My pen light casts a dim oval in front of me as I crunch rhythmically along the gravel levee road. I can’t see the Rio Grande or anything else for that matter and try not to veer right or left for fear of tumbling off the steep berm. I anticipate the rising sun and wonder what misery today’s weather will deal. The forecast calls for severe wind later, so I began my run in the dark to try to beat the gusty weather.
My journey is a long one this morning. I left El Paso, TX at 5:00am and am hoping to be in the Old Mesilla part of Las Cruces, NM to meet Cara and Maddie for lunch. The entire 36 mile run will be along the river and I’m excited to be following the former Butterfield Overland Mail route. Mesilla was an important stop on the old stage road and was the half way point between St. Louis and San Francisco.
When the sun finally arrives, I can see that the rio is completely dry. How is it possible that a river that is named Grand could be so not grand? The reason is the Rio Grande Project, dams that have been built upstream to hold water until the growing season. The Mesilla Valley is an important agricultural region in Southern New Mexico. Chili peppers, cotton, pecans and other crops depend on the river for irrigation.
As I run along, thoughts about the day when the dams will be gone and the river will flow naturally enter my mind. It may not happen for a hundred or even a thousand years, but in the future the watercourse will flow freely once again. When thinking on a geological scale, human dam building is a mere blip in time. But for now, our desert civilization depends on controlled water for growing food and other products.
Before long, I pass by freshly plowed fields and some with cotton ready for harvesting. The cotton plants are in various stages of development and are simultaneously adorned with flowers, bolls, and cotton.
As I begin to enjoy some views of the Franklin and Organ Mountains, the wind shows its ugly face. Wind is definitely the worst element to run in, but at least it is in the 60s this morning. It could be much worse.
When I enter New Mexico, the trail is lined with pecan groves. The two counties I’m running in today, El Paso and Doña Ana, are the largest pecan producing regions in the United States thanks to the Rio Grande. As I stop to take a few photos of the majestic pecan trees, a monarch butterfly lands on a golden leaf. perhaps he is also on a long journey today; probably much longer than mine.
When I reach a cross road, I pick up a bottle of water and some snacks that I cached earlier in the week. Eating frequently, but sparingly on my long runs helps to keep my blood sugar up. I was able to stow a quartered peanut butter sandwich in the pockets of my Race Ready shorts and a flask of diluted honey and chia seeds rides like a holstered six-shooter on my belt.
After three hours of running, the mountains disappear behind a curtain of blowing dust, so I tie my bandana around my face which gives me that Jesse James look. Tumbleweeds are rolling around just like in the classic western movies, so I get my guard up so as to not be flattened by runaway shrubbery. This familiar symbol of the American West is actually a non-native invasive species brought from Russia in the 1800s
When I reach the 26 mile point, I think to myself, “I’ve just run a marathon; only 10 more miles to go.” I still have plenty of energy, but the usual muscle tightness between my shoulder blades is causing some pain. By raising my arms above my head and stretching my neck down I’m able to get a bit of temporary relief.
Before I know it, I reach the Mesilla Dam which means I’m only five miles away from lunch with my family. When the river is flowing, the dam diverts water to the east and west canals for irrigation. When water is not flowing, the dam is a graffiti adorned eye sore, but also acts as a bridge for ultra-marathoners running to Mesilla. Now that’s progress!
I arrive in town before noon and call my two favorite girls to announce my presence. It was a long and blustery morning, but I don’t feel like I just ran 36 miles. My stomach begs to differ though, so we proceed to Andele! Restaurante. It certainly would have been much easier to ride to Las Cruces with Cara and Maddie, but tacos taste much better after a 36 mile run.
See you on the trail.