on April 3, 2007
We’ve descended 4 ½ miles and 3,000 feet by mule from the South Rim of the Canyon to Indian Gardens, in a lush grove of cottonwoods where the Havasupai Indians used to grow corn, beans, and squash. Now it’s a campground and rest stop for hikers, riders, and mules. After discovering we can still walk, though stiffly, it dawns on us that it’s quite warm here (102 degrees F in the shade of cottonwoods). Wrangler J.P proceeds to hose us down one by one, with a convenient garden hose. The ride from Indian Gardens out to Plateau Point is smoother, since we’re now on the fairly level Tonto Plateau, and cooler, since we’re wet. Our group gets to Plateau Point around 11:30am, and J.P. and Johnny break out the lunch boxes some of the mules have been carrying. Potato chips, bun, cheese, baby carrots, apple or orange, and fruit drink, with Oreo cookies for dessert. Bob doesn’t watch his closely enough and a bold, fat squirrel makes off with an Oreo, undoubtedly not the first time. Incredible panoramic views of the Canyon and Colorado River keep distracting me from my lunch. Tiny specks on the blue-green River are lucky rafters. The River flows through the oldest rock in the Canyon, 2 billion year old Precambrian Vishnu schist. This is the only time that I’m envious of hikers, who aren’t restricted to a 30 minute stay on Plateau Point as we are. There’s so much to see here, far vistas and near. Bright yellow and magenta wildflowers bloom on the cacti that thrive on Tonto Plateau. I’m not the only one that doesn’t finish all their food, and J.P. collects the leftovers. They’ll be left at Indian Gardens for hungry hikers. All too soon our lunch break is over, and it’s time to mount our mules. Funny, but every time it’s getting harder to do so! Cracker isn’t a big mule, but somehow she’s gotten taller. And now she’s carrying some of the empty boxes in her saddle pack, requiring me to lift my leg even higher to swing it over on the other side – ouch! Not used to riding, the stiffness of muscles I rarely use is already setting in. On the ride back, we discover riding uphill is easier on us but not on the mules. They require more frequent rest breaks, during which J.P. tells us Grand Canyon stories and geology. Though a part of me doesn’t want the ride to end, my legs absolutely do. I fear they’ve been permanently bowed, unnaturally bent around Cracker’s wide ribcage. After dismounting at Stone Corral, I give Cracker a thankful hug and say goodbye. J.P. and Johnny then call us together in a circle, congratulate us and hand us our genuine Master Mule Skinners certificates. As Bob and I gingerly sit down in our car, I recall Wrangler Marilyn’s morning words: "Those mules goin’ down this canyon, it wears on you. But you’ll be better for the experience."
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