Mules…

Thank you, Mule.

I’ve mentioned already that this hike, sponsored by the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute, is titled “Take a Load Off: Mule Assisted Camping 0514”.  My brother was being thoughtful of me and his wife, thinking that we would be better off having assistance from some friendly mules. The mules have agreed to carry a duffel bag for each of us which will lighten our load considerably.

On our first day we will meet at about 10 am to have our equipment checked over by our guide, and then our tenting equipment, some of our food and clothing – basically anything we don’t need on the descent – will be packed in the bag allowed us. I think our mule train will start that afternoon. I’m guessing they will go down the Bright Angel Trail, cross the Colorado on the Black Bridge and stay the night at Phantom Ranch (see this pic of mules crossing scary bridge). Almost everything that goes to Phantom Ranch goes by mule, including supplies for the canteen meals and goods sold in the store. Duffel transport is a common expense for hikers, especially ones going up who don’t want all that stuff on their own backs.

A lot of people ride the mules to Phantom Ranch too but the park video says the people getting off the mules are just as tired and sore as the ones who hiked the trail. Excuse me for laughing, haha. When you don’t ride for hours at a time as a regular thing, that is exactly what happens.  

Our hike guidelines give specific instructions to hikers who might happen to meet a mule train on the trail. We are to back up against the uphill side of the trail and wait quietly until the last mule has passed and is at least 50 feet away. Although the mules are well trained and mostly stick to business, if they are harassed or startled it can result in an accident. It is a real shame when a mule is lost off the trail, as you can imagine. And worse yet if a hiker falls, which is why we are given the uphill side. Lucky us.

Book Cover for Brighty of the Grand Canyon

Mules have a real history in the Canyon. An old children’s book which I read to my children years ago was “Brighty of the Grand Canyon”. It was kind of a history lesson of the prospecting days, when miners traveled the canyon looking for gold, with a mule carrying their provisions. Brighty, the mule, is the star of the book – kind of the Black Beauty of the mule world.  A great book about the canyon, and not just for kids. I loved it. Earlier this month a reader reminded me of this story that she had also read and loved. I’m not sure but I think Brighty might have been a burro (small donkey), which is different from a mule, but close enough for these purposes.

The little corral at Phantom Ranch looks just the same as it did when first constructed in the 1920’s. I’m hoping to hang out there a little and talk to some of the handlers because I’m curious about where the mules come from and how they are trained. I know they are very reliable and sure footed, which makes them a good fit for terrain in the canyon.

Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail, I can’t wait to climb this “corridor trail” out of the canyon. It’s the most commonly used trail and its trailhead is at the Bright Angel Lodge in Grand Canyon Village. On my brief visit years ago, I had breakfast at the Lodge and wistfully walked a few yards down this wide, well maintained road, knowing that I had to turn around and go back in a few minutes.

Many hikers go down into the canyon on this trail and because of that it has several places where water and restrooms are located. There is a campground called Indian Gardens about 4.5 miles down. It was used first by the Havasupai Indians for accessing water at Garden Creek. Seasonally they stayed at Indian Gardens. The trail was widened and improved around 1890 and extended all the way to the Colorado River by Ralph Cameron. Wouldn’t you know, he started charging $1 per person to use the trail, plus more if needed water or using the outhouses.

What I wondered was why it was called Bright Angel? For a while it was called Cameron’s Trail for obvious reasons, but later he named it after Bright Angel creek and canyon. And those places got their names from the explorer John Wesley Powell. He thought the creek was delightfully pretty and clean, unlike one farther upriver called Dirty Devil. Yes, Dirty Devil and Bright Angel, makes perfect sense.

Bright Angel Trail is not quite as steep as the other trail we are using to go down into the canyon, but even so, it climbs more than 600 feet per mile on average. The total ascent will be 4,380 feet, about a 10% grade.

The Park Service does not recommend trying to hike down and back out in one day on this trail, especially in the busy summer season. In off seasons it has some cold and windy sections near the top of the south rim, and there might even be snow and ice. Many use it as a day hike to Indian Gardens which is quite do-able. It is rated as a moderately difficult hike and even though water is available I will carry my own as well.  

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