Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter Pilgrimage - As Interpreted by Endurance Athletes

El Santuario de Chimayo
Dwell in Santa Fe or the northern Rio Grande Valley long enough and one will soon associate Holy Week and the coming of Spring with the Easter pilgrimage of the faithful to the holy Santuario de Chimayo. It's a lovely custom - serving as a marker of seasons, as a nod to our rich local culture and the old ways and a tight connection to the land around us, and as a personal affirmation of faith and re-birth.

For most that choose to undertake the pilgrimage, the trek to El Santuario begins just north of Pojoaque. From here the road to Chimayo is maybe 14 miles. The more adventurous (often those seeking a greater level of devotion or religious piety) will begin closer to Santa Fe, leaving Thursday evening and walking through the night. Some literally bare crosses that they've fashioned together for their journey. Though less common, solitary pilgrims can be seen earlier in the week making the journey north along I-25 from places as far south as Bernalillo. A remarkable image of humility and grace.

Early morning, along the ditches of the Rio Grande
East near Cochiti and Tetilla
Now these are long stretches to cross on foot. Which is really the point of it all I suppose, to stretch oneself and bend the mind to look within. When studying the longer routes though, much of it breaks down to just walking for miles along the shoulder of a trafficked highway. There is little here to inspire, and romantic images of the pilgrims of Santiago de Compostela are quickly retired.

But this is where a few big-mile guys from these parts approached the Santuario pilgrimage with a new vision. Why not run it? An all day trek from Santa Fe is then shortened to several hours. If it's viewed as a run, why not add a few miles so it can be run off-road? And the leap-of-logic coup de grace - if we're going to run from Santa Fe why not just run it all the way in from Albuquerque?

And that's what they did. Friends Espo and Houghton routed a course from the north valley of Albuquerque along the ditches and Indian Service Roads, up and over La Bajada and the path of the Camino Real, across the Caja del Rio, then east along the Rio Tesuque in Jacona and up the into the foothills of Nambe, finally turning north once more through the ghostly barrancas to the Santuario.

Marc framed by the Jemez skyline
Kris stands on the La Bajada cliff bands, Sandia skyline
I know all of this first-hand because I was asked to help pace them in from Nambe, at the very end of their twenty-two hour 92 mile pilgrimage. My aid wasn't pacing in a literal sense, but rather as mental company to ease the temptation for them to quit. Houghton had actually blown-up in the Caja and had to abandon at 70 miles. Friends met them near Jacona and helped guide Espo up to Nambe where we joined and ran through the night into Chimayo. It was midnight, a partial moon was lifting over the mountains, and as we moved along we passed walkers that had come out to make their journey after finishing a full day of work. We turned and entered the gate into the Santuario at 1:30am. It was stunningly beautiful, and remains so in memory three years later. Quite the experience. I think of it often this time of year and am very satisfied to have finally made a story of it.

The Nambe Barrancas and the last segment to El Santuario
random shot of Espo looking like a badass
Marc had no visible reaction when entering the Santuario. The guy was well past drained and had been for hours. He later told me he wasn't quite right for several weeks afterward, the experience perhaps etching itself permanently into his being. Houghton, distraught that he couldn't complete the pilgrimage with his friend, returned (from Albuquerque) the following day to walk out the remaining 22 miles of footsteps. And the ancient rewards of the pilgrim and the theme of the Easter season are replayed. And what was once aged and old...becomes new once again.

Related Posts:
   Espo's original run-report here
 - La Luz Trail Run Recap - 2013
 - Fair Chase, Antelope Hunting on Foot
 - Armijo Runs to an Olympic Trials Qualifier

View Santuario de Chimayo Pilgramage - NM in a larger map

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pipped at the (By)Line

A cool writeup on New Mexican milers was published yesterday over at These guys do a stand-up job of promoting track via its most exciting race. They've compiled lists of all the U.S. sub-four milers; records lists; chronological and progression lists; and now lists by state.

What made the New Mexico writeup so rad was that it was my work - highlighting Aragon, Young, Maas, Krummenacker, and McNiff. Got me fired-up to see these guys get the spotlight on a more heavily trafficked corner of the web. The writeup also outlined the history and difficulties of running a sub-four mile on New Mexico soil, drawing from another post I penned just a few months ago. A shame that the article didn't link directly to my writing since I had layered in all kinds of additional detail and anecdotes and lists to ramp things up to Defcon-1 level of cool.

The story got attention, and tweets and emailed links and shares and pluses - very rewarding. All except for one glaring error right at the end of thing:

My name is not Ben.

Related Posts:
 - New Mexico's Four Minute Milers
 - Sub Four Mile at Altitude
 - The Tough Guy List

Monday, April 7, 2014

Snowpack at Santa Fe and Taos Fall Short of Last Season

Sunday was the final day of the ski season up at Ski Santa Fe. The final day as well up at Taos Ski Valley including the final day the resort will be operated by the Blake Family since its founding.

Not a great year for skiing in northern New Mexico due to the dry weather and light snowfall. Continuing a trend of below average years, this season's snowpack came in below last season even though the snow arrived a month early for us. Pajarito Mountain never opened. The departure of Santa Fe Mountain Sports marks the second ski retailer to close up shop in the last four three years. All a bit sad for those with memories of snow and wintry seasons of years' past.

Below are some interesting year-over-year comparisons, from this season and last, of reported base depths at Ski Santa Fe, Taos, and Crested Butte, CO. They're sourced from , my go-to snow/ski app for tracking ski conditions (which is not at all helpful in NM since the next ski season is nine long months away). The base totals in red for Santa Fe and Taos clearly show the large early accumulations in Nov/Dec then very meager additions for the rest of the season until late the final month. Colorado saw quite a bit more in the way of moisture and storms beginning in February that just didn't sweep south to our end of the Rockies. Last year most of the Colorado snowpack tracked fairly evenly with ours, an average base depth at the Butte of 40-50in (not an impressive amount).

Lots of other cool snow stats to click through for recent years at the website, showing a highwater mark of 258in of total snowfall in calendar year 2010. Just 71in in 2007. Last year's snowfall, which mirrors this one, recorded 147in of total accumulations.

Related Posts:
 - Taos Ski Valley Bought up by Wall Street Financier
 - Sangre de Cristo Mountain Works Closes its Doors
 - New Mexico River Levels Spike to 30 times Average

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Street Art and the Painted Desert Project

High Desert Babe wheels past Thomas' Love Train mural - July 2011
The east end of Santa Fe's Railyard Park has a big 'ol red caboose parked there near St Francis Drive northbound. It's been there for as long as I can remember. Someday soon there'll be a cool new underpass constructed right there that will neatly tie the Railyard/Guadalupe Districts to the Hickox/St Anne/Baca St Districts of town along the new Acequia Trail.

That Railyard caboose has just sat there overlooking things from its well-trafficked perch through the last several decades. She can generally look pretty worn down, especially when aspiring young artists markup the red car-walls with tags and immature scribbles. In the fall of 2010 however, the caboose looked glorious. Artist Chip Thomas (aka Jetsonorama) was commissioned to put up a wheat paste mural of playing children, and the transformation of old railway relic to contemporary art chic was jarring. I loved to ride by there and marvel at how glue paper and ink could have such a bold effect on that forever-dusty corner setting.

Pool Diver
The paper and images have worn away since then with sun exposure and the rotation of seasons. The Pool Diver on the north-facing side remains but the piece has poor visibility from trail or road. I often wonder if the caboose will be re-done and made new again! Better yet, what other number of scribbled walls and faded surfaces around town or beside the trails could be costumed with new meaning and fresh outlook?

All this imaginating and curiosity got me reading about the artist, Chip Thomas - and whoa - could not have envisioned what an impossibly badass guy this dude is. Grew up in New York, heavily influenced by the nascent hip-hop and graffiti scene (now more developed and categorized as street art). He now works as a practicing physician with Indian Health Services on the Navajo Nation and in his spare time dreams up and  pastes these transfixing images that mirror the people and lands themselves. An extended body of work that he and visiting artists and his pasting team (calling themselves No Reservations Required) pulled together in 2012 they call the Painted Desert Project. The images themselves are ordinary, but their size and setting somehow become extraordinary when viewing. I love what this guy does.

All work by Chip Thomas
More images at the artist's site,

John Begishie

King Fowler

Laughing Woman

Open Hand

Standing Sheep

Watching Tank
Related Posts:
 - Shepard Fairey's Newest Artwork
 - New York's Incredible High Line Park
 - Not Seen on Treadmills - Shepard Fairey Edition

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Passing of a Friend

Close friend of mine checked out three weeks back. A mishap in the mountains ended his days. He was a ski patrolman up at Wolf Creek, an erstwhile Durango river guide who boated the Grand Canyon, well traveled, very well read, a highway man with few possessions who lived a helluva an admirable life. We had countless adventures together over the years including my first camping trip and first river trip. My first real river trip anyways. Walked the butterfly forests of Mexico together after picking him up on the side of the road in the mountains outside Mexico City.

I had never considered a trip up to Durango or southwest Colorado to be anything other than an anxiously anticipated adventure, but for now at least there is a dark sense of loss. Can't see how a visit will quite be the same again. Sutt is off to bigger and better things on the other side I suppose. It is a somber and unwelcome day when one must say goodbye to an old friend.

Patrolman Sutt
Capitán Sutt


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