Monday, 12 August 2019

Las Vegas Valley of Fire, Fire Wave Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 2.2 km (1.4 miles), terrain: a few ups and downs, gain 50 meters

Las Vegas Running Routes:
The Strip  
University of Nevada

Red Rock Canyon
White Domes, Valley of Fire 
Fire Wave, Valley of Fire

For more running routes, see the Route List page.

NOTE: This is in the desert: don't run it during the summer heat. Either get there at daybreak or wait till the cooler part of the year!

Here is another short run in amazing Valley of Fire State Park, north of Las Vegas. You could add this to the short White Domes run, as this is just 200 meters to the east.
The Fire Wave
The Fire Wave is the most famous spot in the park: undulating white- and red sandstone layers in petrified sand dunes that have been sculpted by the wind to look like undulating waves. If you have a free day and a car (the park is 60 miles northeast of the Strip), you won't want to miss it.

The start of the run is at almost the same spot as for the White Domes Trail: drive north from the Valley of Fire visitor center on White Dome Road. The Fire Wave trailhead and parking lot is the next-to-last one, before the road makes a 180-degree left-turn to the White Domes trailhead.
There is a sign marking the start of the trail, where you head downhill through sand among desert plants like creosote bush, cactus and sagebrush.
Rounding the ridge
The trail turns right to avoid the red-rock ridge blocking your path in front of you. When I was there, a herd of bighorn sheep was grazing there.
Big-horn sheep on the ridge
Now the trail follows the base of the ridge, curving around its south end through boulders and caves.
Slick-rock along the hillside
After rounding the ridge, the trail heads southeast along the edge of some red-and-white slick-rock (bare rock hillsides).

Finally, at about the 700-meter point, the trail goes up onto the slick-rock and turns straight south. Little stone cairns (piled-up stone pyramids) point the way over the firewaves to the main viewpoint.
Caves in the firewave
The trail ends above some firewave-hills below, with inspiring views to the other multi-colored cliffs and peaks to the west and south. What a great place!

Monday, 22 July 2019

Las Vegas Valley of Fire, White Domes Running Route

Click here for route map

Length 1.7 km (1.1 miles), terrain: a few ups and downs, gain 23 meters

Las Vegas Running Routes:
The Strip  
University of Nevada

Red Rock Canyon
White Domes, Valley of Fire 
Fire Wave, Valley of Fire 
For more running routes, see the Route List page.

NOTE: This is in the desert: don't run it during the summer heat. Either get there at daybreak or wait till the cooler part of the year!

Heading down into the canyon
If you have a free day in Las Vegas and you want to explore something completely different, experience some of the Great American West, then drive north of the city to Valley of Fire State Park. This spot encloses a ridge of red sandstone in a sea of multi-colored rock hills and canyons. There are wind-eroded holes, Native American rock carvings, petrified logs, amazing views and a few great hiking/running trails.
The trail starts here. Now does this look like Vegas?
This trail, White Domes, gives you a lot of variety in one short run. And you can combine it with a run on the nearby Fire Wave Trail, with its spectacular red-white layered slickrock.

This short run basically circles the white domes that dominate this corner of the park. The trail also connects to the Prospect Trail at the half-way mark, and you could follow the Prospect Trail for another 4.6 miles southwards to the campgrounds.

The trail is short but sweet: a few great vistas, rocks of all colors, cliffs and peaks, a slot canyon, ruins, caves, desert plants and cactus. You might even see some wildlife: I saw a desert iguana. And there was a herd of bighorn sheep grazing nearby. And you can easily add a run on the nearby Fire Wave Trail, just a few minutes away.

To get there, just drive north along White Domes Road from the visitor center. This road takes you to the most scenic parts of the park. The road ends right at the trailhead, after tracing a left-hand turn to the white dome rocks.

Start the run at toilet house at the parking lot. There's a sign marking the beginning, and there are trail markers and stone cairns marking the way on its circle around the dome peaks.
Looking straight ahead along the trail
You'll run through some deep sand at first, with a view through the jagged peaks around you. But soon you'll descend along rock stairs towards the movie-set ruins far ahead. You follow a multi-colored rock wall on your way down: white, pink, yellow, red. Don't forget to look up once in a while, the scenery is amazing!

At the bottom, the trail goes through an old film set. What looks like real ruins -- the wall of the hacienda -- are from a scene shot for the movie "The Professionals", starring Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale.
The movie ruins
Next, the trail curves westwards to go through a short slot canyon (just a meter wide). A very cool spot, where you can't even see the sky in spots.
Heading into the short slot canyon
The trail heads lightly uphill from here, and the landscape opens up to a view over the plains to the west. You'll also see a way-marker showing where the Prospect Trail splits off and heads south towards the campgrounds.
Trail splits here: we head to the right
At the end, you run through a gap in a ridge of red rock full of delicate holes and caves. The trail now connects into the road just below the parking lot.
I saw a desert iguana on a rock along the way back
That was simple. Maybe you're ready for the a run to the park's most famous site, the Fire Wave. That will be our next route: stay tuned!
The way back: the trail turns right at the red rocks, and heads back to the parking lot

Monday, 8 July 2019

Tucson Sabino Canyon Running Route

Click here for route map

Length 9.7 km (6 miles), terrain: lots of little hills, gain 200 meters

NOTE: There are a few interesting variations to lengthen or shorten this route. You could lengthen it another 2 kilometers by continuing up the canyon to tram stop 9 before turning around. And you could remove the least scenic section at the beginning by starting at tram-stop 1, shortening the route by 3.9 kilometers. You can even cut the whole thing in half by taking the tram up the canyon and just running back down again.

HEALTH NOTE: This is the desert. The time to run is early mornings, or make sure you run it in the season from autumn through spring.

The steep, forbidding Santa Catalina Mountains loom above Tuscon's Catalina Foothills. The range is a huge wilderness area, with lots of recreational opportunities for residents and visitors as well. The highest peak in the range, Mt. Lemmon, rises over 9,000 feet, making it the most southern ski resort in the country.
A runner heading up the canyon over one of the bridges
For a good run, one of the best spots to head is much lower, and easy to reach: Sabino Canyon, on the range's southern slopes. This recreation area has been popular with the locals for generations, with its string of pools along Sabino Creek. A paved single-lane road winds its way up the canyon, free of cars. Only the park's shuttle buses (and of course bicycles, hikers and runners) are allowed on the road.
A Sabino Creek pool
The creek forms a thin, green oasis, with its cool, shady pools, waterfalls and beaches nestled under the cottonwood trees, threading through the boulders that have rolled down from the mountains above. Just a bit higher up, on the dry slopes, saguaro- and cholla-cactus populate a very different desert landscape in the blazing Sonora sun.
Cactus along the canyon walls
The road crosses nine stone bridges built by the WPA during the Great Depression, rising 500 feet (150 meters) from the visitor center to the end at tram-stop 9. The road gains much of its elevation towards the end, between stops 7 and 9, so this route will turn around at stop 7.

The park is open from dawn till dusk, and there is an entry charge. If you want to take the tram, you have to pay extra for that, but you can jump on and off as you please. There are a variety of toilet houses and a couple of water fountains along the way, as well as the various swimming holes you might want to jump into when the going gets hot. You can park at the visitor center and you can also take the tram from there, or head directly up the walkway next to the road into the canyon.
Despite the warning, you probably won't see any mountain lions. But keep a lookout for other wildlife!
The visitor center is located at the corner of East Sunrise Drive and North Sabino Canyon Road. For entry fees ($5 in 2019), exact address and other details, visit

So, assuming you're going to run from the visitor center up to tram-stop 7 and back, get yourself to the west side of the center, where the trams load up, and start running northeastwards, up the walkway along the right-side of Upper Sabino Canyon Road.

This is the least scenic part of the run, flat and there are a few side-roads and other trails branching off.
Anderson Dam is a favorite swimming hole up-canyon
After you cross the side road to the right towards Sabino Dam, the walkway ends and you run along the asphalt road for the rest of the route up-canyon.

After a mile, you enter the canyon itself. The road approaches the creek, curves to the left and goes by a nice little waterside picnic area and a water fountain.

You'll then cross the first stone bridge (very clever how they built them low so that flood waters can just flow over the tops instead of sweeping them away!) The first tram stop waits around the next corner.
Another pool along Sabino Creek
This is the fun part: heading up and down little rises, over bridges, skirting pools and beaches. What an escape from the sprawl and heat of Tucson.

You'll pass one tram-stop after another. Most are near a bridge, with a pool and maybe a beach.

When you get to tram-stop 7, the Sabino Historic Trail heads off to the right, leading uphill. This is our turnaround point, unless you want to extend it to the final tram-stop, number 9, along the steeper stretch of road.

Even at stop 9, it's possible to keep going up-canyon, but the road ends and you need to follow a rough trail switchbacking steeply up the mountainside, through the cactus.

On the way back, find a good swimming hole to kick off your shoes and have a good cooling off!
The author taking his own advice