Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Cardiff Taff Trail Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 14.9 km (9.3 miles), terrain: flat, one small hill, gain 54 meters

Cardiff, the capital of Wales, has a lot going for it, and one of the best things is its riverside parks along both sides of the River Taff. The Taff Trail extends right from Cardiff Bay, through the city, and then further north through 55 miles of scenic Welsh countryside.

This route follows part of that, heading through parkland on the north side of town. It's mainly pretty and quiet, but it still passes by a lot of great sights. We'll even start out making a small loop through the town center to see some of the most interesting stuff there before we head off along the river.
Bute Park trail
Cardiff was just a village until the coal mines were developed nearby, 200 years ago. Cardiff Bay then became the main port for exporting the coal to Britain and the world. So most of the town grew up in the industrial age, which you can see in its town center: it doesn't have much medieval character.

That said, Cardiff has one ancient gem right downtown: Cardiff Castle. This old fort goes back to the Roman days, and was restored during the Victorian era with fanciful towers and a palace, a fascinating sight from any angle.
Cardiff Castle sunset
And next to the castle, parkland was laid out towards the nearby River Taff, landscaped by Capability Brown. Bute Park gives the town a wonderful green heart.

So, let's get out and about and start discovering more of this great town!

NOTE: When I ran this one, a downpour hit, and I ended up soaked to the bone. I hope you have more luck!

Let's start out at the most interesting sight in town: the main gate at the castle, along -- you guessed it -- Castle Street. Before starting the run, you can walk into the gate to glimpse the insides, with its inner keep (tower on a mound) in the middle, and the palatial living quarters off to the left side. To go further, though, you need to pay.
The castle keep, built by the Normans
So now, turn east to run a quick loop through a scenic part of the town center. Run straight eastwards into Queen Street, which is a pedestrian shopping street, the main shopping area in town.

We'll just run three blocks through this lively but car-free street until you get to Park Place, a little side-street on the left, across from the Next department store.
Queen Street
Turn left onto Park Place and run the couple of blocks until you get to the zebra stripes at the busy street called Boulevard de Nantes. Nantes is the capital of Wales' Celtic cousin, Brittany, in France.

Now run straight across the park towards those grand buildings to the north: this is the government quarter, full of impressive, monumental city-, national-, and museum-buildings.
Cardiff City Hall
The Welsh National Museum is straight ahead and the huge Cardiff City Hall is next to it on the left, with the Crown Court building further to the left.

Keep running northwards along Museum Avenue, and you'll come to a green gardens on the left side and Cardiff University to the right, at the one-kilometer mark. Just run north through Alexandra Gardens, past war memorials, until it ends at the Welsh Government Buildings.

Now turn left and head west along College Road towards the sculpted, modern building in the distancew. Cross the busy street, North Road, and turn right to run to the north end of that rounded, modernistic building, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Bute Park: high road and low road...
As soon as you get past the building, turn left to enter Bute Park. You'll immediately cross a little canal that feeds the castle moat, where you can turn right and head north through the parkland ahead.

There are a few parallel paths that you could take: a narrow one raised up along the canal dike and a wide, paved one down to the west of it. This route follows the main path.
Keep left to stay near the river
When you come to some athletic fields, the trail forks, at the 2-kilometer mark. Stay to the left to be closer to the River Taff, hidden in the woods off to the left.

The trail then heads completely into the woods, with a stand of gigantic sequoias, and then comes to the riverside at Blackweir (a dam with a pedestrian bridge behind it).

Now just keep running northwards.
Blackweir on the River Taff
You leave Hume Park at a gate at a beautiful lodge at the 3-kilometer mark, and the parkland gets narrower and just hugs the river.

At the 4-kilometer mark, you'll go under the bridge for Western Avenue,

You'll then come to a second weir and scenic islands at the 5-kilometer mark.

The path then goes under another bridge (Llandaff Bridge) at Bridge Road, then heads past more athletic fields to the right.

At the north end of the athletic fields, the trail curves to the right and then splits: keep to the left-hand trail to remain near the river, and continue running northwards.
Along the trail
You'll run past some open fields. Then both the river and the trail turn eastwards at an electric transmission tower. The high-tension lines follow the trail for short time, as the trail comes to a train line, which crosses the river.

This railroad bridge is basically our turn-around point: we'll cross it and return along the other side of the Taff.

But first, it's interesting to take a short northern extension under the railroad bridge and then along the right side of a little stream next to the Taff.

Run along this quiet, natural section for just a couple of minutes to the 7-kilometer mark, and you'll come to an example of early Industrial Age engineering: the Melingriffith Water Pump. Built in the 1790s, it used a water wheel to power two pistons that lifted water up to a canal used to move coal towards Cardiff Bay. The pump was in service until the late 1920s.
Melingriffith water pump
It's hard to believe it, but this pump was once right in the middle of an industrial landscape of riverside mills and factories. Now everything here looks like undisturbed, virgin woods.

Now, we'll head back to town. So turn around and run the short stretch back to the railroad bridge. Now go up the steps and cross the bridge, and take the other steps back down to the riverbank.
The railroad bridge: cross and then take the steps down to the other side
Now just turn south, heading under the bridge, to follow this western bank south, back to town.

At first, it's a bit isolated out here, but soon joins a quiet road,  Radyr Court Road directly along the river. You're heading southeast.

Traffic increases after Llandaff Bridge merges, at the 9-kilometer mark.

The street then joins into Cardiff Road at a little roundabout, and the street starts going uphill (the only hill of the run!), with houses to your left.

In just a block, leave busy Cardiff Road to continue straight on Bridge Street, still running uphill.
Cathedral Green
The street takes you right into the Cathedral Green, a beautiful square overlooking the cathedral, which was built outside of town. Take a look downhill at the cathedral, past the ruins of an old tower.

Continue running a block southeast to the ruins of the Bishop's Palace, with its gardens out back.
Ruins of the Bishop's Palace
Now, turn left and head downhill, past the back side of the cathedral, where the trail turns right to stay along the cemetery at the 10-kilometer mark.

There is a pedestrian crossing over busy Western Avenue, then you enter more parkland, for the rest of the run.

Keep running southeast. This first section of parkland is called Llandaff Fields, with a few cricket fields.

After passing the first cricket field, turn left to follow a paved path to the playground, at the 11-kilometer mark.

At the playground, turn left to leave this park and connect into the next park at the river, Pontcanna Fields. The trail runs into a tree-lined promenade in front of the cricket fields beyond. We want to get back to the river on the other side.
The promenade
So now, turn right onto the promenade, but then take the first turn to your left to cross the fields and get to the river.

You'll come back to the river at Blackweir, which we saw earlier, at the 12-kilometer mark.

But we'll stay on this side of the river this time, continuing southwards.

You'll run past the National Cricket Centre, then pass the Cardiff Bowling Club. When you come to the next pedestrian bridge (painted red and white) at about the 13.5-kilometer mark, cross it back into Bute Park, the gardens next to Cardiff Castle. We're almost back at the start.
The stone circle
Now just stay near the river, pass the site of the old Blackfriars Abbey and then the Gorsedd Stone Circle. The circle isn't ancient, it was built to celebrate the National Eisteddfod Welsh cultural festival held here in town.

You can take one of the paths that go right up to the castle walls, if you'd like a closer look at this amazing structure and all its towers.
Castle towers
When you exit the park at West Lodge Gate, just turn left to head the few hundred meters along the Animal Wall on Castle Street, back to the Castle entrance.

If you liked that, you might want to try the Taff Trail in the other direction, heading south to Cardiff Bay on your next run!

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Las Vegas Red Rock Canyon Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 10.5 km (6.5 miles), terrain: rocky, rugged, gain 281 meters

Las Vegas Running Routes:
The Strip  
Downtown  
University of Nevada

Red Rock Canyon

For more running routes, see the Route List page.

The park website: https://www.redrockcanyonlv.org/

Las Vegas is non-stop action, blinking lights, swirling mobs... And after a while, it's great to experience the very opposite for a bit of reality. And luckily, the city is surrounded by natural wonders, right nearby!
The climbing area along Calico Rocks
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is just 15 kilometers from the main Strip casinos, but it's like being on another planet: desert plants on rolling dunes, and a surrounding wall of peaks and cliffs looming majestically. The bright red sandstone pinnacles and ravines of the Calico Hills give the park its name, and they are a sight that you'll never forget. So, if you're a runner or hiker, find a way to get on out to Red Rock for a day!

How to Get There:
Red Rock is straight west from town. There is no public transport out there, so you almost have to have a car at your disposal. A few people head out there on bikes. Most people head west on Charleston Boulevard (Nevada Route 159) until you reach the park entrance. If you are on the south side of Las Vegas, near the airport, you can also take Blue Diamond Road (Route 160) west, which runs into Route 159 at a Chevron gas station.
You're entering a desert paradise!
At the park entrance, each car has to pay $15 to get in. Watch out: the park's Scenic Drive is one-way, so if you miss a stop, you won't be able to get back to it later!

The Route:
We'll take the most colorful route in the conservation area: in the Calico Hills. You need to park at the Calico I parking area, but if you want to run a few extra kilometers, you can also park at the Visitor Center and run through fairly flat country to join this route at Calico I. There's more parking at the Visitor Center. You could also stop at either Calico II or Sandstone Quarry parking lot and first run east, out-and-back to Calico I before heading up the Calico Tanks trail further to the west.
Naturalist at the trail start
This route, as published here, starts at Calico I, heads west along the base of the Calico Rocks, passing Calico II and then past the Sandstone Quarry parking lot. It then curves northwards along the Calico Tanks Trail to enter the Calico Hills from the west, heading uphill along a ravine into the peaks from that side. This last part of the trail ends at Calico Tanks, water basins where life-giving rain water collects in depressions in the rock. There are amazing views from up there, where, out in the distance to the east, you can see Las Vegas and far beyond.

This route isn't your normal running route. I would describe it as a running/hiking/climbing route. Some parts are steep and slow-going, and many spots are so beautiful, that you'll want to stop in your tracks and just experience nature's wonders that spread out before you (and above, and below...). And remember: you're in the desert, so in the summer it will be hot: make sure you have a hat, sunglasses and a water bottle!
The striped rocks: great for climbing around!
So, say you actually got a parking space at Calico I: you'll see the Calico Hills spread out before you. To the right (east) they are striped red/white pillowy rocks. To the west, they turn completely red, and even further west, they turn white. Now follow the trail down into the ravine running along the base of the rocks.

Because the red/white-striped rocks are so unusual, I'd recommend to first turn right and run a bit into the first few striped rock formations and do some climbing, and get that out of your system. Great climing here!
The trail splits here: your choice
Now turn westwards and follow the trail down in the ravine. It parallels a dry gulch, right below the cliffs. There is a fork in the trail right after the start, and you can choose to hug the cliffs (steeper, nicer view) or to stay near the stream-bed (smoother going). Both trails go lightly uphill, in fact the whole trail goes uphill until the turnaround point.

After about a kilometer, the two trails join back together again, just before the Calico II parking lot.
Weathered tree stump along the way
Where the trails come down from the Calico II parking, the main trail turns left to head uphill a bit, after a cairn (a stone trail marker). This is an interesting spot: the red walls open up to a side-canyon used for climbing. You can turn right to head into the side-canyon to get close-up to a lot of interesting rock formations and eroded caves.
Rock caves in the climbing area
Now continue on the main trail westwards, still going lightly uphill. You'll pass a huge, sheared-off boulder right by the trail. Somewhere around here are petroglyphs, Native American rock carvings.

When you come to the Sandstone Quarry parking lot, after the 3-km marker, the trail goes right over the asphalt parking area. The red cliffs have now given way to white sandstone. All the sandstone that you see here was originally dunes, which were cemented together by ground-water.
Calico Tanks trailhead, with Turtlehead in distance
Now follow the Calico Tanks signs. You'll head straight towards Turtlehead Peak in the distance, but soon you need to turn right as the Tanks trail splits off from the Turtlehead trail.

Just off the trail, there is a agave roasting pit from the Paiute Indians, who once roamed the area.
The agave roasting pit, with Turtlehead
Now, at the 4-km mark, the trail curves to the right and starts heading eastwards up a ravine into the Calico Hills. In the ravine, it's not always apparent where the trail is, and markers are rare, but you just basically have to keep heading up through the ravine.
Into the ravine: rough going
Sometimes, you're following a stream-bed. In other spots, you have to climb up over red sandstone slopes. The good folks at the Nevada Conservation Corps have built stone steps in a lot of places, to make it a bit simpler to move.
Conservation Corps trail crew: the unsung heroes
Big red cliffs rise up to the left on the last part of the rise, then you'll find yourself in a white sandstone amphitheater surrounding the Tanks down below, in a high hollow between the peaks.
The Calico Tanks
You can now go down through the tanks to reach the final lookout rocks on the other side, or climb the slope to your right side and go up along the south side. Either way will provide you with a tremendous view at the end. Enjoy this amazing spot! You can see the hotel towers and the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas out in the valley.
View from the top, Las Vegas in the distance
Now just turn around and head back the way you came, downhill all the way to the starting point. Now, that's what I call an amazing contrast to the Strip!

Monday, 19 March 2018

El Teide National Park Running Route, Tenerifa

Click here for route map
Length 3.5 km (2.2 miles), terrain: rocky, one steep section, gain 211 meters

NOTE: If you like this short route, you might want to add-on one of the others that begin at the Parador.

The most spectacular place on the Canary island of Tenerifa is El Teide, the huge volcano dominating the island from every viewpoint. So you're almost sure to be drawn upwards to this fascinating stone wilderness, with other-worldly rock formations, lava flows, yellow sulphur vents and scrubby desert plants.
View over the caldera from the peak of El Teide
El Teide is enclosed within a national park. It's full of hiking trails and amazing vistas of the surrounding cliffs. If you're a runner who likes wide open spaces and amazing terrain -- and you don't mind the rough footing -- you'll find a few routes to your taste.

Our route in this post, the Roques de García, are a group of spectacular rocks down in the main caldera, or volcanic cone valley. The valley stretches out at the foot of the Teide peak, which is a much higher cone than the big one below it. The peak rises to over 3,700 meters, Spain's tallest mountain. The surrounding valley, with los Roques, is just over 2,000 meters high.
Some lava chimneys along the Los Roques trail
Los Roques provide a collection of amazing rock formations and volcanic chimneys, with a variety of local plants along the way. There is a lot of cactus and lots of white-flowered broom plants.

This trail circles los Roques, starting near the park lodge, the Parador. The lodge has parking, and -- even more important -- refreshments for later. The lodge is a meeting place for hikers and bicyclists from all over the island.
Looking back at the Parador and south rim from the trail
Quite a few hiking trails radiate out from the Parador, some heading along the southern crater wall, others heading northwards towards El Teide peak.

A paved foot-trail connects also the Parador to the nearby Roques de García trail, across the main park road. A parking area there means a lot of visitors stop at the base of Roques de García. But don't despair, after just a few minutes on the hiking trail itself, you'll hardly see anyone else.
Start of the trail at Los Roques
So, if you've gotten yourself up the seemingly endless serpentines on the road to El Teide, let's park near the Parador and wander over to Los Roques.

At the far end of the parking area, the rocks begin. There is a scenic lookout there, the Mirador de la Ruleta.
View towards El Teide from the trail
Look for the trail beginning to the right, Sendero 3, that heads north along the east side of the rock formations.

Now just head up the trail, with the rocks to your left side. The way is fairly flat here.
Formations along the trail
You'll go between volcanic chimneys, columns of magma which cooled before they reached the surface, and the surrounding rock weathered away.

Los Roques look like a steep, crumbling ridge, with rubble lying at the base of each rock. Between the stone towers, El Teide rises up along the northern horizon.

At about 700 yards, you'll pass a lava flow that came down the mountain from the north.

Past the first kilometer mark, another trail leads off upwards towards the second highest peak, the Pico Viejo.
Pico Viejo as seen from a high trail, with island of La Gomera in background
When you reach the 1.5-kilometer mark, the trail starts heading downhill into the valley called Llano de Ucanca, west of the rocks. You'll pass a lava flow called the La Cascada (The Waterfall), which looks like the flowing stone froze in mid-air.

The trail will continue downwards to the south, towards a solitary stone tower, called the Cathedral.
The Cathedral in shadows, on the right, as seen from higher rocks
You'll now pass right below the Cathedral, standing alone to the west of the others. At its base the trail now heads uphill fairly steeply, heading back to the Mirador de la Ruleta, passing the Cathedral.

Once at the top, it's just a short walk back to the Parador to grab some pizza and a cold drink, and sit on their terrace for a view of this amazing national park!
Back at the Parador, with view of Los Roques and El Teide