Right. So we stayed in the Grand Canyon for about three nights and four days, I think. On our 2nd to last day was our mule ride. Mom’s afraid of heights, and I wasn’t sure what I was afraid of, but if there was one thing we definitely were going to do, it was ride a mule.
By the way, a mule is a cross between a female horse and a male donkey. As a result of this cross breeding, mules are always sterile. They still have urges, mind you, but they can’t reproduce.
I thought our only option was to get on a mule and cling, white-knuckled, for dear life as we made our way down (and then back up) the canyon. A co-worker described it as extremely arduous, and extra arduous on the way back, because then you’re leaning backwards while clinging dependently upon an animal who likes to walk along the edge. Mom definitely wasn’t going for it, and I wasn’t sure yet if I wanted to, but she didn’t want me to venture off without her. I wasn’t going to have fun (or no fun!) without her. It turns out there’s another option. You can ride a mule for a two hour trail ride through the Kaibab Forest, which is just off the rim.
Our wrangler apparently had several run-ins with well-meaning vegetarians, Vegans and the like who felt that using a riding crop was cruel and unusual punishment. If we felt similarly, we were advised to leave. He wouldn’t take truck with such sissiness. But as a concession to those he looked down upon, we were to call the crop the “mule motivator stick.”
It’s not a comfortable ride if you’ve never been on a horse, mule or donkey, etc. But I had fun. My mule, LeHigh, wasn’t particularly ornery, but he wasn’t terribly easy, either. He had a strong predilection for tree bark and took me off the path several times. Oh, and then the infamous “pit stops”. A mule stops when it needs to relieve itself of water. Solid matter is a different matter all together and he just keeps going. But a mule will not move when ridding himself of water.
Mom’s mule, Milo, was the nicest looking mule in the bunch and also served as the First Aid pack mule. They must have assessed Mom’s stature and decided the First Aid pack mule was the one for her. She didn’t appear to have any issues with Milo–especially after she spoiled him with an apple. Palm out, by the way! Else you’ll get bit.
The mules are bred somewhere in West Virginia, if I recall, and are trained for about five years before the rancher (?) trucks them over to the Grand Canyon. They tend to work for about ten years before going into retirement. The ones that don’t like people become the pack mules–they bring down food supplies and gear down to the Phantom “something” Lodge at the canyon’s bottom on the South Kaibab Trail.
Why mules? Why not horses? Why not donkeys? Horses are very skittish animals by nature. When frightened, they bolt without thinking about what might be perched atop them. If you’re on a frightened horse and are not an experienced rider, you are done for. Donkeys are stubborn and that’s all there is to it. Cross a horse with a donkey, though, you get a mule who is not so stubborn and not so skittish. If a mule gets skittish, it’ll stop and take a look around and analyze whether or not there really is something to be afraid of. A mule will stick its head down and also take a look at what’s going on around its hooves if it thinks it’s on uneven footing or some such. Oh, and mules are generally sure footed animals.
LeHigh might have taken a pit stop. And he may have chewed off a lot of tree bark. But he was sure-footed and a somewhat easy ride. And how could I go to the Grand Canyon and not ride a mule?