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 one 100 miler and numerous other ultramarathon trail races and marathons. I ran a 5K once.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bush Mt (Guadalupe Mountains National Park)

Why is it getting light outside already? I set my alarms for 4 and 4:30, but never heard anything. Epic alarm failure or was I in such a deep sleep that I just didn’t hear them? I rarely oversleep, but had a hard time drifting off last night due to thunder storms. Sleeping in my hatchback turned out to be a good idea. I don’t have to worry about breaking camp and should be on the trail by 6:00am.

The Guadalupe Mountains National Park is in West Texas on the border of New Mexico and in one of the least populated areas of the country which is why I’m so drawn to it. The highest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak is located here, but that’s not my destination today. I plan to climb Bush Mt (8631’ elev.), the second highest peak and continue on to complete a loop in the interior of the park.

I manage to take off by 6:15 before the sun peeks over the mountain tops. The evaporating rain has created a blanket of fog in the lowlands making the morning feel cool and refreshing. The trail takes me across a dry wash and then I begin to climb. The coolness quickly turns into a humid slog as I start to labor up the steep incline. 

A series of switchbacks helps ease the effort, but only a little bit. Soon I’m high on the mountain peering into the cloud shrouded valley far below. The sun illuminates the peaks all around me. This mountain range was formed by an ancient underwater reef that was eventually covered by sediment, lifted by tectonic compression and then exposed by eons of erosion. The Capitan Reef is a 300 mile horseshoe formation that extends north of Carlsbad Bad Caverns and curves back down towards Alpine, TX. It is one of the best preserved fossil reefs in the world.

My pace is slow because of the altitude and steepness, not to mention the ruggedness of the path. As I toil my way up the mountain I hear the tell tale screech of a raptor and see the bird take flight from a cliff edge high above me. She soars around for a while and then perches on the edge of a rock face to keep a sharp eye on me. Before long I reach a ridge line where I stop to take a quick break, eat a snack and ring out my sweaty shirt. (I know. Ewwwww!) The humidity is going to make for a tough day and I need to keep up with my hydration.

The trail continues climbing eventually leading to a four-way. Here I take the left trail toward Bush Mt. This one is even more rugged because it traverses eroded limestone with tripping hazards everywhere. Running is difficult and turns into more of a rock dance which requires lifting your feet higher and flapping your arms like a chicken to keep your balance. Luckily I’m going mostly uphill and can’t go very fast anyway. 

I reach the top of a summit and wonder if I’m there yet. A quick look at my handheld gps reveals that I’m only at 7500’ and Bush Mt is several miles away. I’m able to run faster for a while as the trail follows the contour of the mountains. I reach an overlook and can see the Dell Valley far below. I know it’s the Dell Valley because surrounding the barren desert are perfect circles of lush crops that appear to have been drawn with a compass. I can also see the salt flats, the subject of the El Paso Salt Wars of the 1800s and an ancient shallow lake bed. The usually dry lake actually has water in it since it stormed last night.

After climbing some more I top out on the peak which is marked by a solar powered weather station. This climb is not as dramatic as reaching Guadalupe Peak with El Capitan below, but a beautiful trip all the same. After taking another short rest, I begin my descent.

At first I’m not sure if I’m on the trail because it is very steep and quite overgrown. I consult my park map and see that this trail is for hikers only; no horses allowed for obvious reasons. Even though I’m heading downhill, I’m not able to go very fast because of the technical nature of the route. At times I can’t even see my footing because saplings and other brush are covering the trail. A few sections require me to use my hands when the rocky step down is too high and occasionally I get off the path when the trail takes a sharp switchback.

After some time I transition onto Blue Ridge Trail and finally make it to Tejas Trail which cuts smack through the middle of the park to the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico.  Here I have to make a decision. A left turn will take me five miles to Dog Canyon where I could fill up with water, but then have to come all the way back to my starting point or I could just turn right to go back to the Pine Spring trailhead where I started. Since my pace has been slow due to the technical nature and steepness of the terrain I decide on the latter. 

At this point the trail follows a lush canyon that crosses a dry white creek-bed multiple times and then steadily ascends to the four-way that I passed earlier. When I reach the ridge line, the clouds that were laying in the valley are now gently rising up the slopes. The horizon lost, I feel that I’m in another world, a mystical Shangri-La. I take a short pause to take it all in and then begin my long descent. 

The lower I go the more Texas Madrone trees I see. These trees have a very smooth orange or pink bark that peels off the trunk. Berries grow that ripen to a bright red in the fall creating food for birds. I finally make it all the way down into the dry wash below and arrive at my car. The July heat has taken it’s toll on me, but I want to run some more since I’m here for only one day. 

I rehydrate with ginger ale and take a little pause before heading back out to explore the Devil’s Hall. All the fog has dissipated and the sun is beating down in full force so I slather on some sunscreen for protection. The trail starts out easy enough; mostly flat with some rollers to keep it interesting. 

Whiptail lizards are out in droves and I have to be careful not to step on them. They usually run down the trail in front of me until they get far enough ahead and then scurry into some cover. Occasionally they will leap to clear rocks or a check dam. Interestingly, these whiptails are all females and reproduce by parthenogenesis; no sex needed. Can you believe that? 

Read how they do it here

In about a mile I have to climb down a steep rocky embankment where a sign instructs to follow the dry wash. Rock cairns mark the way and at times I have to use my hands to scramble up large boulders. Between the heat and the climbing I’m soaked with sweat. The walls of the canyon become higher and narrower as I continue and soon I come to a terraced rock formation. Uniform two inch stairs lead up to a small pool in the rock. I’m tempted to jump in to cool myself, but keep moving deeper into the canyon. 

All of a sudden a horned beast leaps down off the vertical wall as a barrage of rocks fall. A goat like animal runs straight towards me and I wonder: is this the devil that lives in Devil’s Hall? Is this the end of me? If so, I’m alright with it; I’d rather go like this than live out my feeble last days in a hospital or nursing home. As suddenly as the devil bolts towards me, he turns and bounds up the wall defying gravity disappearing high on the wall.

Barbary sheep, an exotic species from North Africa, were introduced into parts of Texas and New Mexico in the 50s and were partially responsible for the disappearance of big horn sheep that once inhabited the Desert Southwest. According to the Mammals of Texas Online, “[Barbary sheep] are expert climbers and can ascend and descend slopes so precipitous that man can negotiate them only with great difficulty.” That explains how the little devil came down from one wall and, in a flash, disappeared up the other side.

After this excitement, I ramble on and reach Devil’s Hall proper, a very narrow hallway of stratified rock. The effort to get here was well worth it for this is an amazing work of natural art. A sign reads “End of Trail” so I turn around and head back out passing the inviting pool once again. It’s much easier getting out; climbing and sliding down the boulders instead of scrambling up. 

I take one last side trip to view El Capitan before finishing my 9 hour adventure that included traversing an ancient reef, lizards that don’t mate and a horned devil. When I return to my car I discover that the best watermelon is the one you eat after running 23 mountainous miles in the July heat of Texas. As for cantaloupes, the best come from Pecos, TX, located not far from here and I was lucky enough to pick up a few from a farmer along the highway on my way home. 

See you on the trail.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Hillsboro Peak

CAUTION...watch for FALLING TREES, BLOCKED ROUTES, ERODED TRAIL. Well, I didn’t plan this one very well did I? The night before leaving for a camping and running trip, I decided to check the status of the Black Range Crest Trail (#79) in the Gila National Forest, NM. Status: OPEN (Hikers and horsemen should beware of the hazards in the burned area.)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Puebloans Ran Here

Not only did the Ancestral Puebloans run, but also scaled cliffs to reach the safety of their homes. Imagine climbing a 100 foot precipice each time you had to run to the grocery store. Well that’s what the ancient peoples who inhabited what is now Mesa Verde National Park had to do in the 13th century AD. 

Cliff Palace
Knife Edge Trail

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Tonuco Mountain

Falling to my death doesn’t scare me half as much as being helplessly trapped in a tight space. You could say I’m claustrophobic. The thought of living out my last days unable to move, dehydrated and starving to death is more than I can even imagine. It’s no wonder that I feel squeamish as I peer into a dark pit on Tonuco Mountain, careful not to slip on the loose sandy dirt and fall to my final resting place. 

Tonuco Mt
Open mine shaft

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Jemez Mountain 50 Miler

Why isn’t a trail ultramarathon ever the distance it’s supposed to be? A 100 is never 100 miles, a 50K is never 31.0686 miles, etc. Do you think a 50 miler could ever be 49.5 miles? Of course not, that would make it too easy. The Jemez Mountain 50 Miler is no different and, although I signed up for 50 miles, I’ll have the opportunity to slog 52.2 up and down the high altitude skyline around Los Alamos, NM.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Diet? No Thanks!

Gluten-free, low-fat, Paleo. Which diet is right for you? How about the Cookie, Baby Food or Volumetrics diet? Seriously, who comes up with this stuff? It certainly is confusing to know how to eat when a new study is published every week touting new claims or pooh-poohing the foods you thought were healthy. What is good for you today will cause cancer next week. 

Read: Red Wine Health Benefits ‘Overhyped’

News Week rated 32 of the most popular diets categorizing them based on weight-loss, heart-healthy, diabetes, etc. I haven’t read about them because I don’t diet. It’s too complicated so I just try to burn as many calories as I put in. Eating natural unprocessed food is more important to me, but occasionally it’s just necessary to grab a Whataburger. Bacon? You betcha, but not everyday. Everyone is different so if you are having success with the Cookie diet, more power to ya. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spring Flora in my Desert

Spring is a great time to hit the trail in the desert. All winter long I brave cold and darkness to keep my running routine going. Everything looks brown and dead in the mountains of the Desert Southwest and our only respite is the occasional dusting of snow which brightens up the landscape. When winter finally breaks, strong winds and dust storms plague us, but at least the temperatures rise and wildflowers and cacti start to show their stuff.