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."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Native Americans Ran Here

I always seem to find myself driving on a deserted dusty road in the middle of nowhere. Here I am again, but this time on the Otero Mesa, a wild grassland in New Mexico, west of Carlsbad. The Cornudas Mountains, a series of volcanic peaks, rise high above the desert prairie. As I drive along, a pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra Americana) darts across the road and I come to a screeching halt. Not that I was in danger of hitting the animal, but I want to get a picture.

Once safely across the road, the majestic deer stops and peers at me from a distance. I try my best to get a good shot, but my little point and shoot just isn’t cutting it. Pronghorn are a native species that once roamed the plains of the west in the millions until most were slaughtered in the 19th century. They are the second fastest mammal (cheetah is fastest) and live a solitary life until the winter, when they band together in large herds.



Pronghorn have given me a great idea for an organized running event. Some anthropologists believe prehistoric man had more endurance than their prey. Daniel Lieberman of Harvard says, “Antelopes and cheetahs sprint as fast as 65 miles an hour but not for very long. There are reports of African and Native American hunters who could run their prey to exhaustion…”

I propose that we get a group of runners who compete in teams to chase down and catch a pronghorn. What do you think? I know, PETA would be all over this thing, but in the name of science? We would even let the exhausted animal go after the race and have the usual bagels and bananas for our post race meal.

After taking some blurry shots of the antelope I jump back in the truck and continue down the dusty path. More pronghorn appear and one runs along the side of the road unable to get over the barbed wire cattle fence. My dogs are as excited as I am and can’t wait to get out to explore. After traveling 30 miles off the beaten track, we arrive at Alamo Mountain, one of the dormant volcanoes in the area. Native Americans inhabited this area for thousands of years and consider the mountains sacred.



That little dot is my truck
  Once I get the dogs dressed in their saddle bags we start toward the mountain. The morning is crisp with a brisk breeze. There is no trail so we pick our way through rocks, ocotillo, yucca, creosote bush, and many species of cactus. We ascend a hill and I look back over the mesa --brown grass for as far as the eye can see. This grassland, along with springs in the area, enabled many animal species to thrive and therefore sustained the early tribes who lived here.
More recently, the first overland stage route traversed these mountains and I’ve heard that a ruin is located somewhere near a spring at the base of this mountain. The Butterfield Stage Route ran from St Louis to San Francisco which gives me another idea for an ultramarathon. Are you in?


After climbing amongst the rocks, my canine friends and I eventually reach a flat area where a spotty trail runs north to south. We decide to take the northern route and then suddenly it appears. Hello well-endowed-male-shaman-figure. Are you the god of fertility? In addition to the shaman, this rock is adorned with many other petroglyphs. Snakes, symbols, arrows. This is the mother lode I have been looking for and, in fact, these mountains have thousands more Indian drawings.



Since most of the art has not been formally documented, finding them is a challenge. Trails don’t exist so I must continue, across rugged country, keeping my eyes peeled. I suspect I may have walked right past some of them, but soon find another rock with many shapes and figures. A dragon fly, moth, grass, plants, river, weird thing with one foot. What does it all mean?



I’ve heard a route exists to the top of the peak, but there is a cliff above me. I’ve seen other photos of petroglyphs from this mountain on websites, but have not been able to find them. We start making our way back to the south in search of a route to the peak.



Boulders are all around and I start to scramble over a rock pile. Once over, the cacti become very thick and I accidentally brush up against a large prickly pear. I pluck as many thorns as possible out of my jeans, but a big one has gone all the way through. My pants come down and I pull it out. Ouch!



Eventually I stumble upon some more rock art on a very large boulder with a flat wall. The symbols appear to be a couple of suns and perhaps a moon with some other human figures. Several hours have passed since our arrival and we are all getting tired. I offer the dogs some treats and water as I eat a PBJ.



I continue looking for a way up to the top of the peak, but am unsuccessful. I start back to the north again and start to climb another rock pile. That is when Lucy says enough is enough. She scolds me by yipping, crying and barking as if to say, “that is too dangerous; you’re going to get us all killed.” Lassie would have been proud.



I decide Lucy is probably right and so we start our descent back to the truck. I know there is a way to the top and there are many more petroglyphs for me to find. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface (pun intended). However, these adventures will have to wait for another day. In the mean time, we make it back to the parking area and start our trip home. Otero Mesa is a most remarkable place that is well worth the effort.

See you on the trail.


3 comments:

  1. Great Exploring Greg! Love the pronghorn photos and the petroglyphs are astounding. Count me in for the SL-SF ultra :-)

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  2. Thanks for reading John and Richard.

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