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
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
Grand Canyon Mule backs up hat theft story
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"
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.ReplyDelete