17 September 2007

The Hopi Paatuwaqatsi Water is Life 50K Run

Well, Saturday AM came early on 15 September for Team SpadeFeet and Team Forest Rain. We got up at 0230hr and caravanned from Flagstaff to Walpi Village on the Hopi Reservation. We were running the

Hopi Paatuwaqatsi Water is Life Run

, and the race began at 0600hr. Image Credit: Connor Gifford.

Our caravan consisted of five very tired people. We had two three person relay teams for this event. Team Spade Feet consisted of me, Ethan Aumack and David Hartly. Team Forest Rain consisted of my girlfriend (Connor Gifford), Bruce Higgins and Tom Sisk. Dave was fortunate enough to spend the night on the Hopi Rez, so he was able to sleep in.

Looking toward First Mesa and Walpi as the sun rises on Hopi Land.

This race is ancient, and may very well be the first ultra running race in Arizona, and perhaps North America. This 30 mile run circumnavigates the three mesas which represent Hopi Land. This is a prayer run and race organizers emphasized this is not a run to win, but a run for life. Its purpose is to run to promote the health and continued flow of the springs upon which the Hopi rely for growing their crops. But in a larger sense, the race is to promote love and compassion and the recognition that water is life not just for the Hopi but for the Planet. The Hopi are intimately familiar with this fact. They understand the importance of respecting Mother Earth, and that sentiment was effectively conveyed throughout the day.

The run was epic! First we were able to watch the sun rise on Hopi Land. And once the race began, we were able to experience the stark beauty of the Hopi Reservation. There were sights to behold along each 10 mile leg – not to mention challenges such as running through deep sand and bouldering up and down First Mesa. The first leg consisted of running up and down hills of sand and through the ancient village of Walpi (the longest inhabited village in North America), the second leg consisted of running through MORE sand, hills and scenic views, and the third leg consisted of running up and down First Mesa twice and then ultimately ending at the bottom of First Mesa containing a Walpi satellite settlement. The race course in its entirety consisted of running by many of the sacred springs of Hopi Land. As part of this run, we were encouraged to stop by the flowing springs give thanks and honor the water that gives us life. For all Humans and All Organisms - water is life.

A view of Second Mesa.

Bruce and I were shuttled out to the second transition point at around 0700hr. It was already getting hot, and I continued to seek any shade available by laying under parked trucks. While I was laying there, in a relaxed quasi-meditative state, I was soaking it all in. In mid-September on Hopi Land, it is hot with little to no shade (save for what I could muster underneath a truck with several other runners) and the sun beats down on you relentlessly. Water keeps us alive in the desert without it we would not survive long. Water is life.

I throughly enjoyed my time with the Hopi People. I was honored to share this day with them. I learned we share a common thread -- the Hopi are a running culture, and I am a runner. While I awaited for Ethan, my team member running the second leg of the race, I was chatting with the Hopi and other runners about races, qualifying for marathons, what we eat to prepare for runs, where we run, how we train, etc. The camaraderie at the transition point was great, and I enjoyed my time there as I was trying to hide from the sun.

A random shot of runners and spectators directly after the ultra-runners started.

Around 1000hr, Ethan finally arrived, and it was time for me to run the third and final leg of the race. I was the lucky one on my team – I ran the hottest leg of the day. Despite this, it was absolutely beautiful. Hopi Land is a magnificent place, and I was honored and blessed to participate in this event. My leg of the run started by traversing up and down sandy hills and then climbing up onto First Mesa; as I was summiting the Mesa, I passed my first spring. The spring was replete with cattails and I stopped at the water source momentarily to give thanks and peer into the water. There were literally hundreds of bees and wasps at the waters edge. These critters were likely collecting water for their nests and hives. Water is life.

Once I was atop the mesa, I picked up my pace. I realized I would run faster on the flats and down hills and speed hike the up hills. By the time I crested the mesa, it was probably in the mid-80s and climbing, and once again…there was no shade! Granted this is a prayer run, but whenever you safety pin a bib on your shorts it becomes a race! I was mindful my entire time out there, and I stopped at each spring to give thanks. This being said, when I was on the trail, I was pushing myself all the way to the finish line.

Perhaps the most beautiful thing I encountered during this race was running the ancient trails along the mesa top. There was a foot path carved into the stone from generations of runners using this trail. I was actually on a trail which was carved into the limestone over hundreds, if not a thousand years, of use. I was most humbled by this experience. I also ran through carpets of broken pottery and several ancient Pueblos. As I was running along this ancient running trail, a raven joined me as the wind picked up. He soared on a thermal along the edge of the mesa and I ran along. Although he may not have known why we were running, I’m sure he knew where ever spring was on that mesa, and he knew, albeit perhaps only instinctively, that water is life.

An additional benefit of this race is its tranquility. During my entire run, I only encountered three people on the trail. I stopped to help two ultra-runners along the way. I gave one some salt tabs and water, and I helped another find his way back onto the trial. I also got dropped by one relay runner, who was far more conditioned than I for running in the heat. I did focus on him and declared him my “rabbit” -- he remained in my sights, and relatively close by up to the finish line.

Team SpadeFeet, Ethan Aumack, Dave Hartly and me (from left to right). Image Credit: Connor Gifford.

Once I reached the finish line, it took me about half an hour to cool down to where I could eat – but I really wanted food! The Hopi had prepared a massive traditional feast for everyone. So, once I had cooled down, I gorged myself on chile stew, beans and hominy, squash, watermelon and piki bread. I ate a lot of watermelon!

I’m still waiting to hear back from the race organizers, but I believe Team SpadeFeet placed either forth or fifth; however, I’m fairly certain we placed fourth. We had one problem during the race. Our first team member to run, Dave, got lost and ran and additional one to two miles. I reckon Dave wanted to put a more good running vibes on the trail for the springs! The running course can be quite confusing and Dave was one of many to get lost. So, we’re not holding it against him!

Team Forest Rain placed second in the three-person relay and finished first overall in mixed gender teams. Congratulations to Connor, Bruce and Tom!

Team Forest Rain at the Awards Ceremony, Bruce Higgins, race organizer Mr. Bucky Preston, Tom Sisk and Connor Gifford (from left to right).

Bringin' it on Home! Image Credit: Connor Gifford.

On this day, we did bring the rain. As I was running along First Mesa I could see the rain moving toward me from Second Mesa. Once I dropped down off the mesa and was running in 90+ degree heat, I was really praying for rain. Well...the rain didn't come until after I had crossed the finish line. First it rained lightly. Thereafter, the winds picked up and brought a sand storm that could choke a camel. The sand storm was intense, and I don’t recall being in a sand storm of this intensity before. After the winds abated, the rains did come, and we received a nice little reprieve from the heat. It was cloudy and rainy the rest of the afternoon. It was an excellent ending to a beautiful day.

Hopi Land is an amazing place. It was humbling to run ancient trails with these People, to share in their culture, and to honor and pray for that which is sacred. Water is life.

07 September 2007

Laboring on Labor Day – Site Visit to Inscription and Pig Pen Caves, Northern Arizona

Both Inscription and Pig Pen Caves are synonyms used to protect the actual name of the cave. What’s in a name? You may ask; it can often times be enough to have people start a search to actually find the cave. Caves are incredibly sensitive resources. As a cave researcher, I do everything I can to protect these resources.

My mission on Labor Day was to retrieve data from temperature sensors I had placed at these two northern Arizona caves. My team and I been monitoring thermal behavior of these caves for almost two years now. To my knowledge, this is becoming the largest long term dataset monitoring cave thermal behavior, which incorporates monitoring at both surface and subterranean sites.

HoboPro U-12 Four-Channel data logger. We are using these instruments for logging hourly temperature data at the cave's entrance, dark zone and surface.

I arrived at the caves at late morning. I met an archaeologist and a cave steward there. The two were collecting archaeological data at Pig Pen Cave. Pig Pen Cave was heavily used by Native Americans and evidence of their occupation occurs throughout the cave. The archaeologist was conducting a study at this cave to support her Master’s research. We chatted briefly and then I was off to pull data from my temperature sensors, relaunch them and then head back to Flagstaff.

But before I do this, I always look around and document what I see. In addition to collecting data on cave thermal behavior (this work is part of the Earth-Mars Cave Detection Program), I’m also most interested in the ecology of this cave.

Through my exploring of Inscription Cave, I encountered one tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) at, what I call, the soda straw forest. I’ve seen as many as four salamanders in this area, and was rather surprised to see only one this time of year. The soda straw forest is located along a wall just below the cave entrance. I’ve always wondered, if there was water on the other side of the wall. However, while observing this salamander, I noticed he appeared to be covered in a layer of dust. I know they do they have enough water to survive in this cave because I’ve observed them here over the past two years.

As I was searching for additional salamanders, I found four dead bats below the entrance – all apparently Townsends. I last visited this cave in the end of June and I didn’t observe any dead bats. This apparently happened in the past two months. It made me wonder. There is a maternity colony of

Townsend’s big eared bats (Plecotus townsendii)

in Pig Pen Cave, which is about 10 meters away, and I observed non-vagile pups in this cave in late June. I’m also aware the bats in Pig Pen fly into Inscription in early evening before they leave to forage (and perhaps they do this throughout the evening, I just haven’t been there to observe it). I wonder if the dead bats were new pups who were not aware of the cave gate, and flew into it. This may be something we’ll need to investigate further because the cave owners are interested in protecting the cave fauna (which is why they installed the gate). So, if this is problematic for the new pups, the gate design may have to be overhauled.

Also, in this cave I noticed two dead tarantulas in Inscription. Both were

Arizona blond tarantula (Aphonopelma chalcodes)

. This is the only tarantula that occurs in Arizona. One was recently deceased and was being consumed by other invertebrates in the cave.

I had photographed a live tarantula back in September 2006. I’m wondering if one of the dead tarantulas was the one that I photographed.

After investigating Inscription cave, I went to the back of the cave to pull data from my data loggers. Thereafter, it was time to retrieve data from Pig Pen Cave.

Pig Pen is a transient home to

javalinas (Tayassu tajacu)

. I have observed them using this cave throughout late fall and through the winter. However, while I was in this cave on Monday, I noticed fresh javalina scat.

These native pigs occur throughout mid-elevations to low elevations in Arizona, and range from the southwestern United States, south into South America. Evidence of peccary activity is throughout this cave and includes rooting, fresh scat and peccary hair. Here are four of the peccaries I observed in September 2007.

Millipedes from Inscription Cave.

Another great discovery at Pig Pen is I’ve learned this cave also contains the cave limited millipede that was discovered in Inscription cave. The cave steward indicated he had observed a millipede while conducting the archaeological survey. He flipped over a rock in the twilight zone of the cave, and found a millipede crawling on it. I must admit I’m not surprised because the millipede is not cave adapted per sey, it is cave limited.

Refer the Washington Post article on the new millipede genus discovery


As I mentioned earlier, there is an active maternity colony of Townsend’s Big Eared Bats in Pig Pen Cave. Visiting this cave late in the maternity season is best because the pups are now able to fly, and although entering the cave does disturb them, you’re not at risk of having the stressed adult female bats dislodge pups from the ceiling. When this happens, the pups often die. This photo is of the current maternity colony. These bats will be leaving in the next few weeks. Where they go remains a mystery. Townsend’s bats do what is called “roost switching,” and they do this throughout the year. They will find another cave to roost in during winter, and then they may roost switch half a dozen times before they return to Pig Pen. We do know these bats typically maintain a 60 mile home range. So, chances are these bats will be roosting somewhat nearby in the winter months in an undiscovered cave!