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810 Summer Stories
Mule Riders

Mule riders descending into Grand Canyon

I have never been a big fan of horses and/or mules sharing hiking trails with hikers. A trail with heavy horse or mule traffic is usually dusty or muddy, rutted, and smelly. Hikers on the trail smell bad enough, without horses adding to the mix. So, my general rule is to avoid trails that allow heavy horse use. There are however, certain classic trails and are dual use. To walk the trail, you have to share it with the horses and mules.

In June 2012, we visited Grand Canyon National Park. Our primary goal of the visit was to hike the dual use, Bright Angel Trail. On our arrival to the Park, we spent the first couple of days touring the South Rim and preparing for the hike. We hiked along the Rim Trail and peered down into the Canyon. The trail was so inviting, we could hardly wait for the hike to begin, but we had also read the warning signs on the trailhead kiosk and knew the trail was very hot and demanding. We started our hike early next morning.

In the cool morning air we made good time down the serpentine trail. The only thing that slowed us down was the scenery. Around every turn, we had to stop and take yet another picture of an 'oh wow' moment. Soon we arrived at Indian Garden, 4.5 miles from the South Rim. We took a brief break in the shade and then continued to Plateau Point only 1.5 miles away.

Plateau Point inspired us, but we still had to climb out of the canyon and return to the South Rim. After another small break at Indian Garden, we walked out into the sun and started up the hill. Slowly, we climbed the trail. It wasn't long before we met a mule team. Wranglers rode ahead to clear the trail for the dust kicking mules as they descended into the Canyon. I assume they were carrying supplies to Phantom Ranch.

Not long after the first lead of supply mules, riders appeared. Once again, a wrangler shooed all the hikers to the side for the mules to pass. It was very hot and none of the riders seemed very comfortable to us. We silently stood and watched as the riders filed by.

Now, I don't know if I have ever felt sorry for a rider before, but that was about to change. Most of the riders were inexperienced. They fought with every jostling step to stay seated in the saddle. As we watched the parade, soon we were staring at one rider. He was having the trouble of his life. He couldn't get comfortable. I don't know if the problem was his jeans, the saddle, a medical condition, or what, but with every step of the mule, he was wincing in pain. And with every step he was shifting his weight looking for a sweeter spot in the saddle. With every step he seemed as if he was ready to cry. With every step we felt his misery.

After the group passed, Amy and I started talking about the poor rider. She had noticed him also. We both felt so sorry for him. He was in such pain with a long way still to ride.

As we continued to climb, we wondered if the rider made it to the Ranch, or if he finally reached a breaking point. Maybe, he just climbed off that mule and said 'please, just shoot me!" Regardless, he helped us take our minds off the heat and soon we were in the breezes of the South Rim. What a great hike!

Happy Mule Rider trails


Link to our Bright Angel hike


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