The biggest drawback to moving from the West Side to the South Valley was losing access to my nearby and beloved jogging trails, two-track paths through the sand created by the occasional dirt bike, four wheeler or pickup truck looking for somewhere to dump roofing material after the dump had closed. Where despite a little trash you'd rarely see anything but plants, birds, jack rabbits, rabbit rabbits, roadrunners and the occasional coyote.
The soft surface of those trails, a quarter to half inch of sand over the dried but pliable crust of the desert, was the perfect running surface as far as I'm concerned. I'm very cautious about my knees. I get the good $100 running shoes, I do exercises that strengthen them, I soak in a hot tub and massage them after I run, and I don't run on cement or blacktop. Also, running on trails and dirt roads isn't as easy so you get more workout per unit of time, is my theory.
There were changes in elevation out there, too, which increased the workout value. I lived on the gradual, two or three percent grade part of the west Side where the West Mesa gives way to the upper valley slope, and I could cross Unser and right there, above the west side bus garage, is one of those big sand and gravel hills blown up by the winds and rains coming over the valley's edge from the west. Sometimes I would run up to that hill, then run back and forth over it six times and then head home feeling like Sampson himself.
I say "run." I call it running for my ego's sake. I've long ago admitted to myself, however, that I jog, not run. But pulling that hill six times at any speed is a good workout for the old heart and the old ego.
Here in the South Valley it's basically level and the wide open spaces were long ago filled in with housing. But I knew the irrigation system ditches crisscross this entire area and had hoped to jog along those. I was worried about running past back yards and bad dogs, and my first excursion in the vicinity of my new house wasn't very encouraging. I tried riding my mountain bike along the Beckman Lateral, which crosses San Ygnacio Road a few doors down from me. I went north from San Ygnacio toward Bridge Boulevard because within a few hundred yards the Beckman Lateral flows out of the bigger, Arenal Ditch, and from the Google Maps view it looked like those bigger ditches provided longer, more uninterrupted running stretches. But going that way I passed quite a few back yards with big, mean looking dogs behind fences that didn't look high enough or sturdy enough for my peace of mind. The dogs definitely didn't want me running past their back yards and let me know in no uncertain terms, and it was very disappointing.
Meanwhile, what with moving and my inherent disorganization I got out of the practice of running and after six weeks of that began to get depressed about it so one morning I just warmed up and set out to run somewhere, even if it was on the streets. This time, however, I tried going south on Beckman Lateral, and it turned out to be a world of difference.
To be honest, the most scary thing I see is the widows walking their dogs. They smile so alluringly. But I'm mostly to myself out there, only occasionally passing someone with their dogs, sometimes young couples or single men or, as I say, older women, and they all smile and say Hi. Much of way I'm in the shade of the big old cottonwoods that grow up along the irrigation system, and the running surface is pretty good and suitably soft almost the entire way. The ditch runners, the people who maintain the irrigation system, drive along the ditches and harden the surface a little, but there's always a soft spot in the middle where their tires have kicked up loose dirt, and another right next to the ditch, which everyone avoids for fear of falling in.
There are dogs behind fences here and there, but most are little yippy dogs, and all of them are behind good, solid, sufficiently tall fences. I've been down there a few times now and they're hardly bothering to rouse themselves any more to get up and yap or bark at my passing.
I think the difference down that way is that when I went north, I was passing behind places along Bridge Boulevard, a main thoroughfare where there are lots of businesses, trailer parks and rental properties and more crime reports, and I think that explains the difference in dog population, too, and also explains the presence of the people out strolling.
The South Valley, especially after I cross the little back streets of my neighborhood, and then right away Arenal Road, quickly becomes semi rural and the occasional street I have to cross looks more like a road than a street, and I begin to hear chickens crowing and see a few goats and cows and a few more gardens.
In summary, it's not the West Side but I think it will be OK.
Below are some pictures I took this morning with my cell telephone. I usually don't take it jogging because I'm afraid it'll get damaged by the jarring or the moisture, but there's a feature on the iPhone that automatically records your steps per day and it's supposed to record steps while running, too, so I wanted to see how it did.
Also, I time my runs because my goal is to run at least an hour, so today instead of pulling my old wristwatch out of my pocket and peering at it's small numbers I had the iPhone's stop watch with its big numbers, so I could do 30 minutes out and then see how long it took to get back.
Of course the iPhone also has Google maps with GPS, and I could have used that and maybe seen exactly where I was. Some streets I cross have crossing streets near the ditch and I can see a road sign, but today my goal was to go to Blake and back, a little further than I've gone so far, but I crossed Blake without knowing it at first and went to the next street before I headed back.
I carried the iPhone in my front pocket wrapped in a dry wash cloth so every time I wanted to take a picture or look at the time I had to drag it out and unfold the wash cloth, which you can do alright while running but it's a little inconvenient.
Approaching Arenal Road soon after I start out. This is the only street with any amount of traffic I have to cross.
Across the ditch some cows. You can have such things in the South Valley.
Typical informality of the South Valley. This is one of the roads I cross.
The further south the more there are longer stretches like this without crossing streets, and the less shaded it is.
This is new since last time I ran and will be gone soon, I think. The ditches are almost free of trash. They seem to be very well maintained, by crews of people known as Ditch Runners.
Passing where another ditch empties into the Beckman Lateral. On Google they have the names of ditches and laterals in my area, but I think there are other names for other kinds of channels depending on their size and function. I haven't found a good map of the whole irrigation system, which is quite extensive and goes back to the 1930s, or anything more than a cursory history of it. Does anyone know of any history of the irrigation system?
Coming back to Arenal, passing a big field someone has been working on to make level for some time now. These canals are for flood irrigation so the land has to be very level. It's looks like they're doing it the old fashioned way with plumb lines. Now they have laser leveling. I took this picture because it shows the dead vegetation along the top edge of the lateral. They obviously spray, which besides keeping our immune systems in tune when that stuff ends up in the food we eat it keeps the ditches free of things like goat heads, nefarious super sand burrs that feel like you stepped on a carpet tack and were always getting down in between my shoes and socks on the west side. I don't miss those.
And back at San Ygnacio Road maybe 75 yards from my house.
This is what the iPhone said I did. I think the 5.5 miles is a little generous. It was probably more like 4.5.
The time was probably accurate.
I took the two below pictures because they point out something interesting to me about the South Valley that I first noticed back when I drove the Atrisco and Isleta bus routes. In middle of old working class neighborhoods someone will build a big ostentatious house, like this castle on Blake Road. The first picture is coming on it from the north, then from the backside when I headed back north.
These make me wonder. Are they wanting to be a big fish in a little pond? Or are they saying, yes, I've done well but I'm not too good for my old neighborhood and neighbors. Maybe they like the lower taxes and legal constraints of the county to the point that they remain there out of principal. I don't know. If anyone can shed some light on this I'd be grateful.
Note also the little wreath of flowers someone has placed at the bank of the canal, that were respectfully graded around by the last Ditch Runner who leveled out the trail/embankment. People put those wreaths along roadsides here where loved ones have died in car crashes.
I don't know what happened that the flowers are there. I don't think these are the fast flowing ditches that people get swept away in, but perhaps after a monsoon downpour they are. Most of the distance the embankments are simply dirt and the channel is only cemented where the stream width gets restricted in size so it will go through a pipe and under a roadway, and therefore will flow faster. So I just don't know.