on September 11, 2007
There are few National Park experiences more iconic than a mule ride at the Grand Canyon. You can mount up at either the south or north rims, but the north side’s elevation means that the longest ride is a full-day round-trip to Roaring Springs along the North Kaibab Trail. There’s also a half-day trip on the Kaibab that turns around at Supai Tunnel, or a half-day trip out to Uncle Jim’s Point.None of these options were right for us—my wife wanted no part of riding, and my kids were anxious about descending into the Canyon with their lives in the hands (on the backs?) of a mule. But they did want to ride, so the one-hour ‘Rim of the Grand Canyon’ excursion seemed just right.Canyon Trail Rides has the riding concession at Zion, Bryce, and the North Rim, and their website describes offerings at all three parks. Reservations can only be made over the phone or by mail, so in mid-January I scheduled an 8:30am ride for our first full day in the park. They made it clear on the phone and in person that age and weight limits apply (7 years, 220 lbs for the one-hour ride; 200 lbs; 10 years old for the longer trips), and aren’t afraid to ask anyone to step on the scale.As we headed to the corral, we saw a cowboy leading the train of mules down from the barns, with a few dozen mules and horses trotting at a fair pace. Their hooves kicked up a substantial cloud of dust, and it was a pretty cool sight to see our mounts approaching.At the corral, the hands matched groups and mules. Certain mules like to follow certain other mules, it seems, so getting the right person on the right mule takes a little time. A few instructions—keep up with the mule ahead of you, use your heels and your switch if necessary—and we were off. The trail headed east out of the corral, through the wonderful aspen forests of the North Rim. They told us that it was not a ‘rimside’ ride, and that the canyon itself would only be visible a few times. Nonetheless, it was delightful. The warmer-than-usual weather (in the '80s) made time in the shade just fine, and it was terrific to hear and watch my kids enjoying themselves atop their mules. About 20 minutes in, each rider paused briefly by the opening through the trees that looked out into canyon, a spot I would gladly have stayed at for some time. Before too long, we turned around at the junction for the trail to Uncle Jim’s Point, and retraced our steps to the end. My kids moaned that it was over too soon, and I had to agree. I did my part to keep the trip alive by uncharacteristically springing for the photos of each one of us. Me on a mule beside the Grand Canyon—it still seems a picture worth having.
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