Once again I’m up at zero dark thirty for another hiking adventure. This week I’m scrambling up to “The Window” near the S. Franklin Peak. If you follow my blog, you will remember that on 9-11 I trekked up S. Franklin. This morning I will start on the East side of the mountain and hike the Ron Coleman Trail to Smugglers Gap on the West Side.
First I drive up Trans Mountain road to the parking area where I will finish my hike. I lock up my bike and drop off some water. The sun’s rays are just beginning to peak around the mountains. I finish my commute and arrive at McKelligon Canyon. This is a beautiful spot in El Paso that includes an outdoor amphitheater built into the rocks. El Paso was recently named the number one “Can Do City" in the US by Newsweek Magazine and also won the award of All American City by The National Civic League in 2010.
El Paso get’s a bad rap because we are located next to Juarez, Mexico, the so called murder capital. Governor Perry doesn’t help our image by saying things like “...bombs are exploding in El Paso....” According to CQ press, our border city is the safest large city in the US. Let’s keep that our little secret though; we don’t want scads of people moving here and crowding my running trails. (Read Fact Checking Perry)
The beginning of the trail is steep and leads uphill towards a cave. When I arrive, I climb in the cave and start taking photos. Last week I took a bunch of blurry shots so I am being more careful this time. The directions I got from Localhkes.com say to go to the right of the first cave and to the left of the second.
The right of the first one makes for an arduous climb so I stop for a rest. A Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) butterfly lands on a bush, sits perfectly still, wings outstretched, and invites me to take his picture.
I make it to the second cave and then finally attain the main ridge line. The view is stunning and I can see my neighborhood below. I meet an older gentleman named Santigo on the trail and he shares some information about routes that he walks on a weekly basis. I keep moving up the ridge line and stumble upon a millipede that curls up in his defense position.
I must be getting close to the window, because my walk is starting to get hairy. I now have a precipitous drop off to my left so I need to stay focused. After traversing the west side of the mountain I come to a cliff with a chain attached that leads straight up.
I grab on and pull myself up the craggy face. I follow some blue dots that mark the route and reach another obstacle with a chain. After scaling the second part I make it to the porthole in the rock with a beautiful view of East El Paso.
I precariously balance myself agains the cliff and begin to take many photos through the window. Suddenly a Rock Wren lands just a few feet above my head and thinks to himself: I’m safe because no human would be stupid enough to climb up here. Well, I take a few close up pictures before he realizes his oversight. Birds are a plenty up here and I also enjoy watching Swallows and Canyon Wrens.
I continue on my way and walk just below the FAA towers that have been built on the mountain top. I start my descent down towards Mammoth Rock and see many wildflowers. This is the same trail I walked last week, but I don’t remember seeing this many blooms. Before long, I’m back down to Smugglers Pass where I have a peanut butter sandwich and hop on my bike.
The 16 mile ride is mostly downhill, but after descending the mountain, I realize how hot it has become. I pedal a few uphill sections and really begin to feel fatigued. As I ride along the east side of the mountain I notice signs that warn of unexploded ordinance. This land is the former Castner Firing Range that was used by soldiers at nearby Ft Bliss. The land is to be added to the State Park when the ordinance can be cleared and the land made safe again.
After much effort I make it back to my starting point having made a complete circle of around 20 miles. I hope you have the opportunity to hike the Ron Coleman trail for a peek out the window someday. It is well worth the exertion and you will also enjoy our very safe, “Can-Do”, All American City!
See you on the trail.
|N. Franklin Peak as seen from S. Franklin|