*** Journey Here to There is the name of Susan Reynolds' LLC,
"which organizes and promotes walks, treks and runs of
varying lengths in beautiful places." Susan, a journey walker, is the RD for
the Ghost Town 38.5-mile ultra. That's our destination.
ON THE ROAD TO NEW MEXICO
We left McDowell Mountain Park near Phoenix this morning with both
reluctance and anticipation. We wanted to stay longer to enjoy the nice weather
and plethora of trails but we also have an agenda that requires us to be in
Hillsboro, NM for the weekend. So off we went, spending most of the day on the road.
The campground was full when we pulled out. Someone saw us getting ready to
planned to move into our prime spot within minutes of our departure (there are no reserved sites;
it's first come, first served). It was a beautiful, sunny morning: 45°
F. when we left, with a predicted high of 74° F. in the Valley of the Sun.
<sigh> We were headed for a destination
3,000+ feet higher and bound to be chillier. It really didn't matter, though.
The sky was blue and we had a fine drive through SE Arizona and SW New Mexico.
Pastel sunset colors surround Caballo Lake, NM
Our route was much the same as last year when
we headed to Carlsbad Caverns from the Phoenix area: southeast on AZ 60
and 70 to I-10 in Lordsburg, NM. There isn't much traffic on these two-lane
roads and we can drive almost as fast as on the freeway. We like the scenery
through the Superstition Mountains, the rugged rock walls, the Queen Creek
Tunnel, the Top of the World, even driving through the town of Globe.
We were happy to find diesel cheaper in Globe
than in metro Phoenix, too: $2.23/gallon instead of $2.39. It
was down to $2.17/gallon along 1-10 in New Mexico.
At Deming we took a pleasant two-lane tangent (NM 26) to reach I-25 north
of Las Cruces. We came out at a little town called Hatch, which
bills itself as the hot pepper capital of the world. Strings and
colorful chili peppers hung from storefronts and restaurants. I
took this shot in front of a dilapidated wooden house
next to the highway:
We were getting desperate for fuel by now and paid an exorbitant $2.59/gallon.
We didn't see diesel any cheaper until after the Ghost Town race
when we drove through El Paso.
Although we'd been invited to pull our camper into the race
director's yard, which is the start/finish of the Ghost Town
38.5 mile race, we arrived too close to dark to make that
feasible. Even people who have seen our camper don't have
a realistic idea how much space is required to maneuver it in
and out of a parking spot. The Reynolds hadn't seen our camper
yet and we hadn't eyeballed their yard so we had no idea if that
plan would work. We'd
best make that determination in daylight on Friday morning. If
there wasn't room at their house, we could always stay down near
Before leaving Phoenix we called to check on campsites at Caballo Lake State Park (above), which is about twenty miles from the
Reynolds' home in Hillsboro. The park is right off 1-25, about
fifteen miles south of Truth or Consequences (called "TorC" by
locals). We pulled in right about suppertime. We chose a nice spot overlooking the lake and watched
the setting sun color the hills and sky across the water with
soft pastel pinks and lavenders.
I wanted to take Cody with me to get some photos from the bluff
on our side of the lake.
Oh, my. That was a mistake. There were nasty
sharp little stickers all over the ground, including the gravel
in the campground. They were tiny little balls, less than 1/4"
in diameter, covered with many sharp spines. Cody couldn't walk
one yard without several
of them lodging painfully in the pads of his feet. He just stood
still, shaking from pain and fear, giving me the most pitiful
look. They hurt my
fingers to remove them, too.
A woman in another camper saw our plight and came out to commiserate. She and her
husband had to keep their dog inside, too. She showed me how the
sharp stickers also stuck to the bottoms of her shoes and warned me not
to track them inside the camper. Even though I couldn't see any
lodged into the soles of my Keen sandals, I did manage to track
some stickers inside.
The woman was right; they're even worse if
you step on one in your bare feet!! Owww.
Poor Cody. I put him back in the camper but I still had to take
him outside to do his business a couple more times. He was
pretty paranoid, even on the road through the campground. The
stickers were everywhere.
Even though the views of the lake are pleasant, the park is on a
birding trail, the fishing is good, and the campground is inexpensive, we recommend
staying there only if you DO NOT have a dog with you, at least
this time of the year. Perhaps other months are sticker-free.
THROUGH THE HILLS TO HILLSBORO
Friday morning we drove up higher in
elevation to the Reynolds' property just west of the little town
of Hillsboro. It is a scenic drive on NM 152 through the
foothills of the Black Range.
The road had so little traffic when we got to the Reynolds'
house that Jim just left
the camper in the right lane with the warning flashers blinking
while he got
out to talk to Matt and Susan about the best place to park our
camper. They were very happy we'd made it to Hillsboro OK and
couldn't wait to show him around.
I think we were the first to arrive for the race (see quote
above) so Jim got an extra-warm welcome! We knew if we wanted a
fighting chance to get our rig in their yard we'd need to be
the first camper in. The Reynolds' invite runners to sleep in
their campers or vehicles in the yard so they are right at the
start/finish. More than a dozen runners accepted their
generosity this year; some are shown in the next photo. Others stayed in
the Reynolds' cabin, B&Bs in Hillsboro, or motels in Truth or Consequences,
which is over thirty miles away.
Runners camp out near the Reynolds' studio.
The cabin and road are to the left (not shown here).
Matt came out to the truck to introduce himself to me. I'm
guessing he had a sharp intake of air when he saw
just how big our camper is! It's not huge by industry standards
but 32" looks pretty long when you see it attached to the
truck. And it's tall, so we
also have to watch for overhanging branches. I imagine Matt was thinking,
"Holy crap!" or some such.
Jim and I were thinking pretty much the same thing. We scouted
out the possibilities of which of the two wide gates we should enter
and where we should park so we didn't take up all the space
other runners would need for their campers and vehicles. Branches from a large
cottonwood tree next to the
main gate looked like they might damage the AC unit on the
camper roof so we eliminated that option even after Matt offered
to trim them back. We sure didn't want to cause such trouble!
We considered just going back down to Caballo Lake and driving
back and forth to the race activities from Friday to Monday. The
Reynolds wouldn't hear of it. They genuinely wanted us to stay
on their property. We ended up going through another double gate
that hadn't been opened for several years. When Matt was unable to find the key to the
lock he just cut it off so we could get in.
We parked out of the way between the cabin and fence on the far
side of the property:
Fits just fine, and out of the way.
That's just one example of how accommodating these folks are.
They love to have visitors and go all out to make race entrants
feel welcome. They truly made us feel "at home" and for
that we are grateful. They wouldn't even accept money for a new
gate lock. "I would have to cut it off when I eventually
needed to get in there myself," Matt explained. "Now I
have access again." He made it sound like we did him a
Thank you, Matt and Susan. You guys are great.
PARTIAL COURSE TOUR
Since it was still early in the day and no other runners were
expected until afternoon, Susan and Matt encouraged us to go
take a look at the course.
We drove out eight or nine miles before turning back. We had 55
gallons of water stored in a tank on the back of the truck and
it was shifting around as we drove on the dirt road the course
follows after six miles. We didn't want it to fall off.
course is mostly out-and-back. It follows paved NM 152 (shown
above) for 6.3
miles, then turns up dirt Forest Road 157 for most of the
remainder of the miles. There are also a couple little spurs off
this road to add miles and interest to the course.
You can read details of the course and view a map
There are nice views of hills and rock walls along the highway.
We stopped at the parking area next to the bridge across Percha
Creek. Runners cross it on the orange bridge outbound and
inbound. Farther upstream they have to jump across it or wade
through it, depending on rainfall. This year it was pretty dry
before the race and the creek was low.
Bridge across the Percha
The running surface ranges from paved road to steep, rough
trail. The course climbs from about 5,300 feet at the
start/finish to just under 7,000 feet at its highest point. Susan warns potential
entrants that the course is "challenging" but most
runners/walkers are able to finish within the generous 12-hour time
Since the part of the course we drove is out-and-back, Jim was
able to see the 6.3 miles of paved road at the beginning and end of the
race but only a couple miles of the dirt road section. He was
willing to wait for the race to see the rest. Susan's
descriptions and photos on the website, and further details in
e-mails, gave a good "picture" of the course for those like Jim
who were running it the first time.
Near the beginning of FR 157, a dirt road
I didn't run the race or train on the course and Jim didn't carry a camera so we don't
have pictures of most of the course. I'll show a few more photos
I took on Friday in the race report. There are also
photos on the race
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
After our partial course tour we returned to the camper and let
Cody sniff his way around the Reynolds' yard and
creek. Matt and Susan have two dogs but we didn't get to meet
them. They were kenneled for the weekend so they didn't get out
of the yard; the main gate was open for runners and
crews to come and go for four days. The Reynolds welcome runners' dogs in
their yard but they aren't allowed on the course or at aid
Matt and Susan have three buildings on their property. Two of
them are used for race activities.
The "cabin" is the structure closest to the road. It's shown in
the next photo. The Reynolds use it primarily for meals. It is
HQ during the race for a dinner on Friday night, food
preparation all weekend, sleeping quarters for a few runners the
night before the race, race check-in, pre-race breakfast,
finish-line buffet, post-race BBQ on Sunday, and runner breakfast on Monday. It is a busy,
busy place all weekend.
The "studio" is where Susan and Matt sleep and have their
living room and offices; it is located near the creek at
the back of the property. Susan used to do her beautiful ceramic art work in this
building (she still draws and writes, two of her other creative
outlets). The large room in the studio is used for packet
pick-up and the pre-race briefing. There is a third building with sleeping quarters
that is used by family guests but is not open on race weekend.
After we got settled in and had lunch we went out to look for
Susan and Matt. Both were busy with pre-race preparations. We helped a bit with
various tasks and greeted the runners who came early to register
for the race.
Matt and Jim do some male bonding.
It was a pleasure to get to know the Reynolds, their young
adult son Gabe, and Gabe's girlfriend Tasha throughout the weekend. We'd been in contact with
Susan via e-mail since last July and felt like friends
before ever laying eyes on each other. Susan writes fairly
frequently to the ultra list. Her passion for ultra walking and
running is obvious in her posts and in the numerous enthusiastic e-mails she
sends out to race participants in the weeks and months before
Ghost Town. Not only does she provide all the details runners
need to know, she also adds interesting bits of history and
encourages the runners to ask questions she may have overlooked.
She also maintains a very complete race
another one for
Susan is the polar opposite of the RD for the Ultracentric races
we skipped back in November, mainly because of the dearth of
information we had.
Susan takes great pride in this race and understandably so. She
puts in a tremendous amount of thought, time, and her unique
personality to make the race memorable. She says it is the
highlight of her year. She loves welcoming guests and sharing
her part of New Mexico with others.
Matt, Susan, Sue, and Jim
This is the fourth year for Ghost Town. Susan has built a loyal
group of volunteers over that time. At the top of that list is Matt,
who provides invaluable support and
help throughout the year and works hard during race week and
weekend. Their son Gabe and his girlfriend Tasha returned home
to assist with the race this year. Other race volunteers are mostly veterans from the three
previous GT races and do a great job at the start/finish line
and the aid stations. Several folks
from the Sheriff's posse provide runner support on horseback on
the remote sections of the course.
I am one of the few newbie GT volunteers this year.
Community support for the race is spotty but I won't go into
the "politics" of that. I'll just note that the folks
who own businesses in Hillsboro should be grateful that this race pulls in
runners and their families/crews for several days. It's
unfortunate that Susan and Matt, a local circuit judge, don't
get more support for GT from the locals.
Since Susan and Matt were around on Friday and Saturday
to prepare for the race they opened up packet pick-up for most
of both days. I think Jim and I were about the first to get our
packets. I was "only" a volunteer but got almost as many nice
goodies as the runners.
Runners and volunteers received bright red long-sleeved race
shirts (above) with Susan's subtle Ghost Town logo on the front. The
same logo was etched into the nice aluminum thermos bottles
given to only the volunteers; the bottles come with a handy
zippered vinyl case:
The runners' bags were stuffed with useful gifts from a
couple local businesses, running-related companies like Zombie
Runner and Larabar, and Susan/Matt themselves: energy
bars, delicious chocolate candies, a flat nylon "back pack,"
coffee, a whistle, sunscreen, lube, a knit cap, one of Susan's
artistic running-related greeting cards, coupons, etc.
Only a few runners trickled in on Friday to register so Susan
didn't need our help with that. It was fun to visit with runners
as they came in for their packets and race numbers.
got to meet "Ultrarunningmom" from the ultra list:
Abi Meadows and her husband, Bob Culp. Here they are
checking in at the studio. Susan is on the left
next to some of the runners' packets:
Abi is a prolific ultra runner, especially considering her
responsibilities as mom to six kids who still live at home! Bob
more recently morphed into ultras from triathlons. He is a Lt.
Col. stationed currently at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio,
where we like to camp. They'll be moving to a post in NC this
summer, so we may see them more when we go home to VA than when
we're in TX. Abi's family is from southern VA and still has
When we presented Susan and Matt with a bottle
of wine from Chateau Morrisette, our favorite Virginia winery,
Abi was surprised. Her grandfather lives across from the winery!
Bob and Abi
It was fun to get to know Abi and Bob throughout the weekend.
Abi is a great story teller -- and with the life she leads, she
has plenty of great stories to tell. If you're on the ultra list
or have met her at one of the many ultras she runs, you know
what I mean.
We also got to talk with Tim Long throughout the weekend and
enjoy his little dog, who he brought with him from Colorado. Tim
quietly helped the Reynolds and kept the buffet line moving on
Saturday night at the community center. He was so humble that he would surprise us
before the weekend was over! Tim is the second person from the
left in this
photo from Friday night's dinner:
We were delighted to spend more time during the weekend with
Sandy and Dick Powell, who live in northern New Mexico. We first met them at Bighorn several
years ago when they were camped near us at the Foothills
Campground. Dick drove me back after I missed a cut-off and had
to drop out of the race. We've never had much time to talk, so it was nice
to have more of an opportunity to socialize with them at Ghost
Matt (L) talks with Sandy and Dick Powell
Sandy's running the race this year and Dick is volunteering at
one of the aid stations. "Magical Matt" will be out at the most remote aid
station that is a real challenge to reach in his four-wheel
drive truck. He always amazes Susan and whoever else is in the
truck with his skill negotiating that stretch of "road." The
description sounds like the equivalent of orienteering.
DINNER IS SERVED!
One of many perks at this race is the complimentary Friday night
supper Susan and Matt graciously provide in the cabin for
runners who have arrived early and want to socialize around the
table. Meal and lodging options are limited in Hillsboro and
it's over thirty miles to TorC so this
is a very nice gesture on their part.
As new participants in the race, Jim and I were surprised to
receive an e-mail from Susan in early December outlining the
various meals she was planning for the weekend. She wanted to
know how many people would be coming for which meal and what
foods they would prefer. Her letter read in part:
"It's the holiday season, so naturally
I'm thinking "food." As we near Ghost Town weekend, I think
"food" even more. Now it's time for you to participate in a
small way. Please review the info. below and respond by
indicating your preferences, the number of others in your party,
and if you've any dietary concerns that relate to what gets put
on the table . . .
. . . the following is for both the runners and the
volunteers. Family and friends are welcome at the Fri. night
supper, the pre-race pasta meal, the post-race bbq, and Mon.
morning breakfast. Just please let me know they're coming when
it's a meal I'm cooking! My mama would roll in her grave if I
ran short of food. Actually, my pop would roll too, for that
She also asked for input re: the pre-race breakfast, aid station
offerings, and finish-line food. That's a lot of food! Susan
gave examples of types of food she was considering for each meal
and asked for as much input as we'd give. Wow. We've never been
given such an opportunity before any other race. I can tell you
that Susan and Matt spent a great deal of time preparing all the
food before and during race weekend. Their refrigerator,
freezer, and pantry were stuffed.
The only meal runners and their families have to pay for is the
Saturday night pasta meal. It was worth the $12 for adults ($8
for kids under 12). Before coming
to the race we offered to pay for Friday's supper and Monday's breakfast but the Reynolds wouldn't hear of it. It is
their gift to their guests. We showed our appreciation by
helping before and after all the meals and sharing some of our
wine stock that we take on trips for just such occasions.
About eighteen runners and volunteers accepted the Reynolds' invitation
to join them for supper Friday night (above). My photos didn't
come out very well but dinner did! We enjoyed grilled herbed
chicken breasts, vegetables, a tasty tossed salad with
blueberries, and sweet cornbread. Dessert was apple cobbler.
Everything was fresh, homemade, and delicious. Susan and Matt
are great cooks!
L-R, Bob Culp, Jay Cochran, Paul Grimm, Abi
Meadows, and Susan Reynolds
Before and after dinner conversation flowed easily and it was
about 9 PM before most of us left the warmth of the kitchen in
the cabin to return to our overnight accommodations. It was indeed colder in Hillsboro than it had
been at McDowell Mountain Park but Jim and I slept solidly for
about ten hours. Although it was only 29°
F. when we got up Friday morning at Caballo State Park, it was
35° F. on Saturday morning
in Hillsboro (a couple thousand feet higher in elevation).
Race weekend was looking great!
Next entry: more pre-race activities for Ghost Town
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil