The Apache community running to rescue its holy mountain

Indigenous spiritual leaders say the Vatican’s observatory is searching for something it doesn’t understand.

  • Wendsler Nosie Sr sits in the back of his truck on the San Carlos Apache Reservation following one of his daily runs to train for the Mt. Graham Sacred Run, with smoke in the air from the Mescal Fire raging nearby.

  • The ceremony at the Old San Carlos Memorial to launch the 30th annual Mt. Graham Sacred Run included singing and praying.

  • Naelyn Pike, Wendsler Nosie Sr.’s oldest grandchild, has been participating in the Mt. Graham Sacred Run for the past 20 years, since she was 2 years old. When it was time for her sunrise dance, the Apache girl’s coming of age ceremony, she chose to have it on Mt. Graham because of her spiritual connection with the mountain. She was the first Apache girl to have her sunrise dance on Mt. Graham in over 150 years, ending a long period of exile from their ancestral home.

  • Morgun Frejo was the last runner of the first leg of the 30th annual Mt. Graham Sacred Run. On July 20, the first segment of the run took place between the Old San Carlos Memorial and Noline’s store on the San Carlos Apache Reservation.

  • The second and final day of the Mt. Graham Sacred Run began around 5 a.m. on July 21 at Noline’s store on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Wendsler Nosie Sr. speaks to runners to explain how the run is structured and go over safety precautions.

  • Thomas Nosie Jr. crosses the San Carlos Apache Reservation line on the 30th annual Mt. Graham Sacred Run. Through the run, the Apache are returning to their ancestral home, breaking the barriers of the reservation where Wendsler Nosie Sr. says they’ve been held for over a century as prisoners of war.

  • Vanessa Nosie speaks to the runners who are about to start another segment, as the final runner in the last leg approaches. Between the San Carlos Reservation and the base of Mt. Graham, the run is structured with five people running simultaneously, before they trade off with the next five runners. Once the runners begin to climb the mountain, it transitions into a relay of short segments due to the mountain grade and elevation.

  • A runner waves from the lead truck as others are dropped off to begin the relay up Mt. Graham. Cousins Wendslyn Hooke and Lozen Brown-Lopez, both age 7, ran together. Many children have been raised in the run over the years, including some who began participating as young as 2 years old.

  • Cousins Waya Brown and Lozen Brown-Lopez ride along with other runners as they climb Mt. Graham, waiting to be dropped off for their next run.

  • Gouyen Brown-Lopez rides with other runners in the back of one of the trucks between segments of running towards Mt. Graham.

  • Runners ride in the bed of a truck as they leave the lunch break to begin the relay run up Mt. Graham. Each runner remains focused on their own personal spiritual journey throughout the day.

  • Runners participating in the Mt. Graham Sacred Run carry eagle feathers to bring their prayers with them along the spiritual journey.

  • Vanessa Nosie speaks to the runners when they reached their destination on Mt. Graham. She has helped coordinate the run for most of her life, but this year was the first time she took the lead in managing the run, which was started by her father, Wendsler Nosie Sr. She is holding her youngest daughter, Shayu Frejo, and at her feet are two of her daughters, Baase Pike and Nizhoni Pike, and her nephew Philippe D’Avignon.

  • Dylan Sloan ran the final leg of the Mt. Graham Sacred Run. This year was his fourth time participating in the run. He ran three years in a row before missing a few due to work conflicts but returned to participate for the 30th anniversary.