Arizona’s Crown King Scramble, 25 Years Later

Twenty-five years after completing his first 50-mile race, the Crown King Scramble, AJW returns to the classic springtime race in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.

By on March 22, 2024 | Comments

AJW's TaproomTwenty-five years ago this week, I completed my first 50-mile race at the 1999 Crown King Scramble. This iconic Arizona ultramarathon began in 1987 and has been a fixture on the local running scene longer than just about any other event. Started as a 50-kilometer event and expanded to include a 50-mile option between 1997 and 2004, Crown King’s tagline is “From the Spines to the Pines,” as it begins in the simmering heat of the cactus-filled Sonoran Desert at about 1,700 feet in elevation on the shores of Lake Pleasant and finishes in cool forests surrounding the historic mining town of Crown King at 5,900 feet.

The 50-mile version I ran back in 1999 started at 3 a.m. near Morristown, Arizona, and followed the Castle Hot Springs Road, running by the historic Castle Hot Springs resort before merging with the 50k course for the climb to Crown King. The 50-mile option was eliminated after the 2004 race, and the 50k even suffered a hiatus between 2009 and 2012 as the Arizona Road Racers running club was in transition. In 2013, Jamil Coury and Aravaipa Running resurrected the event, which has been held at the end of March each year since then.

The race maintains much of its old-school charm as a classic point-to-point course starting on the northern edge of Phoenix and finishing directly in front of the historic Crown King Saloon, where many of the participants enjoy a post-race beverage and a meal. The race has taken on a homecoming feeling recently as many folks return year after year to jump-start their spring training and catch up with one another. Quite a few even book cabins for the night after the race to enjoy the cool temperatures and laid-back vibe of Crown King and the Bradshaw Mountains late into the night.

Runners on road in Crown King Scramble

The Crown King Scramble provides a great early season opportunity to test the legs and catch up with friends. Photo: John Maroushek

For the first time in 25 years, I am thrilled to return to the Crown King Scramble to run the race this weekend. Last year, while I was still coming back from injury, I volunteered at the 15-mile aid station, and at the end of that day, I vowed to try to find a way to return. While I have certainly lost a step or three in the last few years, I have not lost my desire to enjoy this special event, and I feel lucky to be able to toe the line on the shores of Lake Pleasant all these years later.

Of course, I have no idea how it will go, but I know I will have fun. One of the unique things to me about the sport of long-distance running is how sustaining it can be. I had no idea 25 years ago at that first 50 miler that I would still be running all these years later. And, for sure, my journey to the 2024 Crown King Scramble has been a circuitous one, but here I am, poised on the edge of another running adventure, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what it brings.

Bottoms up!

Finish line beverages at the Crown King Scramble

Runners finish the Crown King Scramble at the Crown King Saloon. Photo: Aravaipa Running

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Verde Brewing Company Logo-2This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Verde Brewing Company in Camp Verde, Arizona. Verde’s Wildflower IPA is a delicious American IPA brewed with local wildflower honey and hopped with a crisp variety of hops. Smooth drinking with just a touch of sweetness, Wildflower IPA is a fresh take on a classic variety.

Call for Comments

  • Do you have a race that you come back to year after year?
  • What is it about certain races that keep us coming back?
  • Have you raced the Crown King Scramble over its long history?
Sign along road of Crown King Scramble

The Crown King Scramble is known for its desert charm and old-school feel. Photo: Aravaipa Running

Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.