Trail Tales and Tails

Last night’s trail run was awesome. Not because I nailed the run – the trail has a 400 foot elevation gain, plus I stopped every 50 feet to take a picture of something – but I saw critters! Oh, yes I did!

That is one of the best parts of being outdoors. I love the rugged beauty, the colors of the sky as the sun rises and sets, reflecting vividly off the scattered clouds and city smog. And I like looking for critters. It’s always interesting to me how creatures survive in the desert. They’re smart, that’s how. They peek out at me from the shade of a bush and one will say to the other, “Look at that big critter out in the sun in ninety-five degree heat! And it’s running! I give it two-to-one against making it to the parking lot.” And they high five each other.

Well, after overdoing it in previous weeks, I took a “rest” rest day two days ago, as opposed to an “active” rest day like the plan calls for. I massaged and babied my feet and calves and did the tennis ball foot roll, you know the one, and felt great going into the run.

The first critters I came across were a covey of quail. As I crossed the bridge to the trailhead, they warbled and whooped and about a dozen of them skittered up the wash yelling, “Flee! Flee! A human!” A couple of the little walnuts couldn’t manage and tumbled back down. Quail. Cool. I thought.

For about the first kilometer, I walked, gradually picking up the pace. There are a number of trails in Skyline Park that I have yet to explore, but currently I run a 2.16 mile loop. The first half of which is all uphill which is the way I like it. Then I can run back down and feel like a seasoned trail runner.

Trail switchback
Mountain Wash trail going from left to the saddle on top.

After the warmup, I run as I can taking walk breaks up the steep inclines. A drawback is the residue of another critter that shares these trails: horses. Gotta watch where you put your foot. As I rounded the curve shown above, I stopped to take the picture and swig some water. The bottle I used (past tense) was a cool little ditty, ergonomically shaped to fit snuggly in the back of my shorts – don’t go there! – against the small of my back. It was a major award that I won in one of Coach Jenny’s early Challenge contests for who deserves one the most. I submitted a picture of a skeleton in running gear complaining about the heat in Phoenix. Winner! Anyway, I pulled it out of my shorts – don’t go there! – and popped the top to sip some nice refreshing H2O, and it broke. “Oh man! Are you kidding me?” I said to the bush critters. Well, I just unscrewed it and drank, of course, but it annoyed me. I liked that bottle. Then I snapped another picture of a creosote bush and continued to the top and over.

Creosote Bush
Creosote bush in bloom. The leaves smell like rain when you rub them in your fingers. You know what rain smells like – wet dirt.

Now came the fun part, running downhill. Like a giddy teenager. I still haven’t mastered this technique. They say you are not supposed to run with your feet pointed straight down as it’s hard on the toes (and toenails) and tires your quads faster. But I have a fear of rolling my ankles if I turn sideways. Guess I should slow down a little.

So, there I was, minding my own business, barreling down the trail like a runaway freight train when I saw a rattlesnake across the path.

Rattlesnake. Taking its sweet time crossing the trail.

I’ll admit, my first thought was Awesome! and I stopped to take a picture. Then I thought, I wonder if there are more, and looked around. We were alone. So I waited for him to cross the trail. Sure, I could have hopped over him, but I figured why risk damage to my nether region. With my luck, I would get the one snake in the world that can strike three feet straight up from a prone position. But he was moving pretty slowly, wobbling his head back and forth like he was three sheets to the wind.

“Don’t let me interrupt your evening stroll.” I said. After a minute or two, I moved on and continued my barreling.

Coming up the other way, a big guy approached with earbuds and a lot of sweat. Judging by the look on his face, he was pissed off about something. Maybe his girlfriend just broke up with him. Or it could have been the elevation climb. I stopped him to tell him about the snake and he grunted an acknowledgement.

Towards the end of the trail I came up behind a couple. They were stopped and she was holding a camera. “Enough with the pictures,” he said. “We’re here, out in it!” I greeted them as I passed then stopped and took out my phone for a picture.

If I hadn’t recently been on an informative hike with a park ranger, I would have missed it all together, attributing it to a buildup of debris from the rain last week. That’s a pack rat nest! When I moved in for a closer look, a little face with black beady eyes ducked inside. I held my phone up to get the shot and the couple moved passed me. Probably wondering why I was taking a picture of a pile of sticks.

pack rat
Pat rack nest. It’s difficult to get a sense of the dimension and depth from this picture.

I finished the run feeling very satisfied. The critters… the scenery… and what made me cherish it a little more was the fact that it would be my only trail run for the week. I need to slowly build up to more time on the trails. In the meantime, my distance runs will be on the streets with an entirely different set of critters.

Cool runnings my friends!



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