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Grand Canyon

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Riding a mule at the Grand Canyon is as much a part of a visit as boating the river, hiking the trails or shopping for Navajo crafts. The mules were here before the National Park Service, brought by the prospectors and turned loose on the inner plateaus when their owners died or retired. It's not only a neat way to see the Canyon. It's also a taste of the Old West, the only chance a lot of tourists get to actually saddle up and play cowboy. People who could never hike down those trails and climb back to the Rim on their own can see Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River and take home lots of great photos. Sadly, two of the classic rides are no longer offered (more on that below). But you can still ride either above the rim or below the rim at both the North and South Rims.
But don't kid yourself. Riding a mule down to Phantom Ranch and a day later riding it back up to the Rim is not the same as getting in a car and cruising down the highway. There's a physical element involved. If you don't ride a horse fairly often back home, you'll be amazed at how sore your butt and thighs will be after several hours. You'll be walking around Phantom Ranch very gingerly, and the next day after getting back to the Rim you probably won't be walking around much at all. You also have weight limits. If you weigh more than 200 pounds they won't let you on a mule. These animals only have so much capacity in weight and size, and they can't afford to have one of them broken down by an overweight rider. Finally, if you suffer from a fear of heights, this may not be for you. Sitting high atop that mule, the view over the edge of the trail looks all the more dizzying, and as the animal lurches and sways along, you may actually get motion sickness. We've seen people suffer panic attacks and have to dismount.
The booking agent for South Rim Mule Rides is Xanterra, 1-888-297-2757. The surface ride is to The Abyss. It lasts half a day and costs $122. You ride out through Ponderosa, Pinon and Juniper forest to a point along the road to Hermit's Rest. You dismount and walk across the road to look down into The Abyss and have time for lunch before heading back. But of course the big trip is the overnight ride down to Phantom Ranch. You ride down the South Kaibab Trail (5.5 hours) and the following day come back up the Bright Angel Trail (6.5 hours). It costs $507 for one person and $895 for two, but these include lodging, dinner and breakfast. Riders on any of these trips must be at least four feet seven inches tall, weigh no more than 200 lbs, be able to speak and understand fluent English, and not be afraid of heights or large animals. You can make reservations a year in advance and you must make them 10 months ahead. For July and August, we suggest calling 13 months in advance. You can also arrange for additional nights at Phantom Ranch. Another option is to reserve a one way ride. Many backpackers hike down to Phantom Ranch, stay overnight, then ride a mule back up. This service is called a "drag." You could combine two one way rides, riding a mule down to Supai Tunnel, hiking the rest of the way to the Ranch, then next day riding a mule to the South Rim.
The booking agent for North Rim Mule Rides is Forever Resorts at 435- 679- 8665. Their surface ride is to Uncle Jim Point. It lasts half a day and costs $80. You ride out through Aspen, Spruce and Fir forest to a great vantage point looking down on Roaring Springs Canyon, Bright Angel Canyon, and several "temples," those huge sky islands jutting upward from the inner Canyon. The below the rim ride on the North Rim is the Supai Tunnel Trip, a half day, 2300 feet descent down the North Kaibab Trail. You take a break at the tunnel for a snack and to stretch your legs, then head back up. The Supai trip costs $80 and lasts five hours. This is the trip in the photo top right and below right. North Rim trips are offered May through October and advance booking is still necessary but it's easier to get reservations than for the South Rim trips.
Sadly, two trips are no longer offered and may never be offered again. The Plateau Point Ride left from the corral near Bright Angel Lodge, descended the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden, and followed the trail out to Plateau Point. You had a 30 minute lunch and stretch break at the Point, then headed back up. It was a five hour round trip. The North Kaibab trip left from the North Rim and descended through the Roaring Springs Canyon and then Bright Angel Canyon to Phantom Ranch. The trip stopped at Cottonwood for lunch and stretch, then stopped again at Ribbon Falls. This trip made it possible to ride down to Phantom Ranch, stay overnight or for two nights, then ride the other mule train up to the North Rim, or vice versa. Hikers and backpackers complained for years about the trail damage and droppings from the mules, until the park service finally decided to halt both trips. With trail maintenance budgets severely cut back due to federal budget issues, no one thinks either trip will ever be restored. The park service now splits the overnight trip, going down South Kaibab and up Bright Angel, to cut in half the impact on either trail. There has even been talk of using the old North Kaibab Trail (the right fork, or east fork, as you hike upward) for the mule trip down to Roaring Springs, and sending hikers up the new North Kaibab Trail through Roaring Springs Canyon. But it's a three mile ride out the Ken Patrick Trail to access the old North Kaibab Trail.
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