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As the Western States 100 celebrates 50 years since its inception, a new e-book has been released that tells the origin stories of 75 historic places along the famed 100-mile race course from Olympic Valley to Auburn, California.
Written by co-authors Bob Crowley, Hal Hall, and Tim Twietmeyer, States: The Places We Run is a passion project meant to educate the public on the fascinating history and sometimes fanciful stories of the places along the trail. The course traverses the Sierra Nevada mountain range through ancient Native American tribal land, 19th century gold mining territories, and key points of trail running and human endurance history. (Hall and John Trent also have a new e-book about the infamous 1857 expedition of the Grosh Brothers, while Trent is also publishing Second Sunrise: Five Decades of History at the Western States Endurance Run, a coffee table book due out in October.)
The authors collectively represent 58 Western States and Tevis Cup Equestrian Ride finishes and more than 100 years of adventures, training, and volunteering on the Western States Trail. Their passion for the trail, combined with a shared interest in American West history, provide them a unique perspective and ample capabilities.
Crowley and Twietmeyer co-founded History Expeditions in 2019 to pursue the aspiration of combining sports with history with a mission to discover American West tales and trails which have been lost to time and honor inspiring heroes of history. In September 2022, their Forlorn Hope and Donner Relief Party Expeditions were featured in a Discovery Channel episode. They still run on the Western States course quite a bit with their 55-and-older running club called the GOATS (which stands for Grays of Auburn Trails).
“The impetus behind this is that we run out there all the time, and we realized we have no idea why people call a lot of places what they do, and that made us curious,” said Twietmeyer, a five-time Western States champion and 25-time, sub-24-hour finisher of the race. “And so the way it turned out was that we spent hours and hours down in Auburn looking through Placer County archives and historical stuff with the librarians, and it turned into a fun project where we then interweave the history, stories of the race, and funny things that have happened along the trail.”
Here are 10 interesting points along the course the authors highlighted in their e-book:
Olympic Valley – Mile 0
While the start of the race begins at what is now known as Palisades Tahoe ski resort, the land has been inhabited by the Washoe Tribe for thousands of years. Those Indigenous people used what became known as the Olympic Valley—after the 1960 Olympics were held there—as a summer tribal ground. The first white settlers passed through the area during the famous 1849 California Gold Rush, but it’s also where two prospectors, Ethan Allen Grosh and Richard Maurice Bucke, became trapped by a snowstorm in November 1857. They crossed the Escarpment, but they got lost and suffered from frostbite and hypothermia. Grosh died and was buried at the area known as Last Chance, while Bucke survived only to have both feet amputated.
Granite Chief Wilderness – Mile 5. 1
Named after a 9,000-foot mountain on the northern shoulder of the 25,000-acre Granite Chief Wilderness, this is a location that Western States runners enter after intersecting with the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. The Wilderness area was organized in 1984 as a part of the California Wilderness Act and initially threatened the ability of the race to pass through it, but after four years and considerable negotiation with an intent to help preserve it, an agreement was reached.
Robinson Flat – Mile 30.3
Robinson Flat is the site of the fourth aid station on the Western States course, but back in 1852 it was the summer cow camp of Captain M.M. Robinson from the gold rush mining town of Wisconsin Hill. While researching the origin of the name, the authors of the book found out that there had been several different spellings of the name listed in historical documents and photos that showed signs depicting “Robertson’s Flat.”
“Back in the 1800s, when someone named a place, the name just kind of stuck and they took it for what it was worth,” Crowley said. “But now there is a process, and if you want to change the name of a place, there’s a protocol to follow with the United States Geological Survey.” The name was finally changed to Robinsons Flat by the U.S. Geological Survey on June 8, 1961 with credit to Tevis Cup founder Wendell Robie, whose name, ironically, has also been misspelled in historical documents and sites.
Miller’s Defeat – Mile 34.4
Miller’s Defeat, where the fifth aid station is set up, is the site of a historic mining dispute, according to the book. The authors report that John Robinson, president of the Placer County Historical Society in 1961, reported that two miners named Sperry and Brown met a third miner named Miller, who tried to obtain a larger claim than was allowed.
“Claims were limited to the length of a pickaxe handle (three feet) held to each side of one’s body which would be about eight feet,” the authors write. “When it came time for Miller to measure off his claim, he substituted a young pine sapling for his regular pickaxe handle. When the other miners refused to accept this substitution, Miller was defeated, hence the name.” However, in another historical account dug up by the authors, the name might be tied to a story about how Irish-controlled placer digging was taken over by a group of Italians with hand-to-hand fighting.
The Grotto – Mile 46.2
In 1974, when Gordy Ainsleigh made his historic inaugural 100-mile run along the route of the Tevis Cup equestrian ride, he came across a steady flow of cold water gushing over rocks just after crossing the historic Swinging Bridge and laid down in the pool of water to cool off. The authors advise that any Western States runner suffering from the heat should do the same, positing: “There’s no regret for the few minutes it takes since the rejuvenation will help power runners up the daunting climb ahead to Devil’s Thumb.”
Foresthill – Mile 62
Settled in 1850, the present-day town of Foresthill was a mining supply town known as Under the Hill. According to the authors, it had saloons and a trading post called the Forest House operated by R.S. Johnson and the Brannon Brothers. Early prospectors included two Irish brothers, William and Henry Ford, who worked the mines for six years. William left for Michigan and one of his sons, Henry, created the Ford Motor Company.
Dead Truck Trail – Mile 82
At the 82-mile mark of the course, runners will see a sign that says “Dead Truck Trail” on their right and wonder what it’s all about. “There is indeed a truck, flipped over on its roof, at the bottom of this path toward the river,” the book notes. The path becomes extremely steep, dropping 600 feet in less than 1.4-miles, passing a mining era homestead and vineyard that supplied wine to miners, and it’s possible that the old-timey truck was used to deliver wine.
Walmsley’s Turn – Mile 92.5
Just a tenth of a mile after a place called Murderer’s Bar—a former gold mining camp that produced $2.5 million of placer gold by 1875—the Western States route forks to the left on a singletrack trail that climbs to Cave Valley over a former wagon road that once meandered to the town of Cool.
In 2016, this was the location where race leader Jim Walmsley was ahead of course-record pace by five minutes but missed the turn and remained on Quarry Road. He eventually found his way back and finished the race in 19th place four hours later and then returned to win the race three times (2018, 2019, and 2021) and set the course record of 14:09:28 (2019). “What lesson did Jim teach the rest of the runners?” the authors pontificate. “Never give up. Instead, follow Jim’s lead that despite obstacles and plans gone awry, finish what you started.”
No Hands Bridge/Mountain Quarries RR Bridge 96.8
Although it’s a bridge only open to runners, hikers, and mountain bikers nowadays, when No Hands Bridge was built in 1912—then called the Mountain Quarries Bridge—it was part of a railroad line that served local limestone quarries and hauled rock back to Auburn. It took a team of 800 people to build the bridge, which, at the time of its completion, was the longest concrete arch railroad bridge in the world. Railroad service ended in 1942. “Prior to 1984, Tevis Cup participants were known to comment that it must be dangerous to ride across the bridge without any guardrails,” the authors write. “In jest of these fears, veteran rider Ina Robinson was known to drop the reins on the neck of her horse, hold out her arms, and say, ‘Look, no hands!’” The bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
Robie Point – Mile 98.9
Wendell T. Robie was a businessman, a sportsman, and an activist who, among other things, helped start the ski industry in the Sierra Nevada mountains and, more notably, started the Tevis Cup 100-mile equestrian ride that, along with Gordy Ainsleigh’s historic solo run in 1974, served as the precursor to the present-day Western States 100.
Robie died in 1984 at the age of 89, but there is no historical marker or bronze plaque anywhere on the course to commemorate his service to the area or the race, just a makeshift welcoming sign just before the 99-mile point of the course. Runners see the sign as they ascend a road named Robie Drive on the final uphill portion of the course to Robie Point. “The places, Robie Point and Robie Drive, honor a man who had a tremendous impact on the city, the state, and the world of sports, keeping his legacy alive,” the authors write. “Wendell Robie left his mark on the history of the Western States Trail. “