Thursday, June 21, 2012

Our Peak Fitness Challenge Begins!

 We're SO excited about this program---and everyone is invited, whether you're a beginning hiker or experienced trail runner!  The challenge will run a full year, so there's plenty of time to participate in organized hikes in the park, or plan your own adventures with family and friends!  Here's the press release and info about the challenge!  

You'll be able to sign up for the Challenge later today!

The Peak Fitness Challenge, a free hiking program for Franklin Mountains State Park and Guadalupe MountainNational Park launches today, June 21st   at the monthly meeting of the El Paso Hotel Motel Association.  A joint program of the parks, the Texas Mountain Trail regional non-profit, El Paso’s and, the Challenge encourages everyone from beginning hikers to experienced trail runners to get out on the park’s trails.  Participants can earn prizes for their accomplishments.

“Hikers can use the program to build their fitness and confidence levels to reach the highest peaks in the Franklins and the Guadalupes, if they want,” says Don Baumgardt, GeoBetty creator and publisher of the El Paso Visitors Guide.  “Participation is easy and free.  Folks can go online to register, log miles hiked and compete for prizes.  This Challenge is for regional residents and visitors to Far West Texas.” 

Information and sign up is available at .   Hikers and trail runners can compete as individuals or team members.  Participants may count the miles they log on organized hikes or adventures they tackle with friends and family members.  Everyone is invited to join the facebook community for the challenge at

Planning for the Peak Fitness Challenge began last fall, when the new Superintendent of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and El Paso native, Dennis Vasquez, approached the Texas Mountain Trail for assistance in planning the park’s 40th anniversary.  “The park had ideas for a hiking challenge similar to programs we’d been considering for some time,” said Beth Nobles, Executive Director of the Texas Mountain Trail, a regionally-based heritage tourism non-profit organization serving Far West Texas. “When we invited and their developer Phidev, Inc. to join the project and handle the technical aspects of the Challenge, the program really took off.  With the addition of Franklin Mountains State Park, we knew we had a winner.” 

From the beginning, the Peak Fitness Challenge was designed to encourage everyone to get out on our Far West Texas trails, including beginning hikers.  Adrianna Weickhardt, Parks Interpreter/Ranger at Franklin Mountains State Park, started Women’s Only Hikes earlier this year to encourage more participation at the park.  “They’re great opportunities for females of all ages who may feel some apprehension or fear about starting this new activity.  We cover the fundamentals of hiking, and we take a slower pace, starting with beginner level trails.  There’s an experienced guide along for the entire hike to lead them, assist, and answer any questions.”

To encourage new hikers, Nobles began a blog called, “One Foot in Front of the Other,” (  which features fitness tips and interviews with hikers, runners and cyclists.  The blog has several “Hiking 101” entries already addressing topics such as, “What’s a Trailhead?” and “How do I Find the Trail?”

Some of the trails are labeled “Texas Mountain Trail Heritage Hikes,” to encourage participants to learn about the heritage of the Far West Texas region.  One trail runs past a historic stagecoach route, another was the site of a murder of a Texas Ranger.  The TexasMountain Trail is a regional non-profit heritage tourism and economic development organization, representing the six westernmost counties of the state.  It participates in the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Heritage Trails Program.

In the days after the June 21st launch, participants may choose join hikes organized and led by volunteers or rangers at the participating parks:

Franklin Mountains State Park:
Make your reservation by calling:  (915) 566-6441
Bring:  Water, snacks, sturdy hiking shoes/boots, hiking stick, camera, binoculars, a flashlight for the tin mines, a map and dogs are welcome on leashes!

Saturday, June 23 –“Couch Potato Hike” on the Lazy Cow Trail   
Start Time: 8:00 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Length: 6.3 miles/ 2 – 3 hours
Trailhead:  Meet at Chuck Heinrich Park/East side of the mountains (call for directions)
*Difficulty Level:  Easy to Moderate.  This single track trail is often used for mountain biking, but is a nice leisurely stroll as a hiking trail as well.  It is not difficult terrain to traverse, however, it is a longer distance and may be challenging for new hikers.  The plant and animal life in this area is readily seen and with the Franklins as a backdrop, this hike is beautiful.

Sunday, June 23rd– Mine Shaft Exploration
Start Time:  8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
Length:  1.4 miles / 1.5 - 2 hours
Trail:  Begin on West Cottonwood Springs trail, then enter the mineshaft to explore and end on the Agave Loop. *Difficulty Level:  Easy to Moderate.  Rocky along some sections, with a few short steep stretches.  The exploration into the mineshaft is fun and easy with one initial short belly crawl through the opening. 

Friday, June 29 – Women’s Only Hike – Upper Sunset Trail
Start Time:  8:00 a.m.
Length:  2.6 miles / 1.5 - 2 hours
*Difficulty Level:  Easy to moderate.  We’ll encounter some elevation gains, with some short steep inclines/declines, a few rocky/rough sections, and great vistas as we walk along the ridgeline.

 Guadalupe Mountains National Park:  All hikes begin at 8:00. Bring water, food, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and wear sturdy footwear.

Saturday, June 23-- Devil's Hall
Start time:  8 am.
Length:  4.2 miles roundtrip, moderately difficult, but very rocky, 3-4 hours.  Meet at the Pine Springs Trailhead near the RV campground.  Bring water, food, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and wear sturdy footwear.

Sunday, June 24-- Smith Springs
Start time:  8 am   (2.3 miles roundtrip, moderately difficult, 2 hours) Meet at the Frijole Ranch Trailhead.  Bring water, food, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and wear sturdy footwear.

Sunday, July 1--McKittrick Canyon to Pratt Cabin
Start time:  8 am (4.8 miles round trip, moderately difficult, 3-4 hours) Meet at the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead.  Bring water, food, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and wear sturdy footwear.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Meet Abby Austin: 1,000 Miles on My Own Two Feet

This is the first of several interviews we'll post with Abby Austin, creator of the wonderful hiking blog, 1,000 Miles on My Own Two Feet.  Originally from Maine, Abby lives in El Paso while her husband is stationed with the military at Fort Bliss.  We LOVED her blog, and were excited to meet her recently...and get her support as a volunteer with the Peak Fitness Challenge!  (We'll announce the challenge on Thursday, but you can join the facebook community of the challenge now, at )   Abby will be leading a "Couch Potato Hike" in Franklin Mountains State Park on Saturday, June 23.  Make your reservation by calling the park at  915-566-6441.
Lazy Cow Trail, Franklin Mountains.  Abby will lead a "Couch Potato Hike"
on June 23rd for anyone wanting to get out in the Franklins, regardless of experience!
One Foot in Front of the Other:  Last year, you started a quest...well, why don't you tell the story?

Abby Austin: My husband will be retiring at the end of 2012 after twenty years of service in the military. That means we’re in control of our future, and we have backpacking dreams. Fitness was absent in my life—I was a couch potato!—and I was fearful of the trails because I wasn’t in shape. I challenged myself to hike 1,000 miles that year to get conditioned for our future backpacking. What better of a place than the Sun City with three hundred days of clear skies every year?

Hiking in the Franklin Mountains State Park is a great opportunity for me to hike 1,000 miles. There are trailheads just miles from my home. It’s such a gift to be so near to outdoor recreation, despite being in the middle of a city of half a million people. The park is ideal for my needs because it’s easy to find a variety of trails, including trails that would take my day’s mileage into double digits. The Franklins are ideal, too, for providing challenging terrain. I am the least surefooted person you’ll meet, but I love mountain tops, and to see them, I have to trust my feet. I still don’t hike fast, but I feel comfortable hiking on loose rock now, which stumped me when we arrived.

One Foot in Front of the Other:  Why do you enjoy hiking?

Abby Austin: I love to see Mother Nature at her wildest, truest self.  There’s only so much of America I can see from a highway. By hiking and getting into the backcountry, I’ve had the opportunity to see loads of wildlife just here in the Borderland, including Oryx, Barbary Sheep, and Javelina. And I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite as alive as standing on the summit of North Franklin—except for my few snake encounters!

Prickly Pear, Franklin Mountains
One Foot in Front of the Other:  What's your favorite hike? 
Abby Austin:  Do I have to pick only one? This region has so many fabulous hiking opportunities. I love hiking in the Guadalupe Mountains, Big Bend the Davis Mountains, but I’ll pick a favorite from the Franklins because I know this park the best. My favorite trail is Scenic Trail—and don’t let the subtle name fool you because “scenic” isn’t a good enough name. I’ve hiked this trail in the Franklin Mountains many times, and each time I come down feeling as though I’ve been at the spa. I feel refreshed, cleansed and inspired. My favorite time of day there is morning. I’ve seen the sunrise from up there, and a mountain view sunrise is better than the strongest java.  The morning light makes the mountain colors look more brilliant than any other time of day.

Scenic Trail, Franklin Mountains
One Foot in Front of the Other:  What's your favorite fitness tip?

Abby Austin: 
Enjoy the sport you choose. I love hiking. Even on days where it feels like a chore to get out the door, as soon as I see North Franklin Mountain towering over the North Hills, I fall into pace and wonder, why did I want to sleep late?

One Foot in Front of the Other:  What advice do you have for folks who are just thinking about getting started with hiking or fitness in general?

Abby Austin:  Enjoy the trail. There is only so much of America that we can see from the highway.

McKittrick Canyon Trail in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Have confidence in yourself when you begin finding fitness. Self-doubt and self-consciousness are going to hold you back more so than the rattle snake blocking the trail. You might not look pretty doing it, you might be slower than someone else, but the bottom line is that you’re moving, and that is going to promote good health.

One Foot in Front of the Other: You’re going to be leading a “Couch Potato Hike” in Franklin Mountains State Park as part of the launch weekend for the Peak Fitness Challenge.  Can you tell us about that hike, the trail, and what participants can expect?

Abby Austin:  The Lazy Cow Hike and Bike Trail will be the trail we hike for the Couch Potato Hike. It’s located in the northeast section of the park, and it’s a favorite among mountain bikers, so the trail is well worn and comfortable to walk. The hardest part of the hike is at the very beginning as we will hike to the trailhead which has a slight uphill grade. The rest of the trail is flat, meandering through yucca, prickly pear, ocotillo agave and barrel cacti. The entire loop will be a six mile hike, but for those hikers who wish to hike less, there are loop backs to shorten their hikes.

The hiker I anticipate joining me will be someone new to the outdoors, perhaps someone who likes to walk around their neighborhood, but who would like to step it up a notch. This is a beginner hike, but at least a small level of fitness will be required. Hikers must bring one-two quarts of water and sturdy shoes/boots, sunscreen and/or thin, loose, breathable clothing to cover their skin.  Well behaved pets on leash are welcome (and remember their water!). This is one of the first trails I hiked by myself in the Franklins, and it was here that I gained the confidence to become a daily hiker.
One Foot in Front of the Other:  Join Abby on Saturday for the Peak Fitness Challenge "Couch Potato Hike" at Franklin Mountains State Park.  More information is here!  

**Make your reservation by calling Franklin Mountains State Park:  (915) 566-6441.**
Bring:  Water, snacks, sturdy hiking shoes/boots, hiking stick, camera, binoculars,  and dogs are welcome on leashes!

 Saturday, June 23
Peak Fitness Challenge Hike  -   
“Couch Potato Hike” J  on the Lazy Cow Trail   
Start Time: 8:00 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Length: 6.3 miles/ 2 – 3 hours
Trailhead:  Meet at Chuck Heinrich Park/East side of the mountains (call for directions)
*Difficulty Level:  Easy to Moderate.  This single track trail is often used for mountain biking, but is a nice leisurely stroll as a hiking trail as well.  It is not difficult terrain to traverse, however, it is a longer distance and may be challenging for new hikers.  The plant and animal life in this area is readily seen and with the Franklins as a backdrop, this hike is beautiful.

All photos courtesy, Abby Austin!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Just be thankful it isn't 1895!

Over the next couple of weeks, Texas Mountain Trail will roll out a great story...the story of the first woman to ride a bike around the world and her visit to El Paso on that exciting adventure.  When did it take place?  Exactly 117 years ago.
I am...a new woman, if that term means that I believe I can do anything
that any man can do." -Annie Londonderry

In 1895, cycling was a craze in El Paso as well as many other parts of the country.  At the time, women were starting to ride bikes, but were faced with a serious question...what to wear?  Long skirts could prove dangerous, but bloomers weren't socially acceptable yet.  Here's a clip from the El Paso Herald's front page from June 21, 1895!!

and from June 15, 1895!
Follow the story on the Texas Mountain Trail Facebook page or our Twitter account!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Shirt that Changed Everything

Eleven years later, the
shirt still inspires a good
morning run.  Taken this morning!
Photo: Monte Riggs

I saw it in a store window, and maybe it was the color--a beautiful cornflower blue--that caught my eye.  There was just something about it that made me want that shirt.  But it wasn't just that.  I wanted to BE the person who would wear it.  I wanted to be a person fit enough to do it justice.

Eleven years ago, things were not going so well.  Caught in a challenging home life and a  golden handcuffs job that didn't fit anymore, I was confused about the direction of my life and I was not very happy. 

I'd started riding my bike, a heavy hybrid perfect for oldsters venturing out only on safe gravel paths.  And come to think of it, that was my situation.  I was feeling ancient too soon at 43, and not very adventurous.  Definitely not fit.  And definitely not stretching myself, in any sense of the word.

But that shirt...that shirt kept beckoning to me.

So I stepped into the store and bought it, my first athletic wear ever.

Gradually, I stepped up my bike rides.  Gradually, I started to walk in the mornings, then jog.  I worked myself out of some difficult relationships and stepped out on my own two feet.

After each laundry day, the shirt was there on top of the pile, ready for some adventure.  That shirt waited for me on the shelf, begging me to get out.  Morning after morning, the effect of the exercise and the endorphin rush built confidence.  Each day, things got better.

And while at first I thought I'd have to grow into being an athlete, a person who sweated enough to "earn" the shirt; in truth, I was legitimately that person from the very beginning.  All I had to do was trust myself to keep at it day after day.

So when I visit with people who are considering a new fitness practice, I encourage them to buy clothes that feel good to wear, and clothes that inspire them.  It may be a cornflower blue, long sleeved technical T, or it may be something else.  But when you see athletic wear that speaks to you, buy it, and wear it and love it.  You may be surprised by the athlete inside it.