on April 3, 2007
In the brisk invigorating early morning air at the edge of the South Rim, we watch as a slew of wranglers are efficiently readying upwards of 40 mules and supplies. Anticipation builds in the hustle and dust of the corral next to Bright Angel Trailhead. How lucky we are to be taking the day ride down into the Canyon, through Indian Gardens to Plateau Point, and back. Thank goodness for last-minute cancellations. Another’s misfortune becomes our good fortune. Soon it’s time to match riders with mules and wranglers. J.P. and Johnny, our wranglers, pair Bob with big brown Sleepy. I’m assigned to Cracker, white with unusual light-colored eyes. We’re assisted up onto our mules, slickers and canteens strapped to our saddles, the first group of 10 to take to the trail. J.P., lead wrangler, tells us on our first rest break that he’s from Florida, and flew fighter planes before coming to the Grand Canyon. He likes the mules to stay in a tight formation. "Keep up, and drink water" he tells us, as we all take a swig from our bota bags. I’d read that Grand Canyon mules like to walk disconcertingly close to the canyon’s edge, so I was prepared, and it’s no lie. The rider in front of me tries to pull her mule more towards the center. But I’m only nervous on heights if I have to do fancy balancing acts. Sitting on the firmly cinched saddle, I put my trust in Cracker, give her free rein, and enjoy the view as we descend on this bright, sunny, almost cloudless day. The downhill ride has us lurching and bumping so much, I soon learn to take photos only during rest stops.Variegated red, tan, and gray layers of canyon slowly envelope us. Below, the trail snakes far and steeply down. We are making our way through geologic time as well, from upper Kaibab limestone, the youngest layer at 250 million years old, through the darker Toroweap Formation and light-colored Coconino Sandstone. Each layer takes us 10 million years further back in time.Little Cracker turns out to be a dream of a mule, sure-footed and eager to keep up. In fact, most of the time she has her nose stuck almost into the tail of the mule in front, who doesn’t seem to mind. Not so with Sleepy. Bob constantly has to use his motivator on his big, slow mule. We dismount at oasis-like Indian Gardens, halfway down the Canyon, for a pit stop, mule drink, and watering down. Thick cottonwood trees growing thanks to the graces of a spring-fed creek provide welcome shade. Yet, mid-morning, we’re amazed to see the temperature gauge reading 102 degrees! This means that we get watered down. The cold water J.P. hoses on our upper backs soaking down through layers of clothing is most refreshing. Here the trail forks, with overnight mule riders taking the right fork to the suspension bridge across the Colorado to Phantom Ranch.
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