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."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wrens, Wreptiles, and Wrunning

As I drive over Smugglers Gap in the Franklin Mountains in far West Texas, lightning is streaking across the sky. Black ominous looking storm clouds are lingering over the peaks and I just hope the storm is moving east because I’m on my way to run the mountain.
When I arrive at the trail head, the sun is trying to rise through the clouds creating a mysterious light emanating from the heavens. After fiddling with my gps for a while, I start running up the rocky track. 

The last two times I was out here I twisted my ankle (the same one). At least the first time I was actually running. On the second occasion, I was taking pictures when I should have been running, but I just had to stop for that picture of another rock.
After passing some abandoned tin mines, I start the laborious ascent to Mundy’s Gap. The trail is very steep in parts and there are plenty of tripping hazards to keep things exciting. I mostly fast walk, but try to slow jog when I can. After an hour, I make it to the pass for a refreshing view of N.E. El Paso.
Then I start the downhill part, which sounds easy, but the footing is poor because of loose sand and gravel which causes your shoes to slide. I turn a few corners as the old road winds around the mountain and then hear the call of a canyon wren. I love listening to this bird because of his unmistakable intermittent cascading song.
Rock Wren above "the window" Ron Coleman Trail
I recently read in Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine that wrens are very habitat specific and named as such. For example, canyon wrens live in steep canyons, cactus wrens are seen in desert scrub and the marsh wren...well...lives in marshy areas. I can’t remember where the house wren lives though.

I rarely see these birds, but notice their songs all the time. In her article, Not-So-Plain Janes, Noreen Damude writes, “Vocal ‘wrenditions’ from the ethereal to the guttural, both varied and complex, contribute to their exalted status in the world of birdsong.” I did see and capture an up-close photo of a rock wren while hiking through “the window” last year.
Pretty soon I come to a slag heap from old mining operations and must decide whether to descend the shorter more technical way which is straight down the big pile of rocks or take the longer easier route. I decide on the latter, but still must cross some cumbersome slag.
Eventually I make it to the bottom of the mountain and then take the Tom Mays bike trail through the state park to my stash of water. Two hours have passed and I’ve only gone 8 miles, so I better not dawdle. I start back the way I came and that’s when I start to notice lizards running out of my way. The weather must be just right for them to start sunning themselves.
As the air continues to warm, I slog back up the mountain being sure to drink plenty of water from my camelbak. I’ve been taking electrolyte capsules and also drinking a concoction of Hammer Gel and chia seeds for energy. I enjoy the many wildflowers and cactus blooms that adorn the trail.

After climbing  back up to Mundy’s, I continue to see more and more lizards and decide to try to count them on my way down. This should keep me entertained for a while. One... two...three...four, five, six. I lose count after 20, but estimate seeing about one lizard per minute for at least an hour, so that would be 60 minutes divided by...I mean...um...multiply times...well, a whole bunch of reptiles anyway.

Whiptail Lizard
Collared Lizard
When I’m just about to the bottom of the hill, I see the big daddy of all reptiles stretched across the trail moving slowly to digest his meal under a bush. It’s a very large western diamondback rattle snake and I don’t want to go anywhere near it. 
I stop and toss a few rocks his way to try to spook it off the trail and he doesn’t even flinch as if to say, “Yeah buddy, try me!” OK, so I climb up an embankment, trudge over some shin dagger, traipse through a thorny thicket making sure to give the guy a wide berth and finally continue on my way. Trail hog! 
When I’m back to the mines, I decide to take a trail that I’ve never run before —the Scenic Rd. This turns out to be a smooth sandy path that curves around some beautiful red bluffs. When I turn a corner, I’m stunned to see a sotol plant with a towering red blooming stalk. I’ve seen plenty of sotols, but never one with red buds.
I continue on for a while longer and then have to run down Rock Shock trail to head back to my car; the temperature is going to hit 100 today and I’m starting to feel the heat. As the name implies, this trail is not much fun and I have a hard time staying upright. 5 hours, 18.5 miles, 127 lizards, and one rattler later, I’m back to where I started, having completed another exciting wrunning adventure. 

See you on the trail.

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