Grand Canyon Mule Trip Report

Feb 14th, 2006, 01:31 PM
  #1  
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Grand Canyon Mule Trip Report

December 2005 - Hubby and I flew from Anchorage Alaska to Tucson Arizona. The weather when we left was heavy rain and 50 mph winds - we arrived in Tucson to sunny skies and 70 degrees !

We spent 2 days in Tucson visiting with my SIL and her family before heading north to Flagstaff. We spent the night at the Radisson Woodlands and ate at Beaver Street Brewery. We were surprised to see no snow at Flagstaff, although it was frosty overnight, and we had to scrape the ice off the car windows the following morning. But the skies were clear, and it was going to be another beautiful sunny day.

Drove north to Cameron and stopped in at the Trading Post. I bought 2 beautiful Navajo rugs. Spent more than I had planned (again), but they did give be $600 off one and 10% off the second one.

Headed west towards the Grand Canyon - stopped at Desert View Watchtower and most of the viewpoints along the way. No snow at the Grand Canyon either - sunny skies and temperatures in the high 50s.

Checked into the El Tovar.
Tomorrow was the big day, but first we had to check in at the Bright Angel Travel Desk to be "weighed in". This was a nervous time for my DH. When I booked the trip back in June, he weighed 225 lbs, which meant he had to lose at least 25 lbs, preferably 30, to be on the safe side. After walking around for over an hour trying to delay the inevitable, he finally bit the bullet and said "let's go do it".

The gal at Bright Angel was very nice - she gave us a waiver document to read and sign, and as we were reading it she said that the word "death" was only mentioned 8 times !!
I weighed in, and then it was hubby's turn.................. 192 lbs Woo Hoo !!
They actually weigh you twice.

We were given our yellow raincoats, which we weren't required to wear, but were required to take along, 2 bota (water) bags, and our overnight bags - 2 plastic bags 12 x 20 inches. Because we were spending 2 nights at Phantom Ranch, we were allowed 2 bags each (1 nighters get 1 bag).

We had dinner at Bright Angel Lodge and then sat by the fire in the lobby of the El Tovar wondering what tomorrow would bring. We went to bed at 9pm, and we were both still awake at 11pm. Nervous excitement I guess.

We were both awake before 5am. We had breakfast at El Tovar and at 7.30 we walked along the rim trail to the stone corral.
About 7.50 the mules began arriving with the wranglers. The head wrangler, Sean, then gave us our safety briefing.

The number one thing is safety and number 2 is having a good time and they don't sacrifice one for the other. The first rule is to keep the mules close together. If your mule falls behind, it will run to catch up, and he strongly recommended that we didn't let this happen. He then tells us about the "motivator", a riding crop, and that if our mule does fall behind, we need to use it, and not wave it about like a magic wand.

If we aren't willing to follow the rules and listen to our wrangler, we will rapidly become what is known as a "hiker" !!

Sean also tells us that the mules have a tendency to walk along the edge. He says they train them like that so that we can get a better view of the canyon. Everybody laughs nervously.

The day riders mounted up first - women and children in the first group, and then the men. We watched them as they made their way down the trail. Then it was our turn - 7 riders and our wrangler, Dusty. We were handed our motivators and introduced to our mules. Mine was Caesar and hubbys was Too Tall. I managed to saddle up without making a fool of myself. I can only imagine what Caesar was thinking !

And off we headed down the Bright Angel Trail. And yes, the mules do walk close to the edge, but what a view. A little over 2 hours later we arrived at Indian Gardens. We had our "box lunches" here, which consisted of a bread roll, chesse stick, beef jerky, potato chips, trail mix, cookies, juice drink, carrots and an apple. I ate most of it except for the apple - that was reserved for Caesar.
30 minutes later we were all aboard again, and continued down the trail which skirted a creek with lots of lush greenery, but it wasn't too long before the scenery changed dramatically to steep switchbacks known as the Devils Corkscrew.

We continued further down into the canyon and I caught my first glimpse of the Colorado River - a beautiful emerald green. We bypassed the first suspension bridge and continued onto the South Kaibab trail and back uphill for a ways, before coming down again to the mule suspension bridge. Once across the river, past the Anasazi ruins, past the campground, past the mule corral, we finally reached Phantom Ranch. It was warm and sunny, and the cottonwood trees were a golden yellow.

We were assigned our cabins and promptly told to go "take a hike", as this would help our aching muscles. We hiked along Bright Angel Creek for about 1 1/2 hours and then headed back to the main lodge for dinner at 5pm. Meals at Phantom Ranch are served family style - there are 3 large tables and as you enter you are assigned table 1, 2 or 3.

The 5pm menu consisted of a salad, steak, baked potato, corn, peas, carrots and corn bread. And for dessert, chocolate cake - it was all DELICIOUS. They also serve beer and wine.

My butt was a little sore, but not as bad as I thought it would be. The cabins at Phantom Ranch are small, but very comfortable. We had a queen size bed, 2 bedside tables, 1 chair, a sink and a toilet (and airconditioning). Towells were provided too. The main shower block was just a short walk away.

Breakfast was at 7am the next morning - bacon, scrambled eggs, pancakes, peaches, orange juice and coffee - and plenty of it. YUM !

We watched the overnight mule riders leave just after 7.30 and then we headed out for some hiking. We decided to go to Ribbon Falls - a 12 mile round trip. A great hike.

Dinne tonite was at 6.30 (the second sitting) - salad, beef and vegetable stew, cornbread and chocolate cake for dessert - this was even better than the steaks we had last night.

I am sure glad we decided to do the 3 day mule trip (only offered between November and March). The extra time spent at Phantom Ranch for hiking or relaxing was well worth it.

After another delicious breakfast we met up with Caesar and Too Tall and our new wrangler Mark, for our return trip to the rim via the South Kaibab Trail. The SK trail is shorter and steeper than the Bright Angel Trail, so the mules get to rest more on the way out. Early on we wait along the trail to let 2 pack mule trains pass by. They are bringing in supplies for Phantom Ranch, and will carry out all the trash.

We have 2 stops along the trail where we can dismount, and we spend about 15-20 minutes at each one. The mules make their way slowly, but surely to the top and Sean is there to meet us when we arrive at the corral 4 3/4 hours after leaving Phantom Ranch. Here we are given our mule skinner certificates, and reluctantly say goodbye to Caesar and Too Tall, who are no doubt looking forward to a good feed and rolling around in the dirt.

We are driven back to Bright Angel Lodge were we hand in our raincoats. DH and I are ready to do the trip all over again, and we ask if they have any 3 days trips available in March, but unfortunately they are already booked up. BUMMER.

Overall, the trip was a fantastic experience, the wranglers, Mark and Dusty were great, the meals at Phantom Ranch were excellent, the cabin was really comfortable, the weather was an unexpected pleasure, Phantom Ranch overall is a treasure, the Grand Canyon is spectacular beyond words, but the mules were the best part of it !!

We both smelt of "mule", but after checking into the El Tovar we were sort of reluctant to take a shower and lose that aroma, which reminds us of our trip. How weird is that ??
Yes, we eventually clean up and have dinner.

I miss Caesar !!
Gilbert is offline  
Feb 14th, 2006, 01:45 PM
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Part 2

2 days later we arrive back in Tucson where the temperature is 82 degrees.
Spend Christmas with my SIL and her family.

We visit Sabino Canyon, Mt Lemmon (no snow there either), Saguaro NP, San Xavier Mission (where we eat lots of delicious fry bread).

Time to return to Alaska. But as I am writing this, it is only 18 days till our next trip to Arizona. Yippee.
We will be heading back up to the Grand Canyon, but this time for a couple of days hiking.

Maybe I'll stop in and say hello to Caesar !

Gilbert
Gilbert is offline  
Feb 14th, 2006, 01:54 PM
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Enjoying your trip report! The mule ride sounds fun, but I could never do it~I'm terrified of heights!
iluvmyrott is offline  
Feb 14th, 2006, 02:04 PM
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I'm so proud of your hubby for losing weight for the trip. When our family of five went, my husband talked about doing the mule trip...of course, he is too heavy and one child was too young at the time...

My kids are in the 9th, 7th and 4th grade. For spring break my son's senior year, I'd love for us to walk down, spend two nights and walk up. Okay, so I have three years to get in shape....
missypie is offline  
Feb 14th, 2006, 02:07 PM
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Gilbert, great trip report! May I ask the approximate cost for this 3 day excursion?
joan is offline  
Feb 14th, 2006, 02:55 PM
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The moment I saw the name of your report I thought "this must be good"

Nice, refreshing, not a usual "stayed there ate this" report! Thanks for sharing!
FainaAgain is offline  
Feb 14th, 2006, 03:23 PM
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Joan,

Can't remember the exact amount, but it was around $865 for the 2 of us - and WORTH EVERY CENT !

We are hoping to do the trip again next December.

Gilbert
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Feb 14th, 2006, 03:53 PM
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mms
 
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What a fun trip!!! Is there a website for this mule trip? It definitely sounds like something we would enjoy! Congrats to your husband too for making it doable.
mms is offline  
Feb 14th, 2006, 05:49 PM
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This sounds like a wonderful trip. Glad you had such a nice time. Question--what did you do with your belongings from El Tovar when you were at Phantom Ranch? Did you have to check out? Did they hold things for you, or did you have to pay for the 2 nights at El Tovar and keep everyting in the room? Did you get the same room back if you checked out? THANKS!
Chicagokris is offline  
Feb 15th, 2006, 07:00 AM
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We did check out of our room at El Tovar and just put our stuff in the trunk of our rental car, which was parked in the car park at El Tovar.

The guy at the front desk said they would store our luggage too, and then put it in our room on our return from the mule trip, if we wanted to.

Gilbert

Gilbert is offline  
Feb 15th, 2006, 07:31 AM
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Just make sure your stirrups are set right. Taking the mule ride was a childhood dream-come-true (after seeing it in a National Geographic article). But, the stirrups were too high and after "putting on brakes" for half a day before we could stop and adjust - I'd never hurt so bad in my life!

Still, it was worth it
starrsville is offline  
Feb 16th, 2006, 05:49 PM
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We did the mule trip in October. Our wrangler was Lenny. Dusty -- I assume the same one as on your trip -- was the leader of the second mule pack. In the evening Lenny and Dusty entertained with music and very corny jokes. Dusty played the fiddle. He's very talented. The mule trip was wonderful, but I hurt like the dickens. The 3 day trip would be a good idea. Gives old muscles and bones a day to heal!
Carla is offline  
Feb 16th, 2006, 06:03 PM
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How was your dinner at Bright Angel? Did you consider dining at El Tovar? We are going in April (hiking down, not mules) and I have posted a question about where to eat at the Rim before we go. We're staying at Bright Angel, so I wonder about the food there too. Somehow I thought it was a cafeteria there---I'd be happy to hear it's not. Thanks.
enzian is offline  
Feb 16th, 2006, 06:23 PM
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Thanks for a great trip report! My husband and I stepped aside on Bright Angel Trail to let the mules go by during our short hike into the canyon, and he mentioned he'd like to do that sometime. I was pressed up against the rocks because my fear of heights was on overload with our short walk down! So I don't think the mule ride is for me - I broke out into a cold sweat just reading, "And yes, the mules do walk close to the edge."
Postal is offline  
Feb 17th, 2006, 08:22 AM
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Guess what? I just made a reservation for another 3 day mule trip in December 2006 - can't believe we're going to do it all again ! GIDDYUP !

To "enzian" - the meals at Bright Angel were pretty good, we ate there twice.
We also had breakfast at El Tovar the morning of the mule ride - I had cereal and French toast, and hubby had an omlette - everything was delicious.

Gilbert
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Feb 17th, 2006, 01:31 PM
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Enjoyed reading about your trip. It brought back such good memories as we did the same trip two years ago. We only stayed one night but, I wished I had reserved longer. It certainly is a trip you will never forget. Thanks, for posting.
Trisha is offline  
Feb 17th, 2006, 02:58 PM
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We will be hiking down and staying at Bright Angel Campground. We could not get reservations for dinner at Phantom Ranch---they said even those go a year and a half in advance. But I understand the "cantina" is open after dinner for people from the campground. You mentioned they serve beer AND wine---I could not get anyone at Xanterra to give me this information (one said she didn't know, and the other said beer but no wine). We were thinking of carrying our own down (wine, not beer)---but if we can buy a glass there, maybe that's not necessary. Can you confirm? Thanks!
enzian is offline  
Feb 18th, 2006, 11:13 AM
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Thank you Gilbert for a great report. Brought back memories from a trip 20 years ago - hiked down, camped under the stars for two nights and rode a mule out.
SusanEva is offline  
Feb 21st, 2006, 06:55 AM
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enzian

Yes, they do serve wine down at Phantom Ranch !

Gilbert
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Feb 21st, 2006, 07:10 AM
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If anyone is interested there is a similar trip into Bryce Canyon that is just for the day..no overnight stay..but 4 hours on a mule was enough for me!
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