Running the trails should be an adventure. It shouldn't be terrifying but it shouldn't be boring. I like to balance out my races. I like to go back to some that I have run numerous times. It is like meeting up with an old friend. Perhaps they have changed a little since I saw them a year ago. Or maybe they are just like I remember them. That would be like Mt. Taylor. This was my fourth year running the 50K race just outside of Grants. I know what to expect there. The weather may change a bit, but the race directors are my friends and I know that they will put on an excellent race. The mountain itself will always suck the breath out of me but only until I hit the peak.
But this past weekend I tried something different. I did a two person relay on the Naatsis’áán trail, just north of Navajo Mountain. A friend of mine agreed to go with me. I chose the first leg, figuring it was going to be easier. I was right.
We drove about 7 hours to the Navajo Mountain Chapter House where there was a health fair going on all day Friday. Tom, the race director, was briefing the volunteers. The Navajo Mountain High School students were selling Navajo tacos. Yes, I ate one. We were a very small band of runners, about half Anglos and half Native Americans. We really didn't know what to expect but we found out at the race briefing. During the briefing, we were chowing down on homemade lasagnas, spaghetti, fantastic fresh salads, topped off with three different types of infused water. Most of us either slept on the floor of the chapter house or set up tent just outside the building.
This was a totally fantastic experience (see the pictures below). The scenery was amazing. But even more importantly, the support we received from the community members was totally astounding. These folks camped out. They cooked. They donated time and local food and resources. They spent their entire weekend trying to make sure the runners were fed, happy, and safe. This was a community event!
I will go back. You should put it on your calendar for next year. Forget the big fancy races. This is an experience of a life time.
We started early on Saturday morning, way before the sun came up. The runners doing the second leg thought they were going to get to sleep in. But their day began even earlier. They drove to the marina at the south end of Lake Powell and boarded boats that took them to the Rainbow Bridge National Monument. There they could lounge on a house boat or head on out to await their runner.
I started the first leg. Daylight was hours off but we had no problem seeing the road. The community members were there. They were excited. They wanted to escort us to the trailhead, 8 miles away. They drove cars, trucks and ATVs to light our way.
I was alone very early on. By the time I hit the last section of dirt road, the sky was light and I could hear a Native American flute. The first aid station was fully stocked and several community members were there to fill my bladder and give me encouragement and food.
Then I hit the trail and the magic started. This was an amazing scene. The sun coming up illuminated the mesa, turning it bright pink and orange and red. My camera didn't do it justice.
We entered the first canyon, down and back up. We entered the second canyon, down and back up. We entered the third canyon, down and back up. You get the idea.
The scenery was constantly changing. Some places we could run, some places we had to hike.
I never take pictures during a race. I am there to race, not to sight see. But I made an exception for this race.
I didn't care who passed me. I did want to finish in a reasonable time, so that my teammate Jean Herbert could get started before it got too warm.
Oh, well, sorry Jean. I had to get a few more shots.
Can you believe this place? Seriously? I had never even heard of it before.
Still loving it!!
The scenery just kept coming. My jaw kept dropping.
The race director promised we would enjoy this trail. He was right.
We weren't promised much in the way of aid stations, but there was more than enough food and water out there for us. Community members had backpacked water, sandwiches and other food items in for us. They camped out and enjoyed the stars. They were happy to see us. I was ecstatic to see them!
At other sites, community members had brought supplies in on horseback. One of the horse riders wanted to make sure the horses were well cared for. He carried in a bale of hay!
Are you tired of the pictures yet?
As the sun and clouds changed, so did the vistas.
This was a huge slab of black and white rock. Really cool.
I finally entered a section known as the furnace. Although it has a reputation for being extremely hot, it was fine when I went through. The walls of the canyon were blocking the morning sun. After we left the furnace, we entered Bridge Canyon. From this point to the turnaround, the trail was hard to follow. The flagging was scarce and the cairns were small. All I really had to do, though, was follow the footprints of those who had gone before, and follow the stream. As long as I was moving the same direction as the water, I was going the right way. No more pictures though. I was too busy trying to minimize my extra-trail excursions. I admit I was also getting tired and worried that Jean would have to run during the night.
I did happen to see this little critter. It was teeny. I looked it up: a red spotted toad. It's a little blurry.
And then, I heard what every trail runner listens for....the sound of cowbells! Oh what a glorious sound. I took it on it, told Jean good luck and stopped for the day. Who cares how long it took.
There was a nice little aid station set up just inside the fence from the National Monument. I ate a few bananas, talked to the Rangers and started towards the boat dock. I completely forgot about the Rainbow Bridge.
At first, it didn't look like much.
But as I got closer, I realized just how mammoth it is.
We did not go under it, out of respect for the traditional beliefs.
As we neared the water of Lake Powell, there were hanging gardens, places where the water seeps out of the sandstone and supports flowers and other plants that are not seen in other places.
Jean ran it back in. She was accompanied by an ATV while on the dirt road and a car while on the pavement.
Background: NavajoYES (Youth Empowered Services) has started a race series within various Navajo Parks. The organization's mission is to promote wellness and fitness within for the Dine’ people and their community. Tom Riggenbach, the director of NavajoYes thought that a race series could raise money, raise awareness of the world of trail running, and bring in visitors to the Navajo parks and reservation. He started off fairly modestly last year, with a series of smaller and shorter races.
This year, though, Tom wanted to host an epic adventure. His dream was to host a 50 mile solo or two-person relay through the canyons just north of Navajo Mountain, or Naatsis’áán, starting at the east end of the trail, at the Navajo Mountain Chapter House, and traveling through several canyons to the turn around or trade off point for the relay runners. Now this turn around point was no ordinary place. The turnaround was just shy of the boundary of the Rainbow Bridge National Monument, a totally cool arch. The logistics required that the folks running the second leg of the relay drive almost 100 miles to the marina on Lake Powell where they boarded a boat for a two hour ride, covering almost 60 miles. The runners finishing the first leg would then return by boat to the marina and back to the chapter house.