Probably my favorite place to run is the stretch of beach between Napatree Point and Misquamicut in Westerly.
But last week I came across a location that ranks a close second.
While on vacation with my family in Arizona, I had the good fortune of staying at a resort that abuts South Mountain Park in Phoenix.
While it may be the country's largest municipal park, there's nothing urban about it. It's 51 miles of trails stretch across almost 17,000 acres of rugged mountainous desert terrain where you can easily get lost.
Good friend and masters runner T.J. Dooling of Pawcatuck used to train in South Mountain in his younger days and told me that running there was not to be missed.
So shortly after arriving in the late afternoon, I put on my running gear and went out for a short run to explore the resort and find the entrance to the park.
Within three minutes I had found a trail head and began running along some switchbacks to the top of a small hill. It was hot, dry and dusty but when I got to the top, the whole city of Phoenix was laid out below me. I could see airplanes landing, Chase Field where the Diamondbacks play and majestic Camelback Mountain to the north. And all around me was this desolate desert terrain filled with sand, rocks and cactus. It was as scenic a running spot as you'll ever see.
I called T.J. when I got back to my room and he told me that I had to watch out for rattlesnakes, sunburn, some sort of fluffy cactus that causes a bad infection and bands of marauding wild pigs that smell really bad.
He also asked me if I heard anything rustling in the bushes as I ran. I said I had and it was freaking me out. He laughed and said it was some type of harmless lizard.
One day I headed out for a run that took me about 35 minutes deep into the park. I occasionally would see someone on a trail off in the distance as I navigated my way through canyons and up hills. At my turnaround point I climbed a pretty steep and long hill (or small mountain) and was forced to walk the last 200 feet or so to summit because it was so rugged.
But at the top I was rewarded with a 360-degree view of the park, the city and the desert stretching south to Tucson.
On the way back I tried to retrace my steps with little success and somehow got off course. Spotting a power line I remembered I was able to get back on track by leaving the trails and making my way through the desert. I could see how people could easily get in trouble out there especially if they don't have any water. Luckily, you do see other people out there ever once in while.
One experience I will never forget was running at dawn and watching the sun illuminate the valley. And at dusk it was fun to go up a hill in the park and watch the city light up.
One of the days when I came back from my run, I went into the huge fitness center at the hotel. And there they were. People running on lines of treadmills when one of the best running experiences they would ever have was just outside.
We also had chance to visit the Grand Canyon which was even more spectacular than I had imagined. T.J. told me that when I got to the South Rim I had to look across to North Rim and think about someday running across the canyon, a 20-mile trip one way. Talk about an adventure run. It just may be something I have to do.
On the schedule
The Steven E. Donahue 3-mile Memorial Run/Walk will be held Sunday at 1 p.m., beginning at Cherenzia and Co., 99 Mechanic St. in Pawcatuck. This is an out-and-back course along the Pawcatuck River. Applications are available at snerro.com. Proceeds benefit a scholarship in his name at Stonington High School.
The 25th annual Lawrence & Memorial Hospital Spring Stride, a 3.5-mile race, will be held Saturday, May 5 at 10 a.m. at the hospital in New London. You can register online at www.lmhospital.org.
Joe Wojtas is The Day's running columnist