Route 66 update: Remembering the bat guano incident

Jim Hinckley, author of several books about the Mother Road, displays a new brochure for the International Route 66 Festival and an original 1950s container for bat guano that was removed from a cave at Grand Canyon West and packaged for sale. Bat manure is rich in nitrogen and used for fertilizer. (KIM STEELE/Miner)

Jim Hinckley, author of several books about the Mother Road, displays a new brochure for the International Route 66 Festival and an original 1950s container for bat guano that was removed from a cave at Grand Canyon West and packaged for sale. Bat manure is rich in nitrogen and used for fertilizer. (KIM STEELE/Miner)

Note: This is the second in a series of monthly articles about Route 66, the upcoming International Route 66 Festival and their impact on Kingman. Local Mother Road author and expert Jim Hinckley has agreed to provide the information for these articles.

KINGMAN - When Dawnielle Tehama announced in August that the Grand Canyon Resort Corp. was seeking more community interaction, she wasn't kidding about the company's intent to reach out to the city of Kingman.

Tehama, who is GCRC's marketing manager, said then that she and Jennifer Turner, the company's new chief executive officer, were moving quickly to build relationships with the leaders and businesses in Kingman.

They shared their calendar of events, including filming at its tourist destinations, and began referring participants in those activities to Kingman so they could dine, stay in hotels and purchase items in the city.

In short, the company decided to join hands with the city for the good of both entities.

"We've changed our business model because of new leadership," said Tehama at the time. "We're taking a different approach this year and are seeking a lot more community interaction. We have a lot of people coming through and we are referring them to Kingman now. We're a firm believer that if you support the local community, you're supporting yourself."

And in the spirit of that partnership, GCRC announced in November that it was joining with the International Route 66 Festival to host the upcoming Kingman event, which draws fans from all over the world when it's held in a different community along the iconic route each year. GCRC is owned by the Hualapai Indian tribe and includes Hualapai Lodge, Hualapai River Runners rafting company and Grand Canyon West, which features the Grand Canyon Skywalk.

Kingman was chosen Aug. 3 as the 2014 site for the Route 66 Alliance's annual festival during last year's event in Joplin, Mo.

The theme for this year is "Kingman - Crossroads of the Past & Future." The massive event will feature a variety of activities Aug. 14-17 throughout the Kingman area, including golf and bowling tournaments, railroad and car shows, wine and rum tastings, tours and even a conference on transforming Route 66 into America's first all-electric highway with solar charging stations, complete with an exhibit of alternative energy vehicles.

Other scheduled events include an exhibition of authors, artists and collectors, Alpacas of the Southwest ranch tours, a cruise night on Route 66, a sock hop and drive-in movie, a pancake breakfast, and a Hualapai Mountain Resort festival and craft fair. Also, the festival includes a Bob Waldmire art exhibit, a Volkswagen car show, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle event, a Chillin' on Beale St. car show and several musical concerts and performances.

"This festival is a good fit for us," said Tehama. "We have a big, global following for Grand Canyon West and the festival will allow us to highlight Kingman on an international level. We are driven by what we do here but we are also in a partnership with the city.

"The festival adds value to this destination as a whole. People may stay an extra day here just to visit Grand Canyon West or our other attractions."

Tehama said people are interested in history and culture, and the Hualapai tribe has plenty of that to offer, as does Route 66 and Kingman.

Jim Hinckley, a Kingman resident and author of several books about the history and mystery of the Mother Road, agreed and noted that the three are integral to drawing tourists to the area. Hinckley said he is glad to see the relationship blossoming between them.

"This is a historic partnership," said Hinckley about the Hualapai tribe's part in the upcoming festival. "These are our neighbors and building a partnership like this is good for everyone. What they're doing there is building a world-class resort, and it's right in our backyard. This is really a neat thing."

Hinckley said one of the most interesting historical aspects of Grand Canyon West is the Bat Cave guano mine, a natural bat habitat that was mined through an unusual and expensive operation for its nitrogen-rich bat droppings used as fertilizer.

According to reports, the U.S. Guano Corporation bought the property about 1957 and constructed a plant to extract the manure, which a reputable mining engineer estimated at 100,00 tons. That feasibly could have captured $12.5 million on a $1 million investment.

After flying in supplies and machinery for the plant, the company built an aerial tramway from the mine to Guano Point, with the cable head house built on land leased from the Hualapai tribe.

A cable car large enough to transport 2,500 pounds of guano was situated on a cable that stretched 9,010 feet across the canyon floor and 2,800 feet up to the south rim. The same cable car transported the miners, who used a large vacuum apparatus to suck up the guano, which was hauled to Kingman and packaged for retail sale.

The guano company ceased operations in early 1960 after owners learned the mining engineer's estimate of 100,000 tons of bat guano was wildly inaccurate. The cave actually held about 1,000 tons of the fertilizer. A few months after the mine closed, its cable was damaged when a U.S. Air Force jet illegally "hot-dogging" in the canyon clipped it, damaging the plane's wing and severing the cable. The company successfully sued and received money from the government that offset some of its losses.

Hinckley said the cable car also was used in the filming of "Edge of Eternity," a 1959 movie starring Cornel Wilde and Victoria Shaw. In the film, which also was shot in Kingman, a socialite and barkeeper help an Arizona deputy sheriff solve three brutal murders in and around the Grand Canyon.

His efforts lead to the killer fleeing with the socialite as a hostage, and after a chase by car and helicopter, the movie climaxes with a fight in the cable car a mile above the canyon floor.

Hinckley is hoping to be able to show a copy of "Edge of Eternity" and "The Treasure of Granite Gorge," a promotional film that tells the story of the tramway built to haul the bat guano from Bat Cave, during a film festival at the event.

Brothers Mike and Steve Wagner, the festival's organizers, also are excited about the relationship between the city, Grand Canyon Resort Corporation and the International Route 66 Festival.

Mike Wagner said GCRC's participation as the title sponsor of the event gives the festival even more credibility than it already has and shows the event will take place.

"Grand Canyon Resort Corporation and Hualapai Tourism are huge players," said Steve Wagner. "And Kingman is the gateway to the Skywalk. We have two major international destinations coming together for the benefit of the world."