Thursday, June 15, 2006

Desert runs (part 1)

Another set of runs I did during my training for Ohlone were some runs in the deserts of Arizona and Nevada. I thought that these would be good heat training. In the end, it really wasn't necessary as the temps were quite mild on race day (it even rained a bit). However, what I discovered was that running in the desert can be beautiful and challenging. I also learned how diverse the different desert climates can be.

Saguaro National Park

While traveling to Tucson to visit my oldest son, Jefferson, in college I did a couple of runs in what is often referred to as the "Cactus Forest". The reason for the nickname becomes quite obvious once you are there. Not only are there plenty of the namesake Saguaro Cactus, but there are also contains many other variety of cacti as well as a plethora of other desert flora. It is a very lush feeling environment for a desert.

Day 1
For my first run, I started from the scenic Forest Cactus Drive which requires an entrance fee (unless you already own a National Parks Pass which I highly recommend). I parked at the Loma Verde trail head and headed out the trail of the same name. Since I was planning a relatively short run and had was not carrying a map with me, I decided to stick along the trails on the outside edge of the complex, heading up to see the Three Tanks, but probably not as far as Bridal Wreath Falls since I had to meet for dinner in a few hours. The running was pure pleasure! Well-marked, soft (but not slippery), single-track, sand trails with enough twists and turns to be fun and enough rock steps and cactus to be mildly challenging and require you to keep you focus. There was very little elevation change along the route I'd planned, but enough small hills to go up and down and make me smile. The plan was to take the Loma Verde to Squeeze Pen to Camarillo to Three Tanks and then back. Apparently, I should have carried that map because, even with all nice little signs at every trail junction, I still managed to take a turn off of the Camarillo Trail which ended up dead ending. The problem is that I didn't immediately realize it. After spending the better part of 30 minutes running back and forth up and down imaginary trails that would simply end in cactus fields I backtracked to the main trail. It was here where I realized that I was actually wandering in nowhere land somewhere around a little watering hole named Little Wildhorse Tank. I found the Three Tanks junction and took it up to the first tank before heading back. In the end, getting lost just added more to the beautiful desert mystique. All in all, I estimate the run to be somewhere south of 9.5 miles.

Day 2
For the second day, I decided to do a little longer run. I had to meet Jefferson for a BBQ at his frat house in the afternoon, but I figured if I started reasonably early I could still get a couple of hours of running in. For this run I decided to do a run up to Douglas Spring Campground which is considered to be part of the Saguaro Wilderness Area. This trail climbs a couple of thousand feet over the approximately 6 miles to get to the campground and is usually done as part of a backpacking trip. The trail was again very beautiful, but much more challenging with all of the climbing especially given that much of it was up and over rock steps. I was reminded of the Muir Woods Trail Marathon I had just done the week before that included a significant amount of stairs on the course. Furthermore, since it ended up taking me close to 2 1/2 hours to run this trail, the heat started to climb just as I did. The single water bottle that I was carrying would definitely be drained before I finished (luckily I was smart enough to fill with Gatorade Endurance Formula as opposed to just plain water). Finishing this one was just as fun and even more rewarding. It really gave me a feel for true desert trail running which I had only experienced once before when running in the Grand Canyon. In that instance I ran from rim to river (or rather Phantom Ranch) and back. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that the drink powder I select was listed as "low sodium" and the second half of the "back" part became a hot, slow, painful slog up the Bright Angel Trail. This run in Tucson ended with much less pain, but I was defintiely starting to feel the desert heat at the end. I ended up going over my time limit and desperately needing to shower from the heat, dust and (oh yeah) one little trip I did when my foot caught on one of those rock steps, I was going to be a little bit late for that BBQ.


angie's pink fuzzy said...

Hi, I just found your blog. I'm an ultrarunner and I live in Tucson. You wrote a great description of my haunts! Looking forward to reading more.

Eudemus said...


Thanks for the feedback. I really enjoyed the Tucson desert. I only wish I'd brought a camera with me and had more time to run in some of the other areas. Since my son is attending college there, I will likely be back with more time to explore. Would love to hear of other good trails in the area. I'll be reading your blog closely before my next trip.


angie's pink fuzzy said...

Oh, I'll definitely clue you in to some trails! Sounds like you already found some of the best - but next time you'll have to run in the Catalinas :)