Trail Run in California: Joshua Tree National Park

I’m happy I made it out somewhere new to run this week. I needed an energizer after logging some quite boring miles around my home.

I just got back from a short trip to Joshua Tree National Park. I had a few days off of work and saw it as an opportunity to go run somewhere new. I’m not a camper (yet!) but I found an inexpensive place to stay on the east side of the park on AirBnb. I enlisted my runner friend Annie to come with me. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to make it out till later the second day I was there, but we still got some good runs and an awesome sunset in.

The first night I was there I stopped in at a backpacker/camping outfitter store- Nomad. The official visitors’ centers for the park were closed and I figured an area retailer would have the information I was looking for. The staff there was super friendly and recommended we check out the Boy Scout Trail. It is an out and back (or point to point if you use two cars). They also recommended Stubbe Springs Trail for running, which we didn’t get to, but I thought I’d mention it here in case someone wants to give it a try.

The winds were intense on our first running day, so waiting for Annie to arrive was fine and gave me a chance to catch up on reading and work on some writing. I also stopped by the Visitor’s Center to see if there was any further information to gather. The staff there recommended Pine City Trail as a nice run. Once Annie arrived we booked it out to the trail to get a run in before the sun went down. It’s a relatively short trail for a run, maybe 3 miles round trip, but we made it longer by parking at the lot on Geology Tour road and running north on the road to where the trail begins, which added on about a mile (each direction). We ran a total of five miles, out to where the namesake trees began, and where there were also some large boulder formations. The trail itself is pretty flat, climbing maybe 200 feet and not technical. We snapped some pictures and ran back to the car to catch the sunset.

 

I had overheard one of the park Rangers at the visitor’s center telling a couple about a lookout called Keys View, so we headed there, making it just in time to watch the sunset. It was windy and cold but so beautiful. After a pit stop at the pharmacy for some toiletries and barbeque from The Rib Co., we retired pretty early. I turned the light out by 11, but I probably didn’t fall asleep till 3 in the morning. Ever since I was burglarized last month, I’ve had a difficult time falling asleep, and adding to the fun was Daylight Savings Time fallout, and the fun discovery that Annie is a hardcore kicker in her sleep (we were sharing a bed).

 

The plan was to do 15-16 miles on the Boy Scout Trail the next day. The trail is about 7.5 miles out, with the option of leaving a car at the other side, but we planned on doing the out and back from the trailhead on Indian Cove. I had done some more reading on the trail in a book I have, 50 Trail Runs in Southern California, and found out that part of the trail was composed of loose sand. It was more than part- at least 75% of the ground we traveled resembled a beach.

The trail stars out in open desert then climbs through hills of rock formations. I found every part of the run visually and physically engaging. As we were we were running on sand most of the time, our pace was slower than we anticipated and we didn’t make it to the other side before needing to turn back for the day. Despite the fact that we kept up as good a pace as we could and didn’t stop for long, it still took us over an hour to run 4 miles. I would look down at my watch, expecting to see 12-13 minutes per mile, but find we were running closer to 15 minute miles. We re-evaluated our plan at the four mile mark, decided to run one more mile, to where we could see over the other side the rock formations we had climbed up. I will add that there was also about a mile and a half (3/4 mile each way) on the trail that required more hiking and scrambling than running. According to my Garmin, the trail climbs steadily from about 2,900 ft at the head  to 4,100 ft at the five mile mark, with most of it runnable. After the run we grabbed lunch at Natural Sisters Cafe, where I had a very tasty black bean burger. I’m not usually a fan of vegetarian fare, to the point where I sometimes get suspicious of it, but seriously, that sandwich was delicious.

I’m happy I made it out somewhere new to run this week. I needed an energizer after logging some quite boring miles around my home. It was a bit astonishing for me to realize how much I’ve strengthened my legs since last year. Running on sand felt natural and I enjoyed it. I have been hitting trails and hills often on my runs, and now I see how it serves me to keep at them regularly, so I don’t have a mental block about running off road when a good opportunity to run somewhere new and exciting presents itself.

I haven’t mentioned any routes on here that you will have difficulty finding on even a basic map of Joshua Tree. Everything was easily accessible from the road & parking lots. Natural Sisters Cafe and The Rib Co. are both on Twentynine Palms Hwy.

Trail Run in California: Devil’s Punchbowl

I went on a great trail run yesterday- it was the kind of journey I hope I’m going to have each time I go out. My running buddy, Annie, had suggested earlier this week that we go out to Devil’s Punchbowl, a park descriptively named for the shape its rock-formations make. It’s located on the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains, and while I’ve gotten to know the little corner of the San Gabriel Mountains around Pasadena pretty well,  I had not yet been over to the other side of the range, which rises up from the desert.

Annie picked me up and we made the 1.5 hour drive out there. The closer we got, the more excited we became. In front of us was the desert, but just behind that, snow and pine covered mountains. I haven’t done any trail running around snow before, and was psyched for the chance. Growing up in Houston, Texas, did not afford much opportunity to be around snow except for the occasional ski trip, so the stuff still holds a mythical quality for me.

Devil’s Punchbowl itself is beautiful. There’s a one mile trail around the park, and Annie and I ran a bit of it, but we turned back because we were eager to get to the snow. The trail we wound up taking, the “Devil’s Chair” trail, skirts the outer edges of the north side of the bowl, and has gentle climbs and descents that create a fun course for running.

To be honest, I was dying a little bit at the end of the first mile. My calves and arches were doing their normal stubborn warm up- they’re tight and achy for one to two miles. I’ve been stretching and strengthening the area, to help the pain go away, but right now this is normal times. In any case, we were also starting at higher elevation than normal and could feel it in my breath. I was afraid the whole run was going to be arduous.

Thankfully, I was soon distracted from any negative feelings. We got to the snow. There was ice and mud every so often to keep things interesting as well. We passed a few other groups of hikers, and stopped to take pictures. The juxtaposition of desert and snow continued to thrill me. We passed through a cool, more heavily wooded area and Annie aptly mentioned Narnia. We had to stop and walk part of the way once we got closer to Devil’s Chair. It was on a narrow backbone of the landscape, and it was fenced in for safety. We took our views and pictures and turned back.

The last part of the run flew by. We were used to the partially slushy and icy terrain now. Where on the way out most of our views were of the mountains, coming back we were running over snow but looking at a desert. We ran straight in, barely pausing. My legs were feeling the work, but I was able to dismiss the fatigue from my thoughts and just enjoy the fun of speeding along the trail like a roller coaster cart on its tracks.