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My Adventure: Grand Canyon mule ride covers 1.7 billion years

If you want to carry on a 100-year tradition in one of America’s oldest national parks, sign up for the mule ride to Phantom Ranch at the Grand Canyon. It’s the adventure of a lifetime.

Only mules are used for this trail ride because of their intellect and sure-footedness — something we were happy to have once we saw the trail on which we would be riding. It’s an exhilarating experience one doesn’t soon forget.

My husband, Chuck, and I signed up a year in advance because spots on this ride are hard to come by in the summer. Mule rides are offered year-round, although the trips are occasionally canceled due to washed out trails following heavy monsoon rains.

Wearing the gear that was suggested, and carrying a small bag of personal items for the overnight at the bottom, we listened intently on our mules to the instructions given by the stable manager. Safety requirements and a last chance to “chicken out” were given. (Don’t chicken out!) We were more than ready to set out on Bright Angel Trail, led by our experienced and knowledgeable wranglers.

On the way down, there are frequent stops for the mules to catch their breath and for the riders to enjoy the moment. The inner walls of the canyon change color as the sun moves silently across the face of them, and if one spends too much time obsessing whether the mule will slip (they don’t) and you will die (you won’t), one will miss out on the most glorious part of the adventure — the canyon itself.

As we rode we were told that the oldest exposed rocks in the canyon, vishnu schist rock, are visible from the trail. Looking from the bottom to the top you see a timeline of 1.7 billion years.

Our mules crossed the suspension bridge over the Colorado River to Bright Angel Canyon on the north side of the river. We continued on to Phantom Ranch, where the mules were well cared for by our trailhands while we stayed in our comfy cabins with private facilities (and a public shower). A steak dinner that evening, and a hearty, hot breakfast the next morning hit the spot before our return ride.

As we mounted up, I was designated to carry the mail bag, which felt like such an honor as incoming and outgoing mail is carried by mule.

Our return ride was on the South Kaibob Trail, which afforded us a completely different adventure and scenery. It makes one appreciate the beauty of this canyon from a different perspective than just an overlook from the South Rim.

This was quite an adventure and it was so enjoyable, we are hoping to make a return visit in the future. If you go, remember to trust your mule, listen to the wrangler and enjoy the moment. It all ends way too soon.

Patty Albin lives in Medford.

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Share Your Adventure

The Mail Tribune wants to share your adventure. We’re looking for accounts of hikes, climbs, river runs, fishing trips, bike rides, ocean outings, camping trips, wildlife encounters and anything else you’ve done outdoors. Email your story (shoot for about 500 words) and pictures to Mail Tribune features editor David Smigelski at dsmigelski@rosebudmedia.com.

Patty Albin follows the wrangler into the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. Photo by Patty Albin
Mule riders cross the steel bridge over the Colorado River. Photo by Patty Albin