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."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mt Riley

“Be alert and think ahead on this and all steep slopes on this hike; choose your route carefully since there are areas of loose scree and unstable rock.” –Greg Magee

Mt Riley as seen from an El Paso sunset

So go the directions in my guidebook, Day Hikes and Nature Walks in Las Cruces - El Paso Area, as I ascend Mt Riley in the Potrillo Volcano Field in Southwest New Mexico. There is no trail leading to the summit so I have chosen a ridge and am hoping for the best. The route always looks easier from a distance and earlier I was saying, “I can just walk right up that incline over there and will be on top in no time.”

Mt Riley
I was sorely wrong. The gradient is a steep rock-strewn mine field with loose shale like slabs causing me to slide one step downward with every two steps upward. Sweat is rolling off my brow into my eyes so I stop to tie a bandanna around my head giving me that hippie desert rat look.
Sierra and Taz
Earlier, as we were hiking through the desert, my dog, Lucy, stirred up a rattle snake which gave us all a scare. From a distance I heard the rattle and then saw the snake rise up in the air over a foot high. I immediately called all three dogs to “come” which, surprisingly, they did. Afterwards, Lucy was very skittish, perceiving everything as another snake, because she would jump at each thing she sniffed. 

I suppose I’m half way up the mountain at this point. The peak rises 1500 ft from the base and tops out at almost 6000 ft above sea level. Rocks, grasses, barrel and ocotillo cacti and sotol make up most of the landscape, but the occasional juniper tree dots the slope. Some of the trees are dead and gnarled  creating a lonely spooky feeling. It is isolated out here; I bet there isn’t another soul within 20 miles.

Driving through the desert to get here is a bit frightening, because there is no traffic on the dusty roads leading to the mountain and cell phone service is spotty at best. What would I do if I got stuck in the sand or broke down? Best to not think about such things and keep climbing to the summit. From my vantage point there are stunning views of several volcanic cones and the Potrillo Mts. 

Potrillo Volcanos
I reach a barrier of rock, an escarpment of broken sedimentary layers, that I must skirt to continue my upward Sisyphean task. Just when I think I’m on top, another steep hill comes into view so I diligently climb. That reminds me; I saw the work of another diligent critter while approaching the base of the mountain this morning. Either an insect or a rodent had constructed a mound of “BB” size stones around a hole the dimensions of a quarter. An experienced stone mason couldn’t have placed the pebbles more precisely.

What made this?

As I near the highest point of my hike, I see a fuzzy white clump containing about a dozen golf ball sized cacti. The "fur" looks something like a Santa Clause beard and I believe the species may be known loosely as an old man cactus. My dogs are panting as heavily as I am breathing, but we finally make it to the peak and enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding desert. A small rock cairn with a protruding piece of sotol stalk is all that marks the spot. Lucy, Sierra, and Taz enjoy some water and then I put a shirt on Taz to keep the sun off our little hairless devil. It’s a long story, but you can read more about him here if you wish. Taz: Devil, Runner, Escape Artist

Taz sporting his Old Navy shirt.
The trek off the mountain is equally as arduous as the ascent and, since most accidents happen on the way down, I find a dried sotol stalk; the perfect trekking pole. These plant shoots are light weight, but strong and you can break off the skinny end in just the right place for your needs. I once read or heard somewhere –maybe I made it up– that Native Americans used them for teepee poles. Ingenious, during a time before fancy titanium alloys and synthetic fabrics.

Beautiful barrel cactus

My stick works great at helping me keep my balance and after a while I stop under a juniper tree for a rest in the shade. I share my sesame sticks and peanut butter sandwich with my loyal companions. After a drink, we continue the journey and, when we  reach the desert floor, stumble upon a barrel cactus in full bloom. Everyone is exhausted by this point and the sun is getting higher in the sky.  Fortunately, we are almost back to the truck. Now all we have to do is safely drive out of this desolate, otherworldly landscape. 

See you on the trail.

Cholla cactus with Mt Cox in the background.


  1. Love your sunset shot and I wish I had three hiking buddies like yours :)

  2. Awesome hike! Makes me want to move to the Southwest!