May 29, 2018 By Tom McKinney

From Rim to River and Return

When our daughters were young we spent time on several trips to Arizona as my wife had close family ties in the state where she was born and raised. One of the places we fell in love with was the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Prior to Easter 1972, we decided to take the mule trip to Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the Canyon. We made reservations for four after our youngest, Nancy, had turned 12 which was the minimum age for this trip. The riders had to be in good physical shape and under 200 pounds. At this time the price of the trip was $50 per person, which included the overnight at Phantom Ranch.

Arriving at the Canyon, we spent the night at Bright Angel Lodge, one of the original “tourist courts” at the rim. The next morning, we arrived at our departure area and met Bill, who was to be our guide. He told us his brother had broken in our mules and they had never made a misstep. We had mules assigned to us according to our size. All the mules were named although none of us can remember Mary Ann’s mule’s name. I think she has chosen to forget, as she was mighty sore during the days following the trip.

My mule, named Rosette, had been trained to put on a little show by lifting one hoof over the chasm and pawing the air. The signal was for Bill to say, “Jump, Rosette!” To say that I was a bit afraid was an understatement. Rosette performed several times for the delight of everyone but her rider. Our trip down was by the Bright Angel Trail, which was five miles in length. The return trip was by the Kaibab Trail, which was seven miles. There were hikers on the Bright Angel Trail as well as the mules. (Hikers had to beware of mule droppings in abundance.)

Finally arriving at Phantom Ranch, we were assigned to our cabin and had a delicious steak dinner. Our cabin was furnished sparsely with two chairs and two sets of bunk beds. All bathroom facilities were outdoors. We were also told emphatically to put our shoes and extra clothes on top of our beds to keep the scorpions from getting into them. We were also told to watch for rattlesnakes.

The next morning, we had a substantial breakfast before mounting our mules for the ride back to the Rim. These four hours were the most grueling part of the trip as it was steep and the mules tended to turn around and head back down toward the river.

When we reached the rim, a picture was taken where unfortunately Nancy’s face was hidden by Bill. This was the crowning blow to her. We each were given certificates stating that we were now “Master Mule Skinners of The Grand Canyon Trails, with rights and privileges to boast of this accomplished feat forevermore.”

Another trip from the Bucket List accomplished!


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