Saturday, July 31, 2010


So, there's this wonderful development, just across 167 from Mono City. Why is it wonderful? Because it failed to develop. Out in the middle of the sage, on the West side of Goat Ranch Cutoff (the road's in two parts, divided by Wilson Creek), 7 or 8 big houses sit lonely, like ice age tufa. A new, low sign at the turn says Rainbow Ridge Realty, June Lake--it's no ridge, but I bet they do get killer views of 'bows over the Basin through their tall glass windows.

The roads in this stalled (for now) development which have the houses on them are in pretty decent shape. But get this--there's a small network of house-less lanes between them, complete with cul-de-sacs, which is quickly being reclaimed by the desert. The pavement is broken at regular intervals, and rabbit brush and sage have filled the cracks. Streets with names like Conway Rd, and Glacier Rd, are announced on weathered signs at pointless, dead end junctions--here, there is such a thing. When I run through this place, I would feel like a member of the legendary "Steeple squad!" leaping over these rows of bushes, except that, being tall, I hardly have to leap.

It's an experiment in what lasts, what doesn't. I wonder how often all the other roads around here have to be repaved to stand a fighting chance against the elements. And desert plants, why, they're downright vicious! Their gnarled taproots go 15, or 50 feet into the ground, in search of a hint of water. You think a pancake thin spread of pavement's going to keep them down? They root with vengeance.

Anyway, I began running through this bizarre landscape, a ghost-almost-town, because a) when I was dealing with real/potential injury, I wanted to avoid sand while staying near Mono City b) running mindlessly down short cul-de-sacs and dead end streets is a super way to eschew long stretches of head-on wind, and so stay fresh (sort of--purposeless running can run you down, too), and c) nothing tickles me more that thwarted suburbia. It's a runner's Disneyland.

8 mi, 56 min; a ramble through the Conway Ranch development, 167, and the sage aside Mono City -- maybe I'll call this run "Disneyland"?

Friday, July 30 -- AM: 9 mi, 63 min; "inner Dechambeau loop" from County Park -- PM: 4 mi, sagebrush ramble by Mono City

Thursday, July 29 -- 10 mi, 70 min; 167 to Cemetery Road

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rattling off the miles

Today, prompted by a bulldozer up ahead (still widening the road), I diverged from my usual Conway Ranch Loop, running around the hill on the Northeast side of the ranch, instead of over it, on a jeep trail I'd never tried out before. The road dipped through a spot of willows near an irrigation ditch, and there, I leaped! Even belly up--clearly deceased--a snake triggers instincts I can't suppress.

I kept going, but as I so often do, turned around. Because it didn't quite look like a gopher snake. Sure enough, it wasn't. It was a rattler. I squatted, flipped it over.

How did I know it wasn't just feigning death, like a hog-nosed snake sometimes does? Well, red ants crawled over its body, and there was a coagulated explosion on one of its long sides (evidence that it had been run over). I brushed two fingers across its amazingly large, smooth, ribbed and layered scales (see photo ... someone else's), and noticed its black tongue was sticking out, still, from the point of its diamond head as if the snake died mid-taste. And I counted four tiers to its rattle (incredibly, these are modified scales), which means it was just four years old.

I paid a little more attention to the ground for the next few miles. A good run, otherwise.

13 mi, 91 min; Conway Ranch Loop (slightly modified) with Goat Ranch Cutoff O+B extension

Tuesday, 6/27 -- AM: 10 mi, 70 min; old 395 to Cemetery Rd -- PM: 4 mi, 28 min; Mono City Sage Ramble

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fire above the hills

An atypically dramatic day in the basin. Around 4:30, I walked out onto our deck to see smoke spiraling up into the sky from across the lake. The fire quickly grew to 500 acres. Sarah and I drove around for a few hours in search of the best vantage point from which to photograph the blaze, whose smoke lifted into a shifting funnel braiding north with the wind. Helicopters and tankers dropped water from Grant Lake and vermilion fire retardant.

In the evening, I drove up the rough end of Black Point for yet another thrilling view. It was as if the Mono Craters, after 650 years (when Panum Crater let forth), had come alive again. Smoke unraveled to the east, and up. I imagined an octopus, with waving tentacles, holding against a rock in a pool (the basin) as the tide went out.

I descended just about at dark, and having been distracted from my run by the blaze all afternoon, set out at about 8:45 pm. I parked by Wilson Creek on Cemetery Road, and ran the ~ 6 mi loop around Dechambeau Ranch. As I started out in the dim light, poorwills hopped off the road in front of me, some lighting into the sky after moths. They would flutter up, short-tailed, then the circle around and land on the road, becoming rock again (as members of the goatsucker family seem to), in an enthralling game of touch and go.

Then, the moon rose. I had fire on the mind, so when it came up--a brilliant, smokey orange over the ruffled edge of the clouds on the east side of the basin--I thought the White Mountains were burning, too. My God, I thought, what a conflagration--those mountains are doomed! It took me a moment to catch on. When it came clean of the clouds, the moon was just a few days passed full, so for the rest of the loop I ran with my shadow (a strange feeling to have it fall to the West, after noon). The crenelated sage on the side of the road let through slants of light across the sand before me, but I felt myself leaning forward more than usual, hoping to strike firm ground. Running in the dark on an uncertain surface can be like feeling out the end of a stairway at night. (My hips concurred, come morning.)

I added on to the loop by going out and back to the Black Point parking lot from my usual left turn. Along that stretch, the moon's reflection lit the lake where it's broken by a reef of tiny islands between the mainland and Gaines Island. The long buttress roots, then stump, of Negit, were sharply defined as well by a luminous halation that moved with me.

Every once and awhile, a rodent scurried in the sand or scrub nearby. But the only time I was fearful was passing two trailers on the bluff between Black Point and the Dechambeau Ponds. No doors flew open. But humans are unpredictable.

8 mi, 56 min; Dechambeau loop from Cemetery Road and Wilson creek, plus O+B add-ons to the Black Point parking lot and toward County Park

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Solidarity in rain

Thunderclouds, lightning, downpours today, and forecasted for the next few. Some runners--at least me--become down right doggish when weather comes. Most of the afternoon, I felt nervous, pent-up. When the booms shook the house, a part of me wanted to scamper downstairs to the bathtub and cower. Or, to switch metaphorical tacks, when the day's mood is off, I find myself walking to the window and looking out, my hand on my chin, like someone in a harborside house who compulsively looks out for the return of the beloved under distant masts. A person introspective, in all appearances, but more actually numb. I dramatize (though, we do have a view of the lake). But when the winds are suspect, I become anxious searching for the right window to venture out, and it's then, more than any other time, that I sometimes miss company on my runs. Solidarity in rain.

Of course, once I'm outside, it's often not so bad. Quite nice, in fact. And in the Eastern Sierra, if you drive a canyon or two over, sometimes you can discover that window. Rather unfortunate that it doesn't work that way everywhere.

Tonight, after a short store shift, I drove just south of Lee Vining and parked at the base of the road to Horse Meadows. From there, I ran on a jeep trail to Oil Plant Road, which merges with Aqueduct Road (which rolls over Walker and Parker Creeks). I crossed the north side of the June Lake Loop, went over the wooden bridge that spans the Grant Lake Reservoir spillway, and then turned around at 49 minutes. My legs felt heavy for the first quarter of the run, then I warmed up (I even left my shirt behind, three miles in, and was a bit chilled by the end). The vistas from Aqueduct Road, especially of the Mono Craters and Reverse Peak above June Lake are altissimo; horns should accompany! (Or at least photos, soon!) The lake, meanwhile, was shrouded in mist and rain, but the sky ever so politely spit just a little in the South Basin.

Also: near the turn around, I spent a few minutes watching an osprey hover and swoop over Rush Creek. Tourists are often miffed as to why an osprey, an exclusively fish-eating raptor, would nest over Mono Lake. How does it survive? I pose the question ... No, not on shrimp... Well, there above was the answer silhouetted below cloud and light rain. The bird had flown down from Grant Lake Reservoir to test Rush Creek for trout, but quickly went back. We passed each other twice, silently.

14 mi, 98 min; O+B on Oil Plant Road and Aqueduct Road from the base of the Horse Meadows Road

Week Total: 76 mi

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fire in the hills

Around 10am, I went out for a tour around Conway Ranch. Some entity with bulldozers--the County, I assume--has widened what was a perfect jeep trail. Now, the road is roughly graded, and the sage has been torn up and crushed along the edges and pushed into isolated pyres that will probably go unburned for years. Seems like a quintessential case of work for the sake of work--there's absolutely no reason, to my mind, why this road needed to be "improved." It might see a car, or two, on a good day. In any case, as you can probably tell, my aesthetic and environmental self (and economic, such as it is) found the change irritating. Pretty strange to see orange Slow, Work Ahead signs in the middle of nowhere. I did not slow, but I wasn't going fast, either.

Had thought about going for a moonlit double, but it didn't pan out after my South Tufa tour and store shift, which ended at 9:30pm. Too late. But the basin just started "pop'n" with rainbows and brilliant light before dusk after scattered thunderstorms much of the afternoon. People were pulling over on the side of the highway to snap pictures of the 'bows, and the Mono Craters were going on and off like Chinese lanterns strung toward Mammoth. Also, a lightning strike kindled a sizable fire in the Bodie Hills, which mushroomed a spectacular, billowing cloud high into the air (allowing me to imagine what a volcanic eruption might look like beside the lake). Added further drama to an already unbelievable landscape. We'll see how long it continues to burn ...

9 mi, 63 minutes; Conway Ranch Loop, without the Goat Ranch Cutoff ext.

Friday, July 23, 2010

In no rush at Rush Creek

Considering the jolt I put my legs through yesterday, they were in decent shape today. Went for a leisurely, ten mile shakeout on Test Station Road around 6pm, then walked about a mile down to the Rush Creek Delta. I've never been disappointed there. Downy, golf ball-size spotted sandpiper chicks were peeping in the salt grass, bobbing their featherless rumps just like the adults. I oh-so-cruelly cornered one, and it calmly hid under a small log where I took its photo.

I also saw a gadwall with sixteen ducklings on a reedy back pond and, later, accidentally surprised the mother. She started doing a broken-wing song and dance routine, awkwardly sculling through the water in a plashy fit to distract me, the menace, from her brood.

Finished my stroll just at dusk--to the elation of the birds, I'm sure. But I then managed to spook three poor poorwills off the road on the way back to town. Almost a complete moon over the Basin. Driving home after ice cream (dinner) at the Mono Market, the mountains and craters were faint-gray aglow. Tomorrow, I'm planning on several late, easy miles beneath the full effect.

10 mi, 70 min; Test Station Road (a kind of modified Tufa-to-Tufa)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gunning it

Roads out here often gun straight to the horizon. Take 167, which beelines what must be 20 miles from Mono City to Nevada with hardly a swerve in a horizontal direction. A more average road can, without warning, go a mile no sweat without a curve. Perhaps these cuts through the sage feel drawn out because there's nothing to contain them on either side--no shopping center, city block, or buffer of green to give the overall space a cupped sensation. The basin is a broad platter. Or it could be that lines on this landscape feel narrower, longer, because so little else around conforms to the edge of the yardstick humans are habituated to wheel.

I thought about this tonight, kind of, because my first tempo run on Cemetery Road (great name for a workout arena, right?) included a long straight stretch. Of course, I was hardly thinking about anything at all during the effort, except smooth breathing, an easy arm carry, and an efficient stride (not even how I eventually aim to go faster for 26.2, not 4+ miles). I started at the Mono City-Wilson Creek-Cemetery Road junction and headed northeast, covering at least a mile of dirt before a bend. Since it was my very first workout (of what will be about a 4 month buildup to a marathon), I did it on feel. It felt like a clip, but who knows really--perhaps I'll measure the route later. Figuring I'd manage at least 5:45 pace on average, I planned to go 11:30 out and back. There were some gradual declines (on the way out), and some inclines (on the way back), and by the finish I was feeling it, but still steady. I returned exactly at 23:00. I felt strong, and I'm pretty sure I covered more than 4 miles. A solid first wake up call for the ol' legs.

10 mi, 65 min (3 wu, 4+ tempo in 23:00, 3 cd); O+B on Cemetery Road from Wilson Creek past Dechambeau Ponds turnoff

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

At last, not one, but two

At the modest hour of 9:30 this morning, I drove up 120 to Poole Power Plant Road, parked at Aspen Campground, and jogged through Lee Vining Canyon to the dead end at the Southern Edison generation station. Oh shade, I always forget how I had miss thee amid the base, groveling sage! (That's not fair, I know.) I felt downright stealthy slipping along in the mottled lee of aspen and a jolt of delight climbing the cool, prostrate, drawnout shadow of a humongous ponderosa up the pavement. It's a stellar stretch that follows Lee Vining Creek--full of Pooles, indeed. (The anglers knew.) Hard to believe I've never fished around up there, really, til now.

It was only two miles to the power plant and back, so I kept going the other direction past Aspen Campground on PPP Road before turning around to make it nine miles ultimately.

And then ... ten hours later, I went for my first "double" since college. Now, that's saying something. That's ambition, for me. I toured/tooled around the sage roads and gravel pits beside Mono City, which is first rate second run/add-on ground. Suitable dirt biking territory makes for an engaging run--it's only the pace that's different. Tonight, I encouraged the sand to encourage an easy pace, and the nighthawks meep-ing and sweeping low in the faint light made good company, if not decipherable conversation.

9 mi, 63 min, AM: Poole Power Plant Road, in Lee Vining Canyon

4 mi, 28 min, PM: the sagebrush ramble beside Mono City

Also: A blog post, In Defense of a Rock, for HCN.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Brief observations

from tonight's run, finished at dark:

The only time Cedar Hill, on the northwest shore, appears as the island it once was, in the ice age, is when the sun has at last fallen behind Conway Summit, and the rest of basin has waded carefully into shadow. Then, looking the miles to its lit slope, I imagine myself 700 feet underwater.

The ants on the road up to Black Point--a feature which was also underwater, and erupted there, super-heating the lake--have cleared each granule of black sand, each rounded shard of basalt, around their own small, waiting craters.

There's a certain distance, running away from Wilson Creek, where the water sounds as a car, and instinctually I turn, startled. Afraid. How far we, I, have come from our original confidence in and closeness to streams.

Nighthawks were born to spook runners, and each other, with their shouting feathers.

12 mi, 84 min; Mono City to the Wilson Creek/Cemetery Road junction, and out and back, spidery offshoots from there toward Black Point and County Park

Monday, July 19, 2010


Note: Sorry for the long gap between posts. Will do my best to infill.

After essential stops in Bishop--the bookstore, the art supply store, the thrift store, and Galen Rowell's Mountain Light Gallery--S and I forayed further east to the ancient bristlecone pine forest in the White Mountains, at over 10,000 feet. We hiked the 4.5-mile Methuselah Trail, aside of which grow weather-sculpted, dolomite-fed trees more than 3,000, or 4,000 years old. Couldn't figure out which in particular was the Methuselah (the oldest living thing in the world), but mountain bluebirds were numerous, gorgeous, and the bird-of-the-year were in an especially plaintive, begging mode.

Before we left, I rambled up, up, up the dirt road that runs toward Mt. White the Patriarch Grove. On the way, I passed the jeep trail that sluices down Wyman Canyon into the learned Deep Springs Valley (at one point, we could see the strikingly green ranch from the Methuselah Trail). Between the hike, a long-ish run yesterday, the elevation, and the hills, it was a bit of a huffer at times (have I made this term up?). I climbed to the next hurrah-of-a-view of the Sierra, its long spine veiled in haze, and heat--over 100 degrees down in Owens Valley, but only mid-80s up high. Then, I turned myself around and lurched gradually back down.

We were low on gas and water when we departed, but hardly had to used the accelerator as we dropped over 6,000 feet in about 24 miles. Refueled, and bought orange Gatorades, in the little town of Big Pine.

8+ mi, 60 min; Out and back on Mt. White Road from the Schulman Grove; + 4.5 mi hike

Also: A short article out today in HCN about a prehistoric spearhead find: Case in point

Sunday, July 18, 2010

First long-ish run

Fourteen miles today, my longest run since the late spring of 2009. Waited until the afternoon cooled, then did the usual Conway Ranch Loop, but added on a couple more miles out and back on a relatively level dirt road--I think it's called Goat Ranch Cut-off--that runs north of and roughly parallel to 167. (I'll make a map soon to delineate these various obscure routes.)

Near my turn around, I slipped past a cluster of rusty cars and trailers in an expected, disorganized junk circle (like they'd come to a watering hole altogether to drink). And there was a man, sitting outside, focused on something in his lap. He didn't notice me as I went by with the wind; the road was soft with shallow sand. I wondered if all those metal animals belonged to him, or if he'd simply joined their lot for the night. Or the summer? If longer, I suppose they arrived, gathered around him one at a time, like the sheep and Basque herders that ran not long ago in nearby hills.

14 mi, 98 min; Conway Ranch Loop, with an extension down Goat Ranch Cut-off

Week in review: 65 mi/6 days + 1 rigorous hike

Friday, July 16, 2010

The pineapple

Put off the run until evening, because, for the first time this summer, the basin threatened to storm all day. Gray, curling clouds came with the light, and lightning came from them before long.

But at last, before dusk, a window cracked, the lightening acquiesced, and I strided over firm pattered sand to Dechambeau Ponds from Mono City, straight toward the arc of a rainbow not quite bridged at its height, for the clouds truncated its color. First the bow was more (most!) vibrant to the right of Black Point (to the west), then the column dissipated and what was left, to my left (to the east), glowed stronger, as if it had absorbed all that energy. It appeared as if the rainbow was shifting, softening, but it was me, maneuvering it. Erelong, I hope to research the science of rainbows (beyond the basic middle school experiments), so I can really chase them.

I will say, though, that there's something about an arch ahead--a tunnel, an entrance to forest--that quickens the step. I can't explain it, except to theorize that a frame does for a runner what it does for a painting: contains, focuses, draws forward. This, I reason, is why races often end below an arch of balloons or a metal scaffolding (the clock atop helps, too). When I was in college, my team used to race in practice toward "the pineapple" (actually a pine cone, I think; we debated this point often) hanging from a patinated arch on Federal Hill in Providence whenever we took that route. I don't think it was the fruit, but its stem, that was the catalyst. (Thoughts guys?)

Anyhow, it was a tad more arduous on the return tonight. Could be because the rainbow had disappeared. Could be because it was uphill. Added-on a smidge at the end.

12 mi, 84 min; around Dechambeau Ponds from Mono City (a good keyhole loop)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A step toward impulsion

There’s inertia to overcome, running day in and day out, and sometimes no energy to drive anywhere for variety. This morning, for example, I headed out on the good old Conway Ranch Loop (how quickly it’s aged!). The circuit’s quite nice, especially the middle five miles of dirt road that passes the tumbled boulders of Rattlesnake Gulch (I’ll try to have pictures soon), before climbing up and over a rise for views of the islets and the White Mountains in Nevada.

The run joins Highway 167 eventually, which crosses Wilson Creek on the way back to Mono City. It’s not a natural creek, but a once-upon-a-time ephemeral wash that, for a long time, has served as a return ditch, more or less, for Mill Creek’s water, after it’s siphoned through the Southern Edison power plant (on the other side of 395). The water has steadily cut (or “incised”) into the sandy soil, producing a soft canyon, maybe 50 feet deep in places, that might look natural to the untrained eye, but is far from it. Willows fill the bottom of this long winding trough, and do provide habitat. Running on 167 where it dips across Wilson, I’ve flushed black-crowned night herons and, I’ve seen them spiral down to that spot from afar, as well.

Every time I jog over the creek, I peer longing at the rippling water, about the width of a healthy sidewalk, as it flows under the road. On the downstream side, a culvert jets water into a roiling mound-of-a-pool, and a little dirt cul-de-sac blocked by three large rocks leads right down to its weedy lip. Today, I couldn’t resist. I ran over the creek and away, but u-turned eventually—actually, I turned a few circles, making up my mind—and ran at a clip back to Wilson Creek, where I tore off my socks, shoes, and shirt (stretched my hamstrings and calves, briefly), and waded in.

Quite, the, shock. The current strong, the water sweeping into and around a row of willows. I was worried about my feet getting painfully lodged between stones, so I lowered myself in and scuttled like a crab across the swiftest part to a quieter spot on the other side. Paintbrush stood at the edge of the pool, a dash of red matching my shorts. I was hidden from the highway (which was high indeed, for once) and couldn’t hear a thing, except for the motoring water.

Why was I indecisive in the first place? Well, it’s a long walk back. Took me about a half hour to trek home along 167, and then through the sage, to Mono City. Along the way a tiny convertible brimming with four smiling Japanese tourists pulled up, not to offer me a ride, but to ask, “Mono Hot Springs?” Ain’t any, I said. They were searching for the Dechambeau Ponds, which does have a fount of hot water (let loose by a search for oil), but it may be scalding, and it runs into a reedy, yellow-headed-blackbird-infested pond.

I told them to go to Travertine. Twenty-two miles North. Take a right after the Ranger Station. One of the women wearing a broad-brimmed, floppy hat lifted her hand and waved from the backseat as they blew past me going the other way.

12 mi, 85 min; Conway Ranch Loop, doubling back, finally, to Wilson Creek

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Slight detour

No running today, because Sarah and I climbed to the overlook of Upper Yosemite Falls. Only 3.4 miles to the top, but over 3,000 feet. Good strength work--spectacular views!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The mind, like the foot

Why am I so often writing of birds? Perhaps because there are more flitting about in the desert that there are snakes slithering or chipmunks scurrying (though I do owe mammals of some sort a post soon).

A kestrel, on a wire (a kestrel rarely feels complete without one). As I approach, it gave its call. To imagine it was kee-ing at me is anthro-hubris, but, as I was running (and oxygen deprived) I thought of it nonetheless.

Kee-kee-kee-kee. Perhaps it meant run-run-run-run? If it had been my old coach, John, it would have certainly translated to, Relax and go, relax and go (but it would have been much more reserved, and respectable).

Or maybe I misheard, and it was he-he-he-he-he. Or the classic Run, Forrest, run?

No--it was, Nice short shorts, I'm sure. Then, like one of any number of grade schoolers (or even teenagers), it skipped the other way.

The mind, like the foot, extends towards the ground that presents itself, but it cares far less about how it lands.

10 mi, 70 min; Mono City to Old 395 (I think), to Cemetery Road, to 167

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fine desert sand

Squeezed in 12 miles before the World Cup final along the Test Station Road. Running around midday, when the light is sandy (and often as rough as pumice), tends to be unremarkable, mind-numbing. But Rush Creek was pushing 500 CFS, or so, under the road on its way to the delta--a lot of water, a roaring, if not raucous outpouring through the culvert. After I finished, I desperately wanted to drive back and jump in to the wave train (which I hear people have surfed of late). But there was no time; I regret to say (truly) that futbol won out, today.

Adding on the final two miles down Picnic Ground Road, I passed a poorwill nestled into the sand that some tire didn't avoid. How they sit on the road and glare at oncoming death with a bright, reflective eye. Running, I encounter as many passed animals as live, and examining them I've learned something, briefly, about anatomy, or at least its fragility. This poorwill, a night bird, an insect feaster, reminded me of the Western screech owl that I carried like a football tucked in my arms back to my house in high school, only to keep it frozen for one and a half years (beside a DO NOT THROW AWAY index card that my sister finally had the good sense to ignore).

I'd like to think I'm growing out of my interest in roadkill, which is void of what matters. At the very least, now, when I stop to examine roadkill, I make sure to carry it off to the shoulder of the road. But I did pluck a few primaries to hold up to the light: an alteration of brown and black like the shadows in the imprint of a tire on fine desert sand.

12 mi, 84 min; Test Station/Picnic Ground Road (aka, Tufa-to-Tufa)

Week Total: 70 mi

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Time to make strides

I decided to take it pretty easy today, because though the landscape never gets old for me--it always look different, new, though it's wave, after scraggly wave, of sage--the length and cadence of my run does. Monotony is the bane of creativity, and perhaps fitness. I'm looking forward to throwing my first, short tempo run into the mix, in two weeks. I'm also going to institute a genuine long run.

And, oh, it was refreshing do some strides today on E Mono Lake Dr. The first of many. In between my easy dashes, I watched a silhouetted kestrel, perched on a telephone wire over the sage. It dipped its long tail for steadiness, swiveled its neck-less head. Then, it sprung backwards, beating fast and low across the brush, gliding in to another lookout on a bush (and flushing a pair of watchful Say's phoebes, which flew to where it had been on the wire).

There's release in a burst of speed. A sense of intent, maybe hunger.


8+ mi, 60 min, + 4 easy strides; Rambling on roads around Mono City

Friday, July 9, 2010

It's a zoo out there

Some notable animal sightings on my jaunt to Dechambeau Ranch and back.

First, I shooed a wee, gray garter snake off E. Mono Lake Drive, for fear of its life (I've seen several squashed around the neighborhood). I actually said "Shoo," and whisked my hand like a brush, to make it slither, which it did.

Then, on the jeep trail at the end of the Drive, I came across a modest-sized gopher snake. Not sure there are any gophers out here, but what do I know--maybe there are gophers that dig sand and pumice, and feast on succulent sagebrush root.

Some call them bull snakes. Take your pick.

Anyway, I crouched down with this 2.5 foot gopher/bull for a few minutes to observe. Not great for training, but hey, it was an easy day, and I was in no hurry. One should always have time to commune with the wildlife. I usually do.

The serpent let me nudge it a few times--I mean literally push a curve into its smooth, scaled side--but it didn't budge. Seemed a bit stiff. It was only when I stood up and loomed again that it wended into the brush, and disappeared like a barber pole turning out of sight. Gopher snakes have a beautiful checkerboard back that kind of plays tricks on the mind if you watch for a long time. I took a few steps to run on, but then decided, nah, I better go after it in the brush. But it was gone, must have slunk down a hole (dug by a gopher?). It felt slightly radical to be looking around for snakes in the sage in my short shorts.

Snakes love pavement, and shadeless roads in general, and so do runners (not the shadeless part), so I've had more than a few encounters with them. All practice for when I finally run across a rattler. I'm betting on this summer. In any case, this won't be my last post about my running relationship with snakes.

Now, a follow up on pinyon jays: Down where the the jeep trail from Mono City dumps onto Cemetery Road at Wilson Creek, I flushed another flock. This time, they rose in a united squawk--and sheesh, there were so many. I tried to count them as they passed a certain point in the sky, but my eyes (and legs) couldn't keep up, and I lost count in the 30s. Actually, I think I counted the 30s twice, accidentally, before I called the exercise off. They were hard to count because they weaved all over, trading places with each other, unlike another more regimented, tight-flying type.

But there were about 50, I estimated. As I learned the other night, their flocks can get as big as 500 birds, and many individuals spend their whole life in the flock they were born into. They nest in a colony, too. I'll have to read more about their society.

And finally, running through Dechambeau Ranch, suddenly there was a great, gray motion by my left shoulder! An owl that I'd roused from a low crux in cottonwood! It took flight without a sound, but I locked one eye with one of its--we were both a bit scared.

75 min, 10+ mi; Around Dechambeau Ranch from Mono City, evening

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I've been nursing a niggling injury for awhile that just won't let go. In fact, after a few minutes of running, it sometimes feels like a hand is pinching the side of my achilles--not the achilles itself, but the soft facia, I guess, that run along the outside, just above the shallow cup behind the ankle bone. It wakes as I start out, then falls back asleep and I don't feel it by the end of my run. Whatever it is (any ideas?), it really broke up my training in June, because I took some days off--six, at one point--to try to shake it. But it's still hanging around.

I find that I wake up in the morning thinking about it. The definition of preoccupation. Coming out of unconsciousness, my mind creeps to my ankle, and tries to assess the situation. How does it feel? Is that a tingling? An ache? How am I to interpret that? Is it worse than yesterday morning, or better?

I can't remember.

On my run today, I crafted an analogy: it's like waking alone in your sleeping bag in the desert, and imagining that something's visited you in the night. Breathed on you, perhaps. Paw prints in the sand. The sound of boots. Could be just you. Or not. Is it still lurking? Stalking?

Then, if you're me, you just ignore the sensation. You never really check it out beyond a quick glance aournd. So it haunts you.

It's running taking on different psychic embodiments. Some days I think of running as if it were a dog. I have to worry about when I'm going to feed it, when the right temperature for a jaunt outside is. It's probably best to let the dog out immediately and go on with your day. But I'm not really a morning person.

In any case, I actually had a great run today, around 11, up Lundy Canyon. First time I ever did that. Bit of a huffer going up, but shady aspen and an easy cruise down.

11 mi, 77 minutes; Lundy Canyon (past the dam, on trail) out and back

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Spinning like a top

Seems to be a week of afternoon thundershowers, but none on the north side of the lake have truly let loose so far. The views here are such that you can see whole systems of clouds hanging, and moving, over Mono, with trails or frills of rain sizzling to vapor far before they have a chance to hit the ground.

I was thinking, today, about how the phrase "in the distance" is so confused in the Basin. Black Point, with its fissured cap, is in the distance, but within reach of a run from home. The south shore is a 20 minute drive. The high Sierra over Mammoth Lakes is clear, crisp, most days, though its 40 miles distant. Unlike, say, in the forested suburbs of New England, here distance running is, visually, immensely satisfying (even the same loop looks dramatically different depending on how the light's playing on, landing on, various (mountain) ranges of distance), but it makes me feel like a top spinning on a vast, arid table. Multiple thunderheads vying, in their windy way, for position over the lake has the same, personally diminishing effect. It's easier to feel fast, and large, when you don't look up!

A short, loosely related story: yesterday, climbing back up to Mono City on the jeep trail that heads to Black Point (sorry, I really need to come up with nicknames for them all), I just happened to turn around, and there was a soft rainbow against the dark, vaguely mauve Nevada distance. It had materialized out of the low, lit blue sky that slipped between the crescent of rock and cloud at the head of Lundy Canyon (up from Mono City) just after 8 pm. I had been running away from it, and I may have never seen it, if not for a chance crane of the neck.

Anyways, coming into home, there was a neighbor standing in the sagebrush on the side of E. Mono Lake Drive with a camera looking in the direction from which I'd come. I glanced back to see the bend of colors, but they were gone.

"Did you get the rainbow?" I asked. "Barely," he said. I nodded, and thought to myself, "Me too."

Something else, to finish: I passed a FedEx tractor trailer on the mile of 395 I ran today (rather, it passed me, emphatically). I speculate it was the very same truck, and driver, at the same hour, as yesterday, on its daily route--something you could set your timepiece to, should the sun be obscured. Presumably he wasn't hauling the same goods, though--at least, not the very same.

9 mi, 63 min; Conway Ranch-Hwy 167 loop, slightly abbreviated, for lack of energy (and sleep last night)

Also: An HCN blog post on wolves in Oregon: Jumping (to) the gun

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Paving the way

I’ve been thinking about roads lately, and for a long time. For running, I’ve come to realize, is largely about them. At least in the modern world. Often what I see, and think about, while on the jog, is no further than their shoulders.


This evening, at the tail end of some thunderstorms, I set off on the sandy jeep trail on the bluff south of Mono City, across Mill Creek. I had some idea where it would take me. My notion turned out not to be wrong, just far more efficient.

I started heading East, but the road had a mind of its own and turned in large arc across a flat, ancient lake bed, back toward 395, passing a bounding mule deer in the greasewood, and a pile of bleached bones in a shallow, unnoticed wash. Eventually it sidled up to the fence aside the great avenue of mountains, and commerce, that is 395.

Aside this nameless road, 395 is monumental, in every way. So wide and loud. An impassable river, to some animals, I bet. A place where the Sierra’s wind is subsumed, at least on occasion, by that of trucks. And to think 395 was once a jeep trail—a wagon road.


What I'll remember from this run, I think, is that, at the apex of this nameless road, I watched a FedEx truck roll down the grade of the highway in the distance. Or rather, it seemed to slide down the sage horizon. The semi’s white shape was striking, small and pill-like, before the looming, irregular foothills that ascend to the Mt. Warren. And its purple Fed and green Ex reminded me of the lupine I had to dodge constantly, because they were colonizing the road under my feet.


Have you ever noticed the arrow hidden in FedEx? Look closely. And what to make of the fact that it points in the direction opposite its travels?


Around here, it seems, lupine is the first to reclaim. In a burn area off the shoulder of 395 near June Lake, lupine sprawls. It’s a regal carpet. And further on, when I left the 4WD trails for Cemetery Road, there was lupine, still on the shoulder, though this road is graded yearly I suspect.

In spots, it had crept forward, a small animal that had dashed out, then suddenly stopped in tracks. And I thought to myself, I bet they’re spared by dirt road drivers, who surely like to squash things, because they’re so colorful. For some drivers, perhaps it's only subconscious.


Lupine is a conqueror, I've learned, not just of roads. It handles stress, and is the first, relative simple wave of sage-steppe.

On the skirt of Mount Saint Helens, a similar environment in many ways to this volcanic basin, it was discovered that lupine inhibit the growth of other seedlings, but that those others that take hold ultimately do unusually well, because lupine plumbs the soil with nitrogen.

In other words, it hogs the road initially, but paves the way.


10 mi, 70 min; Mono City-Cemetery Road loop via unnumbered road

Monday, July 5, 2010

Alta ...

Then all of a sudden, on Hwy 167, I was crawling up on a jogger. A jogger? Out here, on the loneliest span of pavement this side of Mono Lake, around 11 on a warm Monday? From a distance, I thought he must be a biker with a flat tire. Or a mirage. (I've never seen a biker out here, either).

He turned around just before I caught him, just before the dip down to Wilson Creek (it was the type of turn-around-before-a-hill move I know pretty well). No doubt he was as curious to see me, a sneak in ruby-red shorts, as I him.

"Alta ... altitude's a killer, buddy," he stammered, as we traded enthusiastic runnerly nods behind our shades, nods of recognition and oddball communion. And I said, "Yeah, man--I thought I was the only one who ever came out here!"

He was doing a kind of shuffle, wore headphones and black hat. Where he came from and where he was going, I don't know. But I salute you, stranger. Never thought I'd have to share that road with anything but SUVs, caravans of humvees, and roaring tractor-trailers.

10 mi, 70 min; Hwy 167-Cemetery Road loop

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day

A good day, I hope, to declare a new blog?

S and I went to see the fireworks over the Bridgeport Reservoir tonight, parking behind the airport among the throngs of other cars (robust pickups, playing country music). The booms of the display echoed off the rampart-ish Bodie Hills, and the showers of flares and embers, like fireflies from various distances, were spectacular in the darkness over the still-glowing, many-angled horizon of the High Sierra.

Oddly enough, the show reminded me of an eruption I’d seen—caused, actually—earlier in the day, on my run. Adding a few miles on to a nice loop around Conway Ranch, I hit the jeep trail that diverges from E. Mono Lake Drive into the sagebrush along Mono City. It was around 11 am, not spectacularly hot, but with a flat, harsh light.

Suddenly, birds began exploding from the bushes on either side of the sandy road: a couple towhees, a sparrow, a meadowlark, and many pinyon jays—a whole flock. The jays didn’t lift off all at once, but one at a time, as I flushed them from the umbrellas under which they’d perched, one individual to a bush. Each lifted off in flurry of blue and gray feathers with a characteristic nasal call.

I stirred up about twenty jays over two-hundred meters of road, and they burst in every direction, with something like the whistling-thump of a launched firework. Then they all headed north, toward Highway 167, gathering in a flock like blue embers pulled by the wind toward the pinyon pine hillsides.

As their name suggests, they’re pine seed specialists. In fact, they apparently don’t have feathers covering their nostrils, unlike other jays, because they’d get gunked up with pinesap as they reached into a cone. Like other jays, however (notably, the Clark’s nutcracker), they have an incredible spatial memory which gives them the ability to store thousand of seeds and retrieve them, even under the Mono Basin’s occassional drifts of snow.

Pinyon jays are year round residents here, but should the Basin’s crop of pine fail, they would head, in mass, to a more productive, distant region. And that, as the Cornell Lab of O notes, “makes them one of the truly ‘irruptive’”—or patriotic?—“species of North American birds.”

12 mi, 84 min run; Conway Ranch-Hwy 167 Loop