Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ridin' That Ol' Mule Into The Canyon

     This trail-boss could have been John Wayne’s sister.  With her slight swagger and no-nonsense tone, you knew by the end of the first sentence that she had found her way down into the depths on a mule many times.  She wanted to make it perfectly clear what each rider had signed up for; all cards were on the table…
     “If you think this ride is gonna be easy, you’re wrong!  By the end of this day your back will hurt, your arms will hurt and your ankles will hurt.  You might be cold then hot. Don’t take it personal but you might get yelled at for not keeping your mule under control.  Anyone wanting their money back, say so now!”
    Xanterra, L.L.C. is the authorized concessionaire of the National Park Service’s South Rim Mule Trips.  Their mules for the canyon riders have been selected for their gentleness, endurance, temperament and strength.  They are trained and well adapted for the amazing environment and unique working conditions of the Grand Canyon.  An element of risk is certainly involved in this Arizona adventure and all riders must sign a risk acknowledgment agreement before hitting the trail.
    Riders must also qualify to make this journey through time.  Each rider may not weigh more than 200 pounds fully dressed.  And yes, all riders do weigh in!  Each rider has to be at least 4’7” in height regardless of previous riding experience. 
     In addition each rider need to be able to speak and understand English so as to understand the trail boss’ instructions.   Each rider must be able to mount and dismount a mule without assistance and be in good physical condition.  Finally, riders should not be fearful of heights or large animals.
     When the riders meet all the listed qualifications, they gather together at the trailhead for mule assignment.  Each mule has a specific name and the trail guides size up the canyon riders to match them with the perfect mule.  When all instructions are completed and all mules assigned, the shout of “mount up” is given and the 7-hour ride into and out of the Grand Canyon begins.
     The Bright Angel Trail drops off the South Rim through a series of switchbacks.  Mule trains always have the right-of-way over trail hikers.  When the two meet on the Bright Angel Trail, trail etiquette requires the hiker to move to the outside of the trail, giving the mule train plenty of clearance.
    Young Charley A., who calls himself the ‘Arizona Adventurer’, was a recent mule rider on the Bright Angel Trail into the Grand Canyon.  He came West looking for adventures.  Even though he couldn’t get anyone to brave the day trip with him, he saddled up, gave a slight nod after hearing all the ridin’ directions and waved to the curious bystanders that wished all the riders “good luck” as they descended into the chasm.  He states of his journey…
    “The trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon was fantastic! At first the ride seemed quite precarious. The mules were a little restless with there being ice on the ground, but with enough passage of time, they became more comfortable; and with that so did I.
    The views from most all vantage points were extreme, many looking down steeply onto large escarpments and fields that lay cloven between. At the base of the great journey, there loomed a cliff that overhung and overlooked the Colorado.
    At the edge of this majestic precipice there lived a tiny squirrel. Tame as most domestics, he loved to snack on crumbs gifted by tourists. We were told not to feed the wildlife, but this little guy stole after food like the seasoned opportunist.
    Traveling back upward, it was slow going and became a little more agonizing. All were glad to end their adventure, but none wished that they had not gone. It was the shared sentiment by all that it was well worth the $145.00!”
    The Bright Angel Trail is probably the most famous of the many trails that plunge off the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and wind their way through space and time down to the Colorado River one mile below.  Named for the nearby tourist lodge that was designed in 1935 by the famous architect, Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter, the Bright Angel Trail is the starting point for one of the most amazing daylong adventures in all of Arizona.
    So as vacation time arrives once again across Arizona, think about traveling to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. When you arrive, ask for that ol’ trail mule named BB.  Then hang on to your saddle horn and let BB take you on a 7-hour ride that you will remember for a lifetime – a mule ride into the Grand Canyon!  

The trailhead of Bright Angel Trail is approximately 200    miles from Anthem.  The GPS coordinates of the Bright Angel Trail is N3603.438 W112 08.618.  For more information about Xanterra’s Mule Rides, visit the following web site: .

Down the trail...

Mules are waiting

"Loveable" BB

BB's friend

Another friendly face

All of BB

Charley listens to the instructions

Switchbacks down,..

From snow to no snow

Grand beauty

Follow the arrows

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