My adventure this morning starts at Anthony’s Gap, NM for a quest to reach the Northern Pass. My goal is to find a route all the way around the Franklin Mountains which would make a challenging course for a 50K race.
The mountain bikers already have a 50 mile route established for their Puzzler race that is held every January and I have been studying their maps on Geobetty.com to find the way.
Last week I made it to Northern Pass from the Northeast side via the Lazy Cow trail which was about 7.7 miles one way. This morning I will scout the way from the Northwestern side of the mountain.
My three dogs, Lucy, Sierra and Taz, will keep me company today. Lucy is carrying some water in her saddlebags to place along the route to be used another day when I attempt to run all the way around the mountain. This is the only way, short of water-witching, to survive a journey in this harsh inhospitable desert.
The trail is hard to find at first. We look for a manmade pile of rocks that marks the trailhead and then soon enter an arroyo that parallels a highway. We keep to the left of the ditch so we don’t miss our exit out. Two rock cairns mark the way, so we climb out and run along the western slope of the mountains.
After two miles we reach a junction where we stash the water. A small sign that has blown onto the ground reads “Up, Up, and Away”. We turn left and start the ascent switch backing as we go. The trail is very rugged with lots of rocks, creosote bush stumps and roots. Occasionally, we cross large slabs of rock that appear to have oozed out of a volcano.
When we reach the top, I expect to be at the same location I was last week, but I’m not. Is this the Northern Pass or am I lost? Did I reach the Pass last week or some other high trail in the Franklins? Hmmm.....
Nevertheless, we keep going along a beautiful trail that winds around through a canyon. Sotol is growing all over the slopes as well as many different species of cactus. Ocotillos and Texas Rainbow Cactus are blooming and bees are buzzing around taking advantage of the food source.
After descending the mountain for some time, we reach a dry wash that looks familiar. I’ve reached Hitt Canyon and suddenly realize that the trail I was on last week seems to be a path to nowhere even though it is marked with a state park sign that reads “Hike and Bike Trail”. It does not appear on any maps that I've seen.
I’ll have to explore that trail again on another day to see where it goes. For now, I decide to turn around and head back as the dogs are looking very hot. I give them some water from my camelbak and switch the saddlebags from Lucy to Sierra. Everyone pulls their own weight on this excursion.
On the way back we stumble across a large whiptail lizard who poses for a picture. I learned about this guy from Abigail over at 1000 Miles on my own two feet who recently saw one on the other side of the mountain near the Aztec cave (Tom Mays Unit). I wonder if they are related.
After making the climb back up and over, I feel something stuck to my shoe and stop for a look. A dried shin dagger stalk has penetrated my shoe, but fortunately did not reach all the way to my foot. That certainly would have left a mark; not to mention, been very painful. I pull the sharp point out and continue switchbacking down the slope. The dogs are looking hot again so we stop and I give them a drink from one of the bottles of water we stashed earlier.
After completing a total of 10 miles we are back to my truck where the dogs rest in the shade while I stretch out my muscles. If you would like to check out the trails from Anthony’s Gap, take Hwy 404 from I-10 just across the Texas border from El Paso. After 5 miles you will reach a closed gate on the right where you can enter and park. For a short hike to Anthony Cave, take the main dirt road straight and then follow a trail to the left.
See you on the trail.