One hundred twenty-one years ago, travel to the Grand Canyon was a pipe dream for most Americans. That all changed on May 16, 1892. The Atlantic and Pacific Railroad had reached Flagstaff and Williams 10 years earlier. Stagecoaches had operated in both towns to the Grand Canyon; however, with financing from the Atlantic and Pacific a reality, the battle for the title “Gateway to the Grand Canyon” erupted.
Financiers chose Flagstaff, and from 1892 to 1900, tourists traveled the dusty and sometimes muddy wagon road in one or two days. Along the way there were stagecoach stops to rest and exchange horses, and even a hotel for tourists to spend the night. While the stagecoach operated less than 10 years, it served to spread the word about the wonders of the northern Arizona landscape. In September 1901, the Grand Canyon Railway provided a much quicker route from Williams to the South Rim of the Canyon, and the stagecoach line fell into obscurity.
Today, residents of northern Arizona can thank authors Richard and Sherry Mangum for bringing this important piece of our history back to life. Their book, “Grand Canyon-Flagstaff Stage Coach Line, A History and Exploration Guide,” has inspired many locals to explore the route that has changed very little since its abandonment in 1901.
For as many years as I can remember, there has been talk about staging a 100-mile ultra marathon in Flagstaff. Now, that is no longer a pipe dream. With the completion of the 800-mile- long Arizona Trail less than two years ago, there is now a means to get to the Canyon and log a century of miles along the way. Local runners have much to celebrate.
On Oct. 19-20, race director and long-distance coach Ian Torrence will host the first-ever Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Stagecoach Ultra Marathon and Relay. If you don’t have the endurance to cover 100 miles, you can still participate by getting four to six of your friends to participate in the relay event. Starting at 2 p.m. on Oct. 19, runners will begin near the Hot Shot Ranch off Snowbowl Road and head north on the Arizona Trail. As the hours pass, they will eventually cover miles under a full moon and ultimately finish at the IMAX theater in Tusayan near the south entrance to Grand Canyon National Park.
Participants will pass through the same places that the first tourists experienced. They will leave the tall pines in Flagstaff and slowly drop through the pinon and juniper woodlands out onto the open grasslands managed by Babbitt Ranches.
Near halfway, the course climbs onto the Coconino Plateau, where runners will finish, shaded by the tall ponderosa pines of the Kaibab National Forest.
Along the route, there will be aid stations at the original stagecoach stops at the Nature Conservancy’s Hart Prairie Preserve, the Babbitt’s East Cedar and Tub Ranches, and in the Kaibab National Forest at Moqui Stage Station and Hull Cabin. Land managers along the route have all gone to great lengths to preserve these historic sites. Very little has changed across this magnificent landscape, and the connection to the past under a full moon promises to be exhilarating. The event benefits the Arizona Trail Association. To register for the race and learn about all the details, visit http://www.aztrail.org/ultrarun/. Richard and Sherry Mangum’s book can be found at many local retailers.
Neil Weintraub is a co-founder of Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association and directs the upcoming sold-out Soulstice Mountain Trail Run. To learn more about trail running in Flagstaff, visit http://www.natra.org.
Myles Schrag is coordinating editor for High Country Running. He welcomes submissions (500-word maximum) from runners of all levels about any aspect of the local running scene. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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