PEter Olson has spent the past few years running Santa Fe-area ultra-marathons that have drawn people from across the country to participate in grueling races up to 50 miles long in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
With alpine trails currently inaccessible due to national forest closures around the state and popular urban trails also off limits due to extreme fire danger, the Endurance Santa Fe founder has spent more free time below grade. from the street rather than above the tree line.
A vast network of arroyos stretching across Santa Fe offers dozens of miles of exploration, he says, and opportunities to see the city from a unique vantage point.
Olson, 60, began his arroyo adventures when he moved to Santa Fe more than 30 years ago. He started running them on his lunch break to avoid traffic on the paved paths and because of the ease of access from his office. The trees, rock formations, wildlife and relative solitude he found made it a habit he kept for years.
“You get a bit of that feeling of being away from civilization, and then you come out and you’re back to work in the afternoon,” Olson said. “It’s a really good way to clear your head.”
On New Years Day 2020, Olson launched a project inspired by ultrarunner Rickey Gates, sponsored by Solomon, a Colorado native who moved to Santa Fe in September 2019.
The following year, he took on a project called Every Single Street, in which he directed all the streets in San Francisco. He covered more than
1,300 miles of road in just 46 days, riding an average of 29 miles per day.
Every Single Street took off on social media and runners from all over the world embarked on their hometown adventure.
“I really like to explore, to find out what’s around the corner, so when I started this project, I walked into arroyos that I had never been to before,” Olson said. “I would look at Google Maps or satellite imagery and say, ‘Here’s a green snake running through town, you can see some trees there, so I’m going to find out where this arroyo is going.’ ”
The arroyos are all part of an extensive drainage network and eventually connect to the Santa Fe River. The sandy channels created by erosion are dry for most of the year, but on rare occasions they can dry out. turn into dangerous, raging torrents during heavy monsoon deluges and should be avoided when storms occur in the area.
Olson made some exciting discoveries while wandering the arroyos. There are narrow, steep channels that look like slot canyons. He also spotted large mule deer when he hiked an arroyo between Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and St. John’s College.
Not far from busy roads, arroyos provide urban habitat for a wide range of wildlife.
“I saw some really big males with huge racks, coyotes, snakes, lots of birds and birds of prey,” Olson said. “I saw [red-tailed hawks] collect snakes from the ground. And it’s right in the middle of town.
To the enchanting encounters are added sad visions.
Expanses of arroyos are filled with large amounts of waste and homeless encampments have sprung up in some areas. The Santa Fe Watershed Association recommends avoiding sections of the arroyos or the river that seem unsafe for some reason.
Proponents say it’s an ongoing battle to track the waste that ends up in the drains.
“We literally remove tons of trash from our waterways every year,” said Amara Nash, director of stewardship and community outreach for the Santa Fe Watershed Association. “If we didn’t do that, there would be even more waste. But it’s not like we’re just going to clean them and they’ll be clean. It’s a constant flow.
The watershed association has partnerships with the city and county of Santa Fe, gaining financial support to organize teams of stewards who go out and clean the Santa Fe River and arroyos.
Money does not cover all costs, so the watershed association has sponsorship programs that allow community members or organizations to help pay for cleanup efforts in sections of the river or arroyos . The Adopt-the-River and Adopt-an-Arroyo programs designate teams of volunteer stewards to clean up sponsored reaches of the drainages.
Nash said 30 sections of the river and 15 sections of arroyo have been passed.
There are also three community cleanup events that the watershed association organizes each year. The next one will be June 20-26 to coincide with a nationwide campaign to clean up waterways by the nonprofit conservation organization American Rivers.
That week, the Santa Fe Watershed Association will provide trash bags and snacks from its office at 1413 2nd St. Suite 3 for groups wishing to participate in the cleanups. Nash said groups are asked to indicate where they clean, how long they’ve been picking up trash and how many participants are on the team.
Because he regularly uses arroyos, Olson said he decided to get involved with the Adopt-an-Arroyo program through Endurance Santa Fe. His organization is a steward of a stretch along Arroyo de las Cruces near Frenchy’s Park and sponsors a stretch of Arroyo de los Pinos north of Sam’s Club.
Although Olson said he didn’t often see people when leading arroyos, he noticed their tracks. Locals walk their dogs, hike or even cycle through the arroyos.
Mike Chapman, owner of The Broken Spoke bike shop, said he used dry stretches of the Santa Fe River and various arroyos around town with his fat bike when conditions didn’t allow him to mountain bike. at higher altitudes. The fat bike’s oversized tires allow riders to navigate sandy terrain that other bikes cannot traverse.
Chapman said some of his mountain bike friends won’t ride arroyos — it’s too slow for them — but it has a place in his riding repertoire.
“It’s more like exploring,” he says. “The driving itself isn’t super exciting, but seeing something for the first time is fun.
“If you’ve lived here a long time and you know the city like the back of your hand, it’s like, ‘I’ve always been through this arroyo, where is it going?’ ”
Along with Olson and Gates, Meg Eckert is part of a large contingent of ultrarunners in the Santa Fe area. Forest closures have hampered training for upcoming races, but on Olson’s advice, Eckert has mixed arroyos in its preparation.
“I was discouraged that I couldn’t get into the mountains, but the fire danger is real and safety is more important,” said Eckert, 35, who is heading to Wyoming this weekend for a run. 100 mile Bighorn Trail. To run. “I learned to adapt this year to other training methods.
“It’s the first time I’ve spent a lot of time in the arroyos,” she added. “Running in the sand was a challenge, but it’s good that we have that available to us.”
For others discouraged by trail closures who have yet to explore the arroyos, Olson recommends giving it a try.
There are arroyos near most neighborhoods, and he suggests getting off at the nearest one and letting your curiosity carry you.
“I think arroyos are a really underrated feature of our city,” Olson said, “but I think they provide a lot of recreation options, a lot of exploration options, and I think that helps people people to realize that if there are 100 miles of arroyos in the city limits, that’s a lot of space for people.