Vegas’ Unknown Gem – Red Rock Canyon

How many times have you gone to Vegas? At least once, right? Most people have. I bet most people have never left the city, let alone the strip. Hey, I don’t blame them; it’s easy to get in a cheap and fun vacation in the City of Sin! I have been to Vegas twice (now three times) and never knew there was much beyond the strip.

Circa 2010 with one of my best friends, Amanda.

Now that I’m fully immersed in the climbing world (I own a guiding business after all), I know there’s so much more to Vegas. It’s now crazy to me how many people visit Vegas and have no idea there’s a beautiful National Conservation Area just minutes away. To each their own, I suppose; the outdoors is not for everyone!

If you are an outdoors enthusiast or looking for a side trip, just 15 minutes away from the Vegas strip (that’s even closer than visiting the Hover dam – which is still worthy of a visit) is an outdoor mecca waiting to be explored! Next time you are in Sin City, take a break from the nightly debauchery and explore this outdoor desert paradise!


Getting There:
From Vegas, take Charleston Blvd West.
That’s really it! It’s about 15 miles from the strip to the visitor’s center.

Things to do:
-TONS of climbing; literally 100’s of routes! I won’t get into climbing too much. If you are a climber, you know what resources to use to find an ideal route (friends, Mountain Project and a guidebook). Let’s just say if you are a climber and have NOT been here, you’re missing out.


-Hiking: there are a ton of trails spattered all over the place! Pick a pull out off the road and start hiking.


-Visit the visitor center: I do have to say this is probably one of the best visitor centers I’ve seen. They have a earth, wind, water and fire display (all centered around what created the desert) and it’s pretty cool.


-Look for a desert tortoise: They have one living at the visitor center but try and see if you can spot this elusive creature in the park.  Just please stay on the trails. (No, I have not seen one myself.)

-Take a drive: and pull over in every single pullout. There are some really unique views all over this 13-mile scenic drive. My favorite is the Calico Hills.

The Calico Hills during a freak snow storm

-Go horseback riding: Check out Cowboy Trail Rides.
-Camp: There’s only one campground in the area, the Red Rock Campground. It’s $17/night (I believe) and it’s first come, first served but it’s decent. It can get really crowded with dirtbags (I was one of them for a week). 😉
-Bike: You can road bike on the scenic drive and there are a few dirt trails for mountain bikers. Check in with the Visitor’s Center for trails open to mountain bikers.

Tips:
-Bring a map or a person that is really good at remembering which way you went on the trail. I do have to say, some of the trails as not marked very well and there’s a lot of braided trails all over. It’s easy to get going on the wrong one.
-If you’re camping, get there EARLY and be okay with dirtbags. There’s only one campground and it’s first-come-first-served and it’s full of dirty climbers! Many times, multiple groups are sharing one site, so it tends to be very crowded and occasionally noisy. (There are no showers, just pit toilets. There is potable water).
-The park has some pretty strict hours. If your climbing takes you past 5pm, make sure you leave a message with the rangers with your car’s info, where you’re climbing and when you’ll be out. In fact, if you are climbing, especially if you plan on being nighted; just read all the rules and regulations yourself.


We were there for about a week and got a lot of climbing in, a race and hiking. Here’s what we did:

Day 1: Visited the Visitor’s Center and then climbed a route called Olive Oil, a 665 ft, 5.7 rated route, with 5 pitches and a 2.5ish mile hike in and out. I only cried once when I got stuck in the chimney (Backstory: if you know me in real life, I tend to cry a lot while climbing. It’s getting better.) We got started a little late and ended up hiking out in the dark.

Day 2: Climbing a little bit in the Calico Hills before the storm came rolling across the desert. We didn’t get much in before the storm rolled through. We then went to the host hotel for the race to check in and get my packet.

Day 3:  Race Day. I did the Red Rock Canyon Half! Read my race recap here or find it on BibRave.com.  We took the remaing hours of the day to “rest” and walked around the Vegas Strip.

Day 4: Climbed Mescalito, a 1000ft, 5.7 grade peak with 7 pitches. The climb itself was fun and had a lot of fun features like a chimney, step arounds, ledges and some exposed slabs, but the more “fun” part was our descent. We were aiming for the hike out but ended up in this gulley with about 5 rappels and down climbing. It was miserable. We would be down climbing and then all of a sudden hit a drop off and see the rappel rings. Over and over and over. The sun was going down and we were tired. We touched the bottom of the peak just as the sun fully set, turned the headlamps on, and started the 3-mile hike to the car. Despite the hike out and down climb, this was probably the hardest full day of climbing I’ve ever expereience and I actually learned a lot and enjoyed the whole experience.

Day 5: Rest day! We found some easier climbing back in the Calico Hills and I led my first pitch!

We also camped at the red rock canyon campground for most of our nights except the night before my race. We stayed at the race’s host hotel, the Sun Coast Casino and had fun exploring the giant casino and did some bowling. It was also nice to get a shower in after the race before we had to check out and get back to camping life.

Next time you visit Las Vegas, I highly suggest taking a day trip to this National Conservation Area! It’s beautiful and so close to town!


More info:

Park hours (vary per season)
Fees: $15/vehicle (or free with a National Park’s Pass!)

Red Rock Canyon Website
BLM Red Rock Canyon Website

#60HikesDenverChallenge – Rabbit Mountain

(For 2017, I had a goal of getting through all 60 trails in the book “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Denver”  While I didn’t make it through all 60 that year, I have carried this goal into 2018.  All the specific trail details can be found in the book or online, but I’ll highlight some things about each trail in addition to including my experience and opinion on the trail here. The numbers below are associated with how they are labeled in the book if you have it.)

Trail #39 – Rabbit Mountain: Eagle Wind Trail
Completed: 4/1/18 | Number Completed: 20/60 (One third done!)
Mode: Hiking
Location:  2 Miles north of Highway 66 and 53rd (north of Boulder and Longmont and just east of Lyons)
Distance: 3.9 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Type of trail: Hard packed dirt with larger rocks, balloon configuration
Exposure: Not much shade
Facilities: Toilets, Pavillion with picnic tables and a barbeque (no water)

My Experience:
We’re already in April of 2018 and I’ve only had a chance to do a few hikes. Easter Sunday arrived and I finally had a free moment and decided to check off a hike from my book. Since I was up in Longmont at my Mom’s house, I ventured to a trail not far from there. About a 10-minute drive led me to Rabbit Mountain. It wasn’t that busy and the temperature was perfect for a quick hike. I chose to do this trail this time of year because I have been warned by my family that there tends to be a ton of rattlesnakes in the summer.

Pros:
-Close to the city
-Great for families – there are a ton of benches and educational signs along the way
-Bathrooms and a pavilion with a barbeque at the trailhead

Cons:
-Not much shade
-Lots of rattlesnakes in the summer

Overall:
While I did enjoy my hike, I probably won’t be too eager to come back. Would I come here just to hike? No. Might I come here to get a run in? Yes. It’s a relatively easy trail and would be great for a trail run. I also don’t think I would come here in the warm months since I was warned multiple times of snakes and I’m terrified.

So, was it worth it the one time? Yes, but I’m not jumping at the opportunity to come back and wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for out of town guests.


Get the book

Check out the trail

Running in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Me running in Arkansas, circa 2013

You wouldn’t think that a farm country, southern state city like Fayetteville, Arkansas would be all that runner friendly, but you’d be wrong. It hasn’t always been runner friendly, but It has come a long way! I even think there’s been a Runner’s World “rave run” article from the area (but I couldn’t find it by google-ing it; so maybe not).

I’ve been to Fayetteville my fair share of times. My extended family lives there, my Dad lived there for awhile a couple years ago. Recently I had to go back for a funeral, 😥 , so I brought my running shoes with me hit the familiar trails.

As I grew up and became a runner, I watched the city (and surrounding areas) expand and change. One year, I ran the winding country roads near my Grandparent’s farm as huge pickup trucks weaved around me, looking shocked to see a tiny girl running along the road.

Another year, I ran a Turkey Trot 5k in a suburb of Fayetteville! I never ended up publishing my race recap for whatever reason (I probably got busy and blogging got pushed to the back burner and when I finally came back, I thought it was overdue and irrelevant) but it was a fun race and a PR at the time.

NWA (North West Arkansas) Turkey Trot

If you live there or are ever visiting, check out these awesome places to run!

1.The University
Located in the heart of Fayetteville, I think the University of Arkansas has a beautiful campus. There are plenty of sidewalks and a lot of shade trees. I recommend running over to Senior Walk where every graduate’s name is carved into the cement.

2. Meadow Valley Trail
Running east and west, I could access this easily from where my Dad lived and my Grandma currently lives. This section of trail runs behind the Agriculture centers of the University and is surrounded by fields of greenhouses and cows. Doesn’t sound appealing? It’s actually pretty relaxing to look at. The best part about this section of trail is that it connects to the main Razorback Greenway that runs north and south to even more places to run.

3. Scull Creek Trail
This trail is part of the Razorback Greenway (basically it IS The Razorback Greenway). This north and south running trail is a safe and scenic as it follows the creek. If you run north, you eventually connect to Lake Fayetteville and if you run south, you can get to the University. I remember running this trail and discovering where the cross country meets take place (as a newbie coach at the time, I was enthralled and thought it was so cool!)

4. Lake Fayetteville
I have not actually run here but it looks amazing! There are concrete and dirt trails for runners and bikers to use and runners for the area rave about it!

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Whether you plan on running in Fayetteville or not, you HAVE to check out this awesome video made by the City!


Races in/near Fayetteville, AR by RunningInTheUSA.com

City of Fayetteville Parks Website – they have an awesome interactive map of all the areas trails and bike paths.

Trail Running Near Fayetteville, AR

Red Rock Canyon Half Marathon – Post Race Review

 

It’s been a couple weeks since I checked off Nevada from my 50 States list. That makes 15 states that I’ve run a race in – although I did not do a half marathon in all of those so I may go repeat some states later.

My boyfriend and I had already planned a mini vacation to climb in Red Rock Canyon. Later, I was scrolling through RunningInTheUsa.com, like I normally do, and started looking at Nevada races for 2018. It just so happened there was a half marathon the same weekend, in the same park(!), when we were already planning on visiting! Serendipitous? It was just too perfect.

I “begged” Ben if I could run it and he worked in a “rest day” into our climbing schedule. Although I do really like climbing, running (and checking off a state) is a huge passion of mine and it was just so perfect to have a race the same weekend.

It was truly a unique experience to vacation and explore the Red Rock National Conservation area to its full potential by climbing, hiking, running a race and camping all in one trip.

As much as I want to do a whole blog post on the entire trip, this post’s focus is on the race.

Pre-Race
When I found the half marathon on the calendar, I wasn’t training for anything in particular. I was still about 6 or 7 weeks from race day so I decided to increase my mileage every week. Essentially, I did a very basic, beginners half marathon training plan. I ran 10 miles a week and a half before the race and I felt relatively prepared for a half marathon.

Goals
Since I only had a short, low mile base built up, I didn’t have any big goals for this half. I just wanted to finish, not push too hard, and still be mobile after the race since we had a few more days of climbing afterwards.

The Night Before
Ben and I were just planning on camping the whole time in the park. However, since we weren’t quite sure if the race was going to shut down roads or the entrance to the park, race morning logistics were becoming difficult. The race company did have a free bus shuttle from the race’s host hotel to and from the race, but if we were to camp, we would have had to get up all that much earlier to get ourselves to the hotel (driving back into the city) and on the bus. I decided to just rent a room in the hotel for the night before to make everything easier. This way Ben could sleep in and then get on the bus, which was free for spectators as well (and I could get in a shower afterwards)!

Packet Pick Up
Since we were in the hotel already, it made packet pick up SUPER easy, as we took the elevator down 5 floors. With time to spare and nothing to do, we took advantage of the bowling, bars and amenities of the Sun Coast Hotel and Casino.

Race Day
Maybe because I wasn’t worried about anything not having many goals, this seemed to be the easiest, least stressful race mornings I had ever had. I got dressed (my clothes laid out the night before), grabbed my food (I packed myself a breakfast bag the night before), and caught the elevator to the first floor and boarded the bus (benefit of being in the host hotel).

Race Start
After reading their million warnings in email and on the website, they STRONGLY suggested getting on the bus really early. That left me with an HOUR to wait, standing, in the cold at the start line. Luckily the bathrooms were heated and there was plenty of people to chat with. Actually, now that I mention it, racers were so friendly at this race and I got to chat with so many people that morning. It was quite refreshing. Besides the local company I work for, many of the most recent races I’ve gotten to actually run haven’t had all that friendly of people.

Finally, the gear drop bus showed up, and I had to strip off my layers with 5 minutes to spare before the race. Not that I minded, it was a chilly morning, only 35 degrees at the start, so keeping my layers on as long as possible was desirable. After lining up and cueing my music, I anxiously awaited the start, but there was no gun or whistle, and it seemed in mid-sentence to another racer, we were running! It was a very strange, uneventful start.

The Race
Holy HILLS! This was probably the hardest race I’ve ever run. The hills were never ending and even though I knew that the biggest hills were over by mile 7.5, the little rolls in the road felt like monsters near the end.

Nevertheless, I trucked along, keeping steady. I didn’t walk until mile 5 and then only a couple of 30-second walking breaks every other mile or so! For not being that trained, I was feeling good. It wasn’t until mile 10, as expected, that I felt DONE. My feet seemed to be the limiting factor and were hurting with every step. I kept going, even up the hill that put you into the finish line, and Ben was right there, running with me up the last two-tenths of a mile.

Overall – 3/5
If it weren’t for the amazing views, this race wouldn’t have much going for it. I’m guessing the location itself is really the only reason people keep running this race. Yeah, sure, everything was organized and in place. Things were started on time (sans a huge production or announcement). The course was marked and coned appropriately and safely. There was plenty of water stations….. But, to me, those are all things that SHOULD go with ANY race. I have very little money and when I choose to spend my money on a race, I’d like it to be on the best event it could be. Yeah, I’m picky and have high expectations, but for $90 – $100, I expected a lot.

There was no bells or whistles with this race EXCEPT the constant view to distract you from running up so much elevation gain.  The swag was alright (not being advertised ahead of time, I had no idea what I would get), there was no expo (none at packet pick nor at the finish line), there was bare minimum communication and the medal was, frankly,  just a medal with the race name (I like unique and fun medals).

Also, on top of all that, photos were NOT free. I’m a little spoiled in Colorado I guess because almost every race I run has FREE photos for download. I’ve already paid this company $100 to run, $130 to stay in a hotel and now there’s more money for photos of me. Geez!

The one other thing that made this event worth my money is the finisher food. They had OPTIONS! All the options. Bagels, candy, pastries, chips, chocolate milk, hot drinks and PANCAKES. You betcha, I got a pancake.

T-Shirt/Swag – 2/5
For being such a great location, the swag sure was ‘eh. Seriously. The t-shirt was just the race name (white, long-sleeved with too short of arms), same with the medal and there was virtually nothing in the goodie bag (except a flyer from their on-course nutrition, Hammer – which I tried and promptly spit out! That stuff is gross!)

Aid Stations/Support – 5/5
Like I said before, course marking and water stations are critical to ANY race. This one was no exception and they had plenty of water stations along the way, about every two miles or less. There was water and HEED (from Hammer) at all the stations and snacks at some (probably for the marathon distance runners). Due to the nature of a national park, there were restrooms throughout the whole course.

Course Itself/Scenery/Difficulty – 5/5
I’ve already touched on this. The course scenery was GORGEOUS! I think this is the most scenic and pretty race I have ever run. The course followed the scenic drive of the National Conservation area which just so happens to be about 13 miles. How convenient for them! We had already driven this road a few times before race day, so I knew what to expect, but those hills just kept going and going and going!

Expo Quality – 1/5 (if that)
There was no expo. Not at the packet pick up and not at the race start or finish. It surprises me that this is the second race in less than a year that has virtually no sponsors. Don’t they know they can MAKE MONEY from sponsors!?!?! As a race director/marketing coordinator for a running company, I know that, for fact, you can get people to PAY YOU to come to your race because you are bringing in a specific market of people, i.e. runners, and if someone has a product that appeals to that target market – it’s a no-brainer! As a racer, I like expos because I like to see the lastest running gear, trends and local businesses.

Parking/Access – 4/5
There was no parking allowed at the start or finish of the race. Obviously, not everyone follows the “rules” and people still parked at both locations (and paid the National Park entrance fee) but because of this, the race provided buses to the start and from the finish and buses for the spectators to/from the finish for FREE from the host hotel. I think that is AMAZING and actually makes things easy. If we hadn’t stayed at the host hotel, thinking like a local racer, It would have been just as easy to park at the hotel and get on the bus as well. There was another option if you were staying in a hotel near the Vegas Strip for an affordable fee.

Race Management – 4/5
Even though I’ve knocked the company for not having all the bells and whistles, they still get a 4/5 for race management because things were in place and on time. It does take a lot of coordination to get the bus to/from the hotel and to the race location. Plus, they did have all the info you needed on the race website. The thing that knocks off one of the points is timing and post-race communication. It took three days to get our results and it wasn’t until day three that anything was even acknowledged. There were no live results, even though it was chipped timed. When I looked later that evening after the race and didn’t see results, I was a little irritated, but when I got back to town on Monday after climbing and there was STILL no results, I was bothered. I finally checked my emails and saw one email at noon on Monday saying the timer was working on results but there was a bug in the software. Then email #2 came at 2pm saying preliminary results were up, but they weren’t 100% correct. And finally, email #3 at 8pm, a FULL TWO DAYS (not including race day) AFTER the race stated that the results were final and online. Being a race director and timer, I was irritated at the format of results as well, being a stationary PDF that you can’t easily search. I know the systems they were using for timing and the software; plus the registration platform was on Run Sign Up which is so user-friendly that results could have easily been integrated and searchable by name. Oh well. There goes my nit-picking.

My Race – 4/5
I achieved my goals and wasn’t completely wrecked after the race! Sure, it was my slowest half marathon time probably ever (which is why I dock one point), but it was the prettiest (and hilliest) half marathons I had ever run as well. Plus, I got to rep 3W Races, Legend Compression Wear and Golden Mountain Guides while running around Nevada, so can’t be a loss there!

After
The afternoon after finishing, we checked out of the hotel, picked another campsite at the park and then recovered by walking parts of the Vegas Strip. The day after, I was only a little sore in my shins and feet and ended up climbing 1090 vertical feet with a hike in and out, 12 hours car to car…but more on that adventure later!