I prepare for my Quitman Canyon running adventure by carbo-loading on Betsy and Raymond’s homemade buttermilk waffles complete with bacon and coffee. Betsy and Raymond are the owners of the BR Ranch (Neely Homestead circa 1920) and just so happen to be my in-laws.
Following breakfast, my wife, Cara and her Mom, Betsy graciously volunteer to shuttle me and my running partners to the start of my run. The plan was for them to drop me off about 5 miles south of Sierra Blanca, Texas and for me to run through the Canyon and back home to the Neely Homestead, a distance of about 13 miles.
The weather was a chilly 30 degrees, but sunny with just a little wind. We started our run and in a mile or so came to a shallow livestock watering tank. My running partners decided to investigate and take a little drink. Of course the water was frozen over and Lucy fell right through. Glad it was her and not me. Did I mention that my running partners are of the four legged variety? I guess you could say we are a dog family.
I usually run with at least my three dogs, Lucy, Sierra, and Taz, but when I’m visiting the BR Ranch I often run with 6 to 10 dogs, off leash of course. Today, I’m enjoying the company of my three plus two of Ray and Betsy’s five dogs Harry (Potter) and Quasi (Modo). I promise to write about our dog pack in a future post.
Running with dogs in the secluded desert is quite a treat compared to the company of ultramarathon runners. Dogs entertain themselves while I enjoy the sound of my feet hitting the dirt road. Don’t you get tired of those 4 hour runs listening to your training partners brag about their PR in the last (enter distance here) race? And those endless conversations about, shoes, gels, electrolytes, sports drinks, injuries …blah, blah, blah. What else is there to do on a 4 hour run than talk? But I digress.
This run is in the Chihuahuan Desert in the Quitman Mountains of far West Texas in Hudspeth County. The highest point is 6,589 feet, but I will just be running through a pass with rolling hills and endless scenery. The mountains are named for John Quitman, a lawyer and Army officer of Texas Revolution fame. Fort Quitman was located near present day Ft Hancock off I-10 but a cemetery is all that remains.
After about 4 miles of running we come to an arroyo where we take a little detour to observe some Indian rock art. We see several large boulders on the side of the arroyo containing many interesting symbols. I take a minute to ponder who these ancient artists were and can’t help thinking of their success and longevity of living in this desert as compared to Western American Settlers who have only been here for 150-200 years.. Must keep running, we have another 9 miles to cover.
Several miles later we spot a beautiful windmill, one of the nostalgic symbols of the West. Windmills are the most useful invention to any rancher because without them livestock would have no water. In fact, many ranches still use wind powered water pumps today. The Aermotor Company of San Angelo, Tx has been selling windmills since 1888 and is still in business.
As we approach the windmill, our 4 legged friends are looking quite thirsty, so we decide to take a short detour to investigate. A right turn brings us to a cattle corral, windmill, and long narrow watering trough. I don’t need to encourage my partners a bit, they know what’s in the trough and in unison belly up to the drink and begin lapping to their hearts content. The cows didn’t seem to mind a bit that their visitors were helping themselves. I decided to forgo and instead down some Hammer Gel chased down with a few swallows from my handheld water bottles. Must stay hydrated to make it home.
We are now almost half way back to the ranch and the dogs are refreshed as am I. As we run my best friends are constantly sniffing, tracking, and flushing wildlife. I hear a ruckus to my right and then see the blur of a rabbit cross the road followed by 5 excited “hunters”. As long as I have been running with this pack they have never caught anything but did surround a Collared Peccary once. Peccaries are pig like animals with tusks, but are more closely related to rodents. It took a few minutes of calling them off, but I was able get them away from the agitated animal. Of course Taz, the runtiest of the pack, was the hardest to call off. Small dogs believe in that phrase, “everything is bigger in Texas” especially them.
Soon we were in familiar territory as this section of Quitman Pass Road is part of our normal run when we are visiting our family at the ranch. We soon reach what Cara refers to as the “Painted Hills”. To our left is a picturesque valley with an eroded mesa on the other side showing multicolored stratification. I stop to take in the view and then snap a self portrait with the Quitman Mountains in the background.
After crossing a cattle guard we are in the home stretch and Mexico appears behind the beautiful ranch house. It’s all downhill from here. I can see the gorgeous peaks across the border and the ugly barrier know as the border wall that runs along the Rio Bravo del Norte. You may know it as the Rio Grande. We continue down after running for almost 3 hours. When we arrive we are greeted by our loving family who want to hear all about our Quitman Canyon run. After a meal of Christmas leftovers (Yum) we settle down for nap. A perfect day.