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'm a free spirit who spends countless hours running in the Franklin Mountains and the surrounding desert in far West Texas. I call it going to church. My little Mexican hairless dog, Taz tags along sometimes.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Cloudcroft Ultra 53K Trail Run 2022

How can you escape the scorching summer temperatures of the Chihuahuan Desert in Far West Texas? The only way is to go straight up to gain some altitude. Therefore, you could drive a few hours east to Van Horn, TX and pay millions for a 15 minute flight on one of Jeff Bazos’ Blue Origin rocket ships. Or, go the cheaper route and drive a few hours north to the cool pines of the Sacramento Mountains in Cloudcroft, NM (8,675′). The latter has been the preferred method for El Pasoans since the days of the Alamogordo and Sacramento Mountain Railway which reached Cloudcroft in 1900. The Cloud-Climbing rail has since been dismantled, but many sections have been repurposed into hiking trails by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. This makes Cloudcroft an excellent trail running and hiking destination.

Broad-tailed hummingbird near High Rolls, NM

Last weekend I ran the Cloudcroft Ultra 53K Trail Race put on by the good family that owns High Altitude (your favorite little outdoor store). This is the second year that I ran this low key race which is an out-and-back along the Rim Trail with a lollypop loop, including a brutal climb, I might add, before returning to the village. About 50 of us started at the local park, running the first several miles through town on mostly flat paved and dirt roads and then picked up the Rim Trail once out of the village.

White Sands in the distance

The beginning is pretty smooth and flat, but soon there’s a descent with gnarly rocks everywhere. Before going down though, there are tremendous views of the desert floor, White Sands National Monument and Alamogordo, NM. Not far from here, down in the desert, the first atomic test, Trinity was carried out by a bunch of nervous mad scientists at precisely 5:30 a.m. on Monday, July 16, 1945. The atomic age had begun.


To break the tension, Enrico Fermi began offering anyone listening a wager on "whether or not the bomb would ignite the atmosphere, and if so, whether it would merely destroy New Mexico or destroy the world."    —US Dept of Energy

Anyway, I caught up to a group of runners on this stretch and passed a couple of folks where we leap frogged each other for a while. One guy, who was about 10 years older than me, commented that he didn’t like the technical descents and already had crashed once so told me to go ahead of him. I made it down the mountain without any mishaps and ran some smooth packed trail for a while. 
Soon, we started to climb again where I caught up to a few more runners and passed. I decided to pull away from the pack, so I put it in high gear. Not that I wanted to try to beat anyone, but simply because I feel bad when I pass only to get in the runner’s way a little while later. I kept up this faster pace until I knew I had a pretty good lead on this group. The pack was thinning out and would continue to spread further apart throughout the day. I prefer the solitude of running alone anyway.
I enjoyed running under the tall pines, through some smooth fern lined paths and grassy meadows with plenty of wildflowers. I pulled out my trekking poles to use on the climbs which helped save my legs for later. I passed through a few aid stations where friendly volunteers helped fill my water bottles and offered some food. I declined the sweet goodies though, since I brought my own healthier snacks. After about 3:20 hours I was pretty hot and tired, but reached the mile 13 aid station where I grabbed some watermelon. This perked me up a bit so I took off on the lollypop loop. I would return to this spot after completing the loop at mile 20. 
I power hiked uphill for about a mile and then plunged down 1500’ for the next four miles. At one point I passed a ginormous pine tree that was snapped at the base like a twig, the tall trunk cratered into the earth. I can’t imagine the force that would topple an enormous tree in such a manner. Lightning, a wicked snow storm, wind? I don’t know.
What happened here?

Anyway, I took advantage of gravity and kept up a fast pace where I passed several more runners; a few that looked half my age. Towards the bottom, the trail became an eroded gully filled with ankle breaking rocks so I took my time on this part. I was feeling spry and proud of myself for passing so many runners this morning, but I knew someone was bound to catch me on the brutal climb that lay ahead of me.

Dark-eyed junco (red-backed)
I reached the Alamo Peak Trail, took out my poles and began the steep climb. My rubbery legs burned as I slowly plodded up the slope that was straight up for about the first mile. I had to stop frequently to catch my breath as my heart pounded wildly. The trail passed a series of springs and collection sites that provide water for the city of Alamogordo. I kept looking back wondering which runners were going to catch me. Before long I saw someone downslope gaining on me but I had no energy to try to stay ahead of them. My oxygen starved brain just didn’t care, so I just kept up a slow steady pace. 

In no time, the older guy that I had passed much earlier in the race caught up to me where we chatted a little and commiserated on the brutal ascent. This guy was absolutely amazing and just like that, in a flash was gone up the mountain as if he had levitated. I looked at the results after the race and this guy is almost 70! Amazing! Meanwhile, I struggled on the grueling climb, slowly grinding inch by inch up the trail; huffing and puffing all the time. Nevertheless, none of the younger folks caught either one of us; although It took me a great deal of time to finally get to the top. 

When I finally arrived, I was greeted by the largest pair of balls of I’ve ever seen. On top of Alamo Peak are two weird looking green spheres that are part of the telemetry services for the US Air Force. Several Air Force bases operate fighter jets and other aircraft near here. I often hear them overhead as I’m running the trails in the mountains. The sound of freedom, as they say.

Telemetry balls!
I transitioned onto a paved road that took me back to the aid station. My shirt was soaked through from the hot climb and I must have looked quite disheveled because the volunteers offered me a baby wipe to “freshen up” if I wanted to. I figured, what’s the point? I still had a good 13 more miles to cover and wasn’t going to feel fresh for at least another four hours or so. I ate some more watermelon and took off hoping to get the course finished by around 4:00pm (9 hours). I walked for a while and ate some food that I brought and then started running again. 

I came up here last month for a long training run to get ready for this race. I left my campground before sunrise one morning and enjoyed watching a herd of 50 or more elk grazing by the Sunspot Scenic Byway. Once I reached the trailhead, I did a total of 28 miles including a 16 mile loop using a combination of the Rim Trail, Courtney Mine Trail, Westside Rd and the horrendous climb of Alamo Peak. My training must have paid off, because a second wind enabled me to catch up to the 70 year old super climber. He told me to go ahead of him though, because he was going to power walk most of the trail back to town since he didn’t do well on technical trails.

Elk

In addition to my long training run last month, I took a side trip to the Bridal Veil Falls in High Rolls, NM which is about half way down the mountain from Cloudcroft. Salado Canyon Trail is one of the new Rails-to-Trails hikes that follows the old cloud-climbing route. There are two trail head parking areas and the falls are only about one or two miles away (oneway) depending on which parking area you use. 
Rail trail, High Rolls, NM
Some trestle ruins are near the East parking area and a rebuilt trestle bridge that you can cross is closer to the West parking. The falls are spring fed so they flow year round regardless of drought conditions. The path is never very steep making the falls a good destination for kids and those sane people who don’t regularly run 30+ miles in a stretch. Clear cool water pours over a wide edge of a red cliff; ferns and other lush vegetation hanging onto the rock face —an oasis in the desert. This Forest Service map shows parts of the trail (T128) “under construction”, but the trail is now completed. 

Bridal Veil Falls

Anyway, I kept a pretty steady pace back to town until I hit the last big climb about five miles from the finish. This section is very exposed to the sun and I really struggled to get to the top in the heat of the afternoon. A couple runners passed me on the ascent, but I was able to overtake them once I made it to flatter ground and was able to run again. Many runners were walking by this point, including some youngsters who probably went out too fast. Never underestimate the terrain, altitude and distance of mountain ultras; they will destroy you if you aren’t careful. 

Elk in Sleepy Grass Campground, Cloudcroft, NM

On the other hand, I was able to pace myself and still had enough in the tank to run, or should I say, keep up an “old man shuffle", late in my race. I finally reached town and ran the last several miles, passing a few more exhausted runners. I was never so glad to see the finish line and was cheered in by my family when I crossed in 9:31. It was a great day spent in the cool mountain air; a much needed break from the 100+ heat of El Paso. And to think, it only cost me a fraction of the price of a Jeff Bazos rocket trip!


See you on the trail.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Beaver Creek Colorado

Well, if you haven’t heard, New Mexico is pretty much on fire with two of the largest wildfires in the state’s history still burning. Some monsoon rains moved in a few weeks ago though, which has considerably helped the situation. The concern now is flooding, erosion and mudslides in the burn areas.

Because of this, my spring race, the Jemez Mountains 50 Miler, was cancelled this year due to forest closures. This summer, we had planned a trip to Colorado because my kid was going to music camp at the Beaver Creek Ski Resort near Vail, CO. What's really amazing though, is that my wife said I could run and hike during the day while they attended her music classes. Well, that sounded like a grand idea to me!

Beaver Creek, CO

My first worry started when we pulled up to the upscale gated luxury village that was developed by oil tycoons in the 80s. I thought to myself, there’s no way they are going to let the likes of me and my 15 year old truck into a place like this. To me, luxury accommodations are a campground with a pit toilet. Five star camping includes a public bathroom with running water. (Glamping!) Anyway, we somehow made it past the security gate and checked into our fancy place which had everything under the sun including the kitchen sink!

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Spiritual Retreat, Grand Canyon R2R2R

… in reality, mistakes are called learning, and the state of no mistake is called nowness. In nowness there is no before or after, no goals, agendas, or fixed direction. Like the meandering river, it twists and turns in accord with circumstances but always knows how to find its way to the great ocean. If you wish to travel like this, you must go alone, not carry any baggage, and trust yourself implicitly…* —Daido Roshi 


These are the words I ponder as I embark on another epic running adventure. It’s around 3 am on a cold morning at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. After spending a restless, shivery night in my tent, I’m about as ready as I’ll ever be. Have I forgotten anything? It’s going to be a long day (and night) and I don’t want to make any mistakes in my steps crossing the grand canyon, TWICE! I take off from the Mather Campground all alone under a dark, star filled sky.

In a couple miles I pick up the S. Kaibab trail where I start the plunge down into the heart of Mother Earth. Strong gusts of wind whip up out the canyon and hit me in the face. I switchback down the canyon wall along many terraces made with cedar planks and flat slabs of rock. My feet kick up a fine talcum-like dust that floats down into the beam of my headlamp as I turn each switchback, obscuring my view. My gaze locks onto the oval of light, where I concentrate solely on the trail. Although I can’t see it, I know there’s a precipitous drop just a few feet away, but I dare not look at it. I don’t want to make any mistakes and end up at the bottom of the canyon, so I remain focused and trust myself. 

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Being Time, The Sequel: Sierra Vista Trail 100K

What was your time? That was the question I was most asked after finishing the Sierra Vista Trail 100K two years ago right before the Great Pandemic of 2020 shut everything down. Well, my time was 256,003,967,220 instants, which was about 4,266,732,787 moments. How do I know? Because, a wise old sage has said that there are 6,400,099,180 moments in each day. One moment is equal to 65 instants and there are 60 moments in one finger snap. I wrote about being time in this post following the race in 2020. I ponder what my time might be this year as I embark on another Sierra Vista Trail 100K. What is time anyway?

Robledo Mts

About 15 runners are shivering, here at the start of the race at 6:00am. There will be many more 50K and 1/2 marathon runners on the trail later this morning. I am very grateful for the opportunity to spend the day and evening on this beautiful trail in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in Las Cruces, NM. 


The course is an out-and-back that runs south almost to the Texas border with one short loop at the beginning. Once the runners get under way, I hang back and make sure to pace myself carefully. There’s a chill in the air, but the wind hasn’t picked up yet. This is the windy season in the Desert Southwest with frequent days of blowing dust and red flag warnings.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Franklin Mountains Trail 100K

When you greet an old friend on the trail during these disease ridden times, is it best to do a fist bump, hand shake or high five? We’ll try to answer this as we run the Franklin Mountains 100K today (and night) put on by Trail Racing Over Texas. This race, held in the Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso, TX, usually welcomes runners with a big dose of weather. Cold, hot or wind, but mostly wind —the West Texas kind. Porta-potty tipping over wind! These mountains  create their own energy, channeling the gusts down their slopes, through the accordion folds of the mountain chain.

Well, after many years, we finally have some good weather for the race today, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be any easier to finish. There’s still the jagged rocks, steep climbs and pointy vegetation to contend with; not to mention the waiting around, shivering at the start line. It’s about 40 degrees as I sit in the dark, but should get up to 75 later with skin burning sun and little humidity.
West Texas wind!
The race starts on the west side of the Franklins with a conga line of people climbing the steep Upper Sunset Ridge, a 1.5 mile shin dagger (lechuguilla) lined trail with broken slabs of rock and grueling high steps. I use my trekking poles to help push myself up the scarp and follow the trail of headlamps snaking their way up the mountain. The downhill parts are equally as tough because the rocks underfoot make running almost impossible. I start with my jacket on but, in no time, I’m hot and sweaty even though it’s still dark and cold. 

Friday, October 29, 2021

Tortugas “A” Mountain 24 Hour Run

So, I did a thing. One I’ve never done before. I ran the Tortugas “A” Mountain 24 hour run in Las Cruces, NM a few weeks ago. I’ve never run a 24 hour race before because most of them are usually run on a track or short loop course. The idea is to run for 24 hours to rack up as many miles as you can. Running on a track for a day and night never really appealed to me, but this race was on a four mile trail around “A” Mountain. Well, I decided to give it a try and since I had recently celebrated my 58th birthday I set a goal to run one mile for each year on the planet. 

Organ Mountains as seen from "A" Mountain

The race was sponsored by the Southern New Mexico Trail Alliance who maintain the trails in this area and also organize the Sierra Vista Trail Runs. This race, however, was run "fat ass" style, “No Fees, No Awards, No Aid, No Wimps”. We started on Friday evening at 6pm going clockwise around the mountain and reversed direction on each completed loop. Runner wrote the time they finished each lap on a board posted at the start/finish area.

Tortugas Mountain as seen from the Organs

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Mt Taylor 50K 2021

 The muffled sound of a hundred feet padding the rocky dirt road, a whiff of dust stirred up from the forest floor and the disorienting ovals of light from runners’ headlamps greet me at the beginning of the Mt Taylor 50K in Grants, NM. I carefully scan the road for rocks lest I break my ankle in the first half mile of the race. Mt Taylor (11,306’) or Tsoodził is a sacred mountain to the Navajo and marks the southern boundary of their homeland. According to the website NavajoPeople,

“[Tsoodził ] is important in the Blessing Side ceremonies and the Enemy Side Ceremony. Mount Taylor was once the home of Yé’iitsoh (Chief of the Enemy Gods).
Once the sun is up, sunrays are all around and Mount Taylor is adorned with sunlight.

After thinking about what you want to do for the day, you start to plan your activities…Thoughts such as, “We want to progress,” grow from small plans to large plans and Mount Taylor has the power to satisfy that wish.”

View from Mt Taylor elev. 11,302

My hope is that Mt Taylor will be kind to me today and allow me to progress up her steep slopes and to safely return to the race finish line. I’m barely awake and simply keep my mind focused on the path. I share the trail with about 150 other hearty runners, but I stay in the back of the pack and pace my self. Before long the road becomes steep and I shift into power hike mode to conserve as much energy as possible. I expect my journey to last about 9 hours.