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HIGH COUNTRY RUNNING

HIGH COUNTRY RUNNING: Fires, floods and forest closures send Soulstice westward

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Soulstice Course

Members of the Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association test out the new Soulstice course relocated to Government Prairie, west of Flagstaff.

As the 25th anniversary of the Jackie Weintraub Memorial Soulstice Mountain Trail Run nears, it’s déjà vu all over again. Last year was a welcome return to normalcy on the traditional courses that had been off limits to us since 2018 due to fires. But this year’s forest conflagrations, followed by a heavy monsoon season, left me scrambling to find another venue for our annually sold-out race, to be held this year on Oct. 8.

Thanks to a couple of Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association regulars who offered to host a NATRA trail run and brunch at their home north of Parks earlier this year, we fell in love with the possibility of relocating the race to Government Prairie. This magical landscape has unbroken 360-degree views of northern Arizona’s tallest mountains: Bill Williams, Sitgreaves, Kendrick and, of course, Humphreys Peak.

Not a minute after I shared news of the relocation with runners, my email beeped with a message from longtime Soulstice devotee, pal and Northern Arizona University volcanologist Michael Ort. He excitedly told me about how the course I designed is centered around one of the most unusual volcanoes in the entire area.

Known as the “Government Prairie vent,” it formed 1.4 million years ago. It stands out geologically because it "has two very different kinds of magma that co-erupted. The second kind would never have erupted if the first kind hadn’t greased the skids.”

Having worked on the Kaibab National Forest for more than three decades, I always considered Government Prairie one of my favorite places to conduct archaeological surveys. Because the area was shaped by volcanic activity, there are several sources of high-quality glassy obsidian. Native Americans collected, traded and reduced it to tools with which they hunted and gathered for more than 10,000 years.

On early October mornings, you are almost guaranteed to see elk, deer and antelope playing in these vast, open grasslands, much as they did when the area’s earliest inhabitants tracked them.

This year’s 6.4-mile and 11.75-mile courses are also located in the area where Lieutenant Edward Beale marched his camels and crews across northern Arizona, surveying and building the country’s first federally funded wagon road between 1857 and 1859. It’s amazing how little the landscape has changed. The Beale expedition’s wagon ruts can still be seen adjacent to the race course!

As Soulstice runners know, we’ve had to make last-second changes throughout the race’s 25-year history. Our new reality of uncertainty is that we may not return to the traditional courses for many years to come, or possibly ever.

Two things are for certain, though: The heart of Soulstice is that it will always celebrate our Flagstaff running community no matter where we hold it, and most importantly, 100% of the race’s proceeds raise critical funds supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff programs that create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth.

Neil Weintraub co-founded Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association in 2001 and has directed the Soulstice race since 2002. NATRA hosts free group runs every Saturday. Visit www.natra.org and click on “next run.”

Send your ideas for High Country Running to coordinating editor Julie Hammonds (runner@juliehammonds.com).

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