Phantom Ranch

Phantom Ranch is an exclusive place that I have been hearing about for years and have always wanted to visit. Exclusive it is, because there is a quota on how many people can get reservations there or in the campground in a season. There are no other places to stay in the canyon, except for hikers who have back country permits to pitch a tent elsewhere. There is a lottery reservation system and it has a 13 month advance timing. If you are randomly chosen and your requested dates fit open accommodations, you get to stay. If not, you start over.  This one of the reasons why only 1% of the millions of visitors to the canyon in a year will get to stay at Phantom Ranch.

The ranch is at the bottom of the canyon at the intersection of the Bright Angel Trail, the Kaibab Trail North and South, and the Colorado River. The buildings were designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (what happens when your parents can’t decide what to name you) and built in the early days of tourism to the canyon. They are really beautiful stone and timber buildings that almost disappear into the surroundings. When the designs were approved the plan was to name the buildings Roosevelt Chalets but Ms. Colter said “not if you want to use my design”. She had already named it Phantom Ranch and that’s what it stayed. The rich and famous rode mules down the trail and stayed there, sometimes for weeks. There are cabins housing from 2 to 10 people, and 2 dormitories for males and 2 dormitories for females. Dorms have five bunk beds each and a common shower and restroom.

Meals are served at the Ranch by reservation also. They are rather expensive but that is understandable when you realize that almost everything that comes and goes to the ranch has to do it by mule. Breakfast goes for about $24 and the early seating is at 5:30 am. If you like to sleep in you can catch the late seating at 6:30 am (hmm…). My food will be carried in my pack to the campground by mule so I have no reservations for a meal at the canteen, but I may stop in to buy a postcard or a drink while I’m there.

Bright Angel Campground where I will be tenting for two nights is only a short walk from Phantom Ranch. On this “in between” day we will be doing some day hiking along the river and some side canyons. I’ve heard this is supposed to keep us from getting stiff and sore before the hike back up to the rim again. We’ll see.

Approach to Phantom Ranch

The Park Service has a lovely video of Phantom Ranch and detailed instructions for the lottery reservation system at http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/lodging/phantom-ranch/

Photos from canstock.com

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.