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."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Lifeless Desert

“There is no life in the desert; it is a vast useless wasteland” so a colleague once commented to me. “We should just dump all our waste out there.” Today I’m going on a journey through the “lifeless” desert, camera in hand, to see if I can find any sign of life, but first I take Lucy, Sierra, and Taz on our 15 mile Rio Grande route.

We leave at 6:30 just before the sun rise, my favorite part of the day. I love the calm before people begin to stir. We head down the street and settle into a groove when all of a sudden frumph...frumph…frumph. What the…? Sounds like someone has a flat. No, two flats and the driver isn’t even going to stop to take care of it. He just keeps driving along on the rims. I’ve seen many strange sights while running; like the absent minded person who had a gas hose dangling from the side of his car.

The weather is fine this morning after two days of wind storms. When we arrive at the river my canine friends and I notice that the canals and the river are quite high. The authorities have begun releasing irrigation water from Caballo Lake. I see a Cottonwood tree with mistletoe hanging from the branches. This symbol of Christmas is actually a parasite that plagues deciduous trees.

After three hours of running I make my way home where I drop off the dogs and head into the “lifeless” desert. I’m on my way to South Franklin Peak (6,791’ elev.) about seven miles from my home. I run through my neighborhood to my favorite trail and immediately see a bunch of beautiful yellow wildflowers. It’s not easy bending over after running 17 miles (especially at my age), but I need to get some macro shots of these blossoms. OK, back on my feet and I’m off again.

Wow…purple with kind of hairy leaves. Maybe the desert isn’t lifeless after all. I guess I’ll have to get on the ground again for another close-up. I’m never going to make it to the summit with all these distractions. After a few more shots I fall into a nice pace until I reach the cut-off trail which ascends towards the mountaintop. I’ve been up here several times before, but have never been able to find an easy way to the top. You have to either bush whack or run all the way around to the mountain pass highway.

After searching for a better route to no avail I reach a dead end. I can backtrack or scramble down a treacherous precipice to the highway. The scramble seems more adventurous so here I go.

I’m able to get most of the way down until I get to a pitch that is too high. I search and find a crack that I can shimmy down and then jump the rest of the way. I finally reach the road at Smugglers Gap and continue to the summit trailhead.

I start a fast hike toward the top and can really feel the altitude. This is mile 21 and I forgot how steep and treacherous this trail can be. Loose rocks, narrow path, and steep ascents make for a challenging trek. I make it to Mammoth Rock and spot another interesting flower with white petals. More photos and then I scramble the rest of the way to the crest. A gorgeous panorama greets me and I can see the rugged track which leads to the Window of the Ron Coleman Trail. I’ll have to save that for another day as I need to make my way back down now.

Going down a steep trail is actually more difficult than going up. Most accidents happen on the descent and I’m feeling quite exhausted and vulnerable at the moment. There are several exposed areas between the summit and Mammoth and with one wrong step you are sliding down a gully to the arroyo below. I carefully negotiate the terrain and finally make it to the base of the mountain where I continue down the highway to a desert trail that leads back to my neighborhood.

I see a strange star shaped wildflower and need to get on the ground again with my camera. Mile 25…can I bend over? I succeed in getting down and am amazed at these unique plants growing in the “lifeless” desert. I keep running along my course and find some good footing. I manage a good tempo and reach an arroyo. On the other side of the wash are more flowers - Mexican Gold Poppies and Blackfoot Daisies. After more pictures I follow the trail along the western slope of Franklin Peak and finally arrive at home for a total of 30 miles to include a 6700 ft peak.

As you can see the desert is full of surprises. You may not see them from your car, but get outside and look a little closer. You will like what you find. See you on the trail.

Mexican Gold Poppies

Gordon's Bladderpod    Lesquerella gordonii

Shaggy Stenandrium (Stenandrium barbatum)
Blackfoot daisy   Melampodium leucanthum

Rose Vervain (Verbana canadensis)

Yellow Stick-Leaf  M.reverchonii

If you can identify any of these flowers please comment.


  1. Thanks Tom, I got some good cactus blooms today.

  2. Awesome description of the beauty of our "lifeless" desert!