Feb 16, 2010

Trails in Vail

If you walk along the northern railroad tracks in Vail, you are walking beside more than just the tracks. You are actually walking alongside a historic trail. While years of weather have worn off any sign of its existence, it is there nonetheless. It is the Butterfield Overland Trail, a stagecoach route that operated from 1857 to 1861. And it went right through our little town of Vail.


In the middle of the nineteenth century, there was no mail service between California and the rest of the United States. The railroads had not been constructed. So in April, 1857, the United States Post Office Department advertised for bids to create an overland mail service between St. Louis and San Francisco.


Different routes were considered by different people. Southern routes could be traversed all year round. But these Southern routes were longer and were also plagued with the hostile native population. Nine companies competed for the contract, but the Postmaster-General awarded the mail route to John W. Butterfield. The route went through Los Angeles, Yuma, Tucson and El Paso.


The government contract required that the trip be completed in 25 days. The inaugural trip was completed in 23 days and 4 hours. While the stagecoaches mostly handled packages, passengers could also be accommodated. But sitting on a hard wood bench seat on a hot dusty trail for 23 days was horrid.


In 1860, the Pony Express competed against Butterfield for the mail contract. This company used fast horses operating on a northern route. While they were able to make the trip in 10 days, they weren’t able to win the mail contract. But soon Butterfield and the Pony Express both would fade away. Once the Southern Pacific Railroad was built, they would become obsolete.


Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a journey along another trail. It is the trail that begins in Bethlehem and ends in Jerusalem. During this time, we reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus as He journeys towards Jerusalem and death. Many people will choose something to give up during Lent. Since Lent is 40 days long, it is the same amount of time Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. The end of Lent is Holy Week, as the trail continues with the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and ends at the cross on Calvary.


But unlike the old Butterfield Overland Trail, this trail is not faded away.  It is deeply fixed in the hearts of Christians. It is the most important trail known to man. It is the Via Dolorosa, the trail to our salvation.





Pastor David Hook



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