Monday, 9 September 2019

Monument Valley Wildcat Trail Running Route

Click here for route map

Length 6.1 km (3.8 mi), terrain: a sandy/rocky hill at the beginning, then a flat trail, gain 120 meters

NOTE: You have to pay admission into the tribal park. It costs $20 per car with up to 4 people, or $10 per individual for walk-ins, bicyclists, etc.

Monument Valley is the kind of amazing place that only nature can create: given enough wind, water and time. It's a vast desert valley punctuated by shear vertical rocks, red sandstone buttes jutting 300 meters into the heavens.
Runners along the trail
You've probably seen those iconic rock formations as an other-worldly background in movies from Stagecoach to Forrest Gump (the spot where he stopped running across the country). And if you get to this wonderful spot, you have the honor to run among this inspiring scenery along the Wildcat Trail.

Monument Valley, located a mile above sea level on the Arizona/Utah border, is a Navaho Nations Park. The tribal park is open to visitors, but the most spiritually important spots are reserved for the tribe. That's okay though, because the rest is amazing enough.
Blooming yucca near the trailhead
The Wildcat Trail is the only trail in the park that you can hike/run without a guide, and it takes you into the heart of the valley amid a trio of buttes. It's not allowed to leave the trail and climb the rocks though, as the surrounding area is sacred to the Navajos.

This easy trail leaves from the beginning of the valley loop road, at the campground. Just where the loop road heads downhill from the visitor center/campground area, the Wildcat Trail branches off to the left at the trailhead sign.
The trailhead is well-marked
The trail takes you downhill at the beginning, but then flattens out as it circles West Mitten Butte. 

The beginning/end section is the most difficult, due to the steepness and to section, combined with deep sand, and a bit of rock scrambling. The trail first descends below the campground tent sites and cottages before turning towards West Mitten Butte.

You'll be running through a scrubby desert, full of sagebrush, wildflowers and gnarly juniper, an ecosystem perhaps unlike anything you've ever seen.
Overview from the campground. You'll circle West Mitten on the left
After a kilometer, the trail forks. Just keep right to continue looping the West Mitten. It's another 3.2 miles to circle the butte and to get back to the fork here.
Shelter along the way
The butte rises gradually to your left side: past sage, cactus and grass, red-rock terraces covered with fallen rock rise up to the vertical cliff walls.

You'll be running towards East Mitten Butte off to the north. The Navahos say that the two rock towers rise like protective hands, guarding the valley.
The two mittens, guarding the valley
Seen from the side, the West Mitten Butte looks massive. But the butte is really narrow, just a curtain wall, which you'll see as you round it to the north side. From that angle, it suddenly looks like a needle.
The butte seen from the north side
At 2.7 kilometers, at a spot between the two mittens, the trail merges into a sandy jeep road. After just fifty meters, the trail leaves the Jeep road to the left (northwest) and continues circling the West Mitten.
At the Jeep road
You'll see signs of a Navaho homestead out in the valley, along the jeep road. Keep your eyes open for wild mustangs that roam the area! I saw one near the trailhead.
Mustang along the trail
At the 4.3 kilometer mark, the trail dips into a wash for a short time. There are junipers lining the wash, and if you're there in the springtime, the desert floor will be full of wildflowers (and probably caterpillars!). Keep your eyes open for this unique biotope.
Desert wildflowers
When you get back to the loop junction, just turn right to follow the trail back the way you came, heading uphill and circling up beneath the campground.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Zion National Park Pa'rus Trail Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 5.6 km (3.5 miles), terrain: flat riverside run, gain 30 meters

The Zion Pa'rus Trail is a great out-and-back run, leading you among Zion's majestic peaks from the Visitor Center to Canyon Junction, at the beginning of Zion Canyon. The trail provides a truly memorable run along a flat, paved track along the Virgin River (Pa'rus means tumbling waters in Paiute).
The Virgin River along the trail
You can also easily vary the length of the run. To shorten it by half, you can just run up to Tram Stop 3 and take the free tram back. Or you can lengthen it as far as you want up into the canyon. Only shuttle buses are allowed past the Junction (okay, and the occasional delivery truck and lodge guest car), so running on the canyon road is not bad at all.

The trail is easily accessible from both park campgrounds or from Springdale, taking the free town tram to the Visitor Center.

It's an easy, slightly uphill grade the whole way. The trail is open to bicycles, so you have to share the paved path. The trail crosses the river on four pedestrian bridges, and there are several river-access points to check out the water at the riverside. I would recommend doing this at least once to take in the beauty of the whole scene.

Jagged, multi-colored peaks rise up from every angle. This is definitely one scenic run! You can't get lost: just follow the trail.
Trail-head map and info board
So, if you're ready to run, find your way from the Visitor Center building to the Pa'rus trailhead just across the bridge over the Virgin River. Immediately turn right and follow that asphalt track at the riverside.
Rounding South Campground
The trail starts by skirting the back side of South Campground to your left side, then heads out through wild meadows. Enjoy the jagged horizons to every side, and Zion's famous multicolored slick-rock.
Through the meadows
Later, you'll come to the first river access point, and the first of the four bridges will appear.
Two of the four footbridges
At the 1-kilometer mark, there is a side trail that links the Pa'rus to the Museum of Human History, where you can experience the world of the Paiute Indians and their ancestors, who have inhabited the area for thousands of years.
Heading under the Zion Highway bridge
When you go under the wooden car bridge of the Zion-Mount-Carmel-Highway, you're almost at the end. Zion Junction, just to the right of the bridge, is where the Canyon Road branches off the main highway and heads north into the wonders of Zion Canyon. The trail ends by merging into Canyon Road at Tram Stop 3.
View back towards Watchman Peak from the highway bridge
If you care to, you can just keep running as far as you please, and run back from there. Or just run to any of the tram stops (there are a total of nine), and take the tram back.

Have fun in this most beautiful of national parks!

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!