Monday, October 8, 2012

Grand Canyon Memories

This is a guest post written by my mom, whom I asked to tell the story of when she and my dad went to the Grand Canyon several years ago on vacation ... 

One year, for our vacation, we decided to go to see the Southern Rim of the Grand Canyon. Wanting to absorb the full thrills of the National Park, Bill was really looking forward to running some of the trails along the rim.  After spending the night in the historic lodge at the top of the canyon, we planned to ride mules down the trail to spend the night at The Phantom Lodge at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and then to ride back up the trail the next day, a Bucket List item for me. 

Along the mule ride down, we had to wear hats that were secured so that they wouldn’t blow off and scare the mules or litter the park and loose clothes that would protect us from the sun but later be warm enough as the temperature would become much cooler as we approached the bottom of the canyon.  I was concerned about what to wear and the steepness of the trails, and so, for my security and peace of mind, early on the morning of our ride Bill ran the trail for about three or four miles down and then back just to check things out.  He came back with a report for me. (Side note: He often did this while we were on vacation or in a new place in order to locate playgrounds for the kids or interesting things for us to see and do.)  The trail was about three feet wide and gravel and the weather was great – about 75.  I was thrilled!

I was assigned a mule named Ida who was short and sturdy.  Bill’s mount was a gigantic gal by the name of Madonna.  He was placed near the end of the mule train.  Everyone was given canteens to hang on our saddle horns and a small switch that the cowboy leader called a “motivator”.  We used both of these items quite a lot. 

We began our adventure on the gravel trail just as Bill had predicted, but after the first few miles the path became very narrow with lots of stones.  The mules were very sure-footed, but the stones often didn’t provide much traction for them.  We had been told to never lean in the saddle and Bill found this impossible.  As he suffered from a fear of heights, he kept leaning into the mountain, away from the opening to the drop off into the canyon. His mule was much taller than any of the others, and it must have made it more difficult for him to trust her as he was sitting up so high.  We had to stop and cinch up his saddle a few times.  Eventually, the trail led many times to a switchback turn, which caused the mule to project its head out over the canyon in order to turn its body.  For an instant, it felt to the rider almost like hanging in space while the mule repositioned itself to go another direction.  Can you imagine how much Bill disliked that maneuver? Sometimes even I closed my eyes on that part of the ride. 

After five and a half hours of awesome views of the Grand Canyon and the crossing of the Colorado River, we arrived at The Phantom Ranch.  We had a delicious steak dinner and slept in a cabin that fortunately had blankets on the beds as it was indeed very chilly. The next morning, the mules were ready early to leave for the ascent, but, as we were packing up our stuff, Bill told me that he just didn’t enjoy the ride down and would rather run back.  I told our cowboy leader that Bill wouldn’t be joining us, and so his mule was tied to mine. The rest of the group gawked as Bill ran by while they were mounting up. 

We stopped a few times along the ride to rest the horses, but not for long.  Bill said that he stopped for water once, but we didn’t see him until we got to the top.  He had already showered, changed clothes, and was waiting for me, Ida, and Madonna beside the mule corral.     

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