Friday, July 24, 2020

Grand Canyon Mules Have A Superior Sense of Humor

July 24, 2020
   Perhaps the biggest, unsung star of the Grand Canyon experience is the mule. They have been stalwarts here from before the beginning of the park in 1908 and when you see how steep the drop offs are on the trails, where they carry tourists down and back up, daily, you will realize why they are heroes. Only a mule could do this day in and day out and be so damn dependable.

Mule riders at the start of Bright Angel Trail

   This looks like the 1920s and I totally dig that hat and riding rig on the wrangler at bottom, who looks to be Native American.

Mule riders in the old days, looks like 1910s.

   According to the best-selling book, "Over The Edge: Death In Grand Canyon," at least 125 tourists have fallen to their deaths on the steep trails (as of 2019), but not one tourist has ever been lost while riding a mule. And, to make the point even more clear, here's an early clarification:

"If the mule should slip, all would be over, BUT—the mule doesn't slip. The trail is never as narrow or as steep as you will describe it when you get back home. If it were, no living animal could possibly make the trip safely."
—Fred Harvey publication, 1909

   The local newspaper, Grand Canyon News, carries a current, front page article, on the return of the mules to the park after the shutdown on April 1. Seventy of the mules were carted to a ranch in Tropic, Utah, outside of Bryce Canyon Park, kept in shape, and only recently returned. The reporter who wrote the article, V. Ronnie Tierney, mentions that these mules have "an incredible sense of humor." Well, that got my attention, so I walked down to the mule barn this morning to talk to this guy.

John Berry, Grand Canyon Livery Master

   When I asked him about the "incredible sense of humor" of mules, he repeated V. Ronnie Tierney's story about being in the corral with two of her mules when one of them came up and got in her face and nuzzled, while the other one snuck up behind and grabbed her hat off her head and ran down to the other end of the corral with it. If true, I'd say that's a pretty good example of superior mule humor. Wanting to get a second confirmation on this amazing story, when I left the barn I encountered this guy, who not only confirmed the anectdote but, in fact, he tried to grab my hat!

Grand Canyon Mule backs up hat theft story

      Of course, I am joking about this last part (I didn't give him the chance to grab my hat!) but Tierney stands by her story. I enjoyed it so much I intend to use it in a story I am still developing about this guy.

Daily Whip Out:
"Mickey Free's Big, Bad Jack"

   One final note: John Berry offered to take me down into the canyon on one of his mules so I could experience their incredible abilities to see for myself, and I assured him I would be back to take him up on the offer.

"So I'm sitting in a hotel
Trying to write a song
My head is just as empty
As the day is long
Why it's clear as a bell
I should have gone to school
I'd be wise as an owl
Stead of stubborn as a mule."

—John Prine, "Big Old Goofy World"

1 comment:

  1. I've used mules a lot, both packing and riding them. They are absolutly great for rough country. They won't spook like a horse will if you have a problem on the trail, they'll just stand there and let you come fix the problem! I've never seen a mule stumble and fall like a horse will. They'll go all day, day in and day out, and our last a horse.


Post your comments