The sudden boom makes me jump out of my skin. That was close! While running the Three Rivers Trail in New Mexico, I hear a very loud report. I’m not nearly as frightened as I should be, because it seems so surreal. Running peacefully along a soothing stream; enjoying the quiet in the White Mountain Wilderness, and all of a sudden, KABOOM!
I try to use reason to deduce what happened as I continue running. 1. It could have been a gun blast, although I don’t believe it’s open season for any game. 2. Maybe it was a clap of thunder, but I didn’t see a flash and it isn’t very cloudy. 3. Could it have been a sonic boom? Kirtland and Holloman Air Force Bases are within proximity. 4. It could have been a commercial spacecraft entering the atmosphere on its way to Spaceport America that is also nearby. 5. Meteor, astroid, sputnik or other space junk?
Hmmmm..., thunder makes the most sense to me. I always read that mountains make their own weather. I will probably never know for sure what it was though.
|Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in winter|
Anyway, my run this morning began at the Three Rivers Campground in the Lincoln National Forest north of Tularosa, NM. Several years ago I visited a spectacular Native American rock art site down the road that contains more than 21,000 petroglyphs. The campground sits at around 6500’ elev. and the six mile trail climbs to about 10,000’. My goal today is to reach the Crest Trail junction to ascertain how I can perform at high altitude without any acclimation. I’ve somehow gotten myself into a 50 mile trail race in Flagstaff, AZ next month. Funny how that happens.
The trail follows a gorgeous stream with many water crossings. The elevation and shade cover keep the temperature comfortable especially compared to the low desert just ten miles from here. Boulders are strewn in and around the water creating numerous small waterfalls and towering cliffs rise straight up from the floor.
The vegetation is lush and wildflowers are plentiful. In fact, so abundant that I can’t resist stopping every few feet to take another picture of one. I come to a shallow cave made of huge boulders stacked one on top of another and stop for a quick bite to eat. I continue running and pass through some overgrown areas where my bare legs brush against stinging nettle. I’m too focused on my task to really give a damn though.
Here are a bunch of the flowers I saw:
|How can I get any running done with all this beauty?|
|This one is my favorite|
After another series of stream crossings I come to a place with smooth cliffs covered in moss. The brook cascades down bare rock filling shallow pools enticing me to take a dip. Unfortunately, I must keep moving up the mountain. I pass an interesting rock cairn built on top of a tall tree stump. Someone had some extra time on their hands and must have had help getting the rocks onto such a high platform.
At this point I leave the stream bed and run through a pine and aspen forest. The trail is faint and sometimes hard to follow. Some trees are down blocking the way so I have to either crawl under or climb over the obstacles. I leave the shade of the forest and enter a slope covered in tall grass. Again, the trail is hard to see making it difficult to know where to place my feet.
Suddenly a bird explodes up from under the cover and lands somewhere in front of me completely hidden. I get a brief glimpse of it, but am unable to get a picture. It keeps running and taking short flights just beyond me and finally flies off down the hillside. I suspect it may be a Montezuma Quail because this is their range and type of habitat. I’ve always wanted to see one of these beautiful birds with black and white face markings that look like a swirly tribal face tattoo. I can’t be sure it was one though.
Following the excitement I labor up multiple steep switchbacks, pass through an aspen grove and gain more altitude. While huffing and puffing up the mountain I can see islands of prairie grass amongst a sea of forest. Finally I reach the ridge of the Sacramento Mountains and am rewarded with fine views in every direction.
I head east on the Crest Trail for a while, but the trail is hard to follow due to erosion caused from scarring from the Little Bear Wildfire that started in this area a year ago. I turn around and backtrack for a while where I get a good glimpse of White Horse Hill (10,255). I think about climbing the few hundred feet to the top, but decide against it because the soil and ecosystem are very fragile from the fire. I feel fine as I run around up here in the thin air. No nausea or headache which I have sometimes experienced in the past while running at altitude.
|White Horse Hill (10,255' elev.)|
After stopping for a cream cheese on walnut-cranberry bread, I notice more clouds rolling in. The last thing I want is to be caught up here in a lightning storm. I quickly head back down, the return trip being much easier of course. As I descend I’m entertained by (for lack of a more scientific name) a many shades of yellow, orange and brown butterfly that seems to be following me.
When I reach the stream again I decide to count the number of water crossings. Most accidents happen while going down a mountain and I stumble more frequently now. While climbing up onto a large log with broken limbs, one of my gaiters gets caught on a protruding branch and I almost go ass over teakettle. I hear a ripping sound as the gaiter comes loose from the velcro fastener. The material is also torn, but at least I am still upright.
Before long I pass the cave and then hear another loud boom. This time I am sure it is thunder and just hope I make it back before the sky opens up. A few hikers are on their way up the trail as I approach the terminus. 13 miles, five hours and at least 18 stream crossings later (36 counting both ways), I’m back at the campground where it begins to rain.
Three Rivers Trail is a cool gem amongst an otherwise harsh desert landscape. Just a few hours drive from El Paso, Las Cruces or Alamogordo, this is the place to go on a hot summer day. Don’t forget to walk the short petroglyph trail when you visit.
See you on the trail.
P.S. After further research, I learned that a type of dangerous lightning known as “bolts from the blue” can strike more than 25 miles away from storm clouds. According to the National Weather Service, cloud-to-ground lightning can come out of the back side of a storm cloud, travel through clear air and then angle down. Click here to see dramatic photos.