen from Sandstone Bluffs, El Malpais National Monument


Friday, September 21, 2018

Tarantulas Are Pretty Fast!

One of the benefits of being on the trail for many hours at a time is that you get to see amazing wildlife, cacti and wildflowers along the way. The saying goes, “If you run long enough, something is bound to happen.” Usually those happenings are good like seeing a colorful bird flash by or stumbling upon a herd of elk (read my previous post). Occasionally the thing could be bad though, like eating the dirt, falling in the creek or being chased by zombies during your all night run.

Indian Paintbrush in the Franklin Mts State Park, TX


Monday, August 27, 2018

Lookout Mountain and Crest Trail

The stinging nettle plant contains thousands of tiny hollow hairs that release histamine and formic acid when broken off, creating a nasty burning sensation on the skin. Well, that sounds like something to avoid, doesn't it! More on stinging nettle later, but what I wanted to tell you now is that I recently went to the White Mountain Wilderness near Ruidoso, NM to do a little altitude training to get ready for my upcoming race, the Mt Taylor 50K. This race takes runners to the top of sacred Mt Taylor (11,300’) which is near Grants, NM. Near Ruidoso, I climbed Lookout Mt (11,580’) which is a bit higher so this was a perfect training run to help me prepare for my race. I tried this hike over spring break, but the snow was still very deep and I wasn’t able make it to the top.

Lookout Mt and Sierra Blanca Peaks
Crest Trail
I began my adventure at Ski Apache at around 10,000’ elevation and took the Scenic Trail (T15). The narrow path climbs a grassy slope with lots of wildflowers. In a little more than a half mile, I reached the Crest Trail (T15) which is a 20 mile route that traverses the mountain range. Unfortunately, the Little Bear Fire burned much of this area in 2012 and parts of the this trail are difficult to travel. More on that later.