Arizona: A Cowboy Canyon Ride
My favourite holiday location is the American South West, with the Grand Canyon state of Arizona top of my list. I’ve visited the canyon several times—I’m still in the saddle at 84—but in 1998 I invited two friends to join me on the famous mule ride down to Phantom Ranch at the floor of the canyon.
Tour By Mule
In early March, the South Rim was covered in ten inches of powdery snow, turning the magnificent canyon into a winter wonderland. A large group of riders, wranglers and tourists gathered at the mule corral at 8am. Once safely aboard our mounts, we followed behind head guide Sherry, a young lady from Texas. There was silence all around, apart the sound of the mules’ hooves on the soft snow and the rustle of the breeze through the snow-boughed trees.
We broke for lunch halfway at the Indian Gardens, then it was back in the saddle. By now, we had left the snow of the higher valley behind. By late afternoon, our descent was complete. We unsaddled the mules, fed and watered them, then bathed our feet in the clear waters of Bright Angel Creek. There was just time for a hot shower, ready for a cowboy supper of steak, cornbread, apple pie and hot strong coffee.
Later, tucked up in our comfy cabin bunks, we were lulled to sleep by the babbling creek, occasionally punctuated by the crash of a falling boulder as it landed in the water to continue its journey down the mighty Colorado River.
The ride back up the next morning was via the South Kaibab trail. We rode through a heavy snowstorm, our faithful mounts carefully negotiating our path back to the South Rim. I felt sad saying goodbye to my mule Alice, but promised to return—which I did, two years later.
In my opinion, the descent to Phantom Ranch is an experience you remember for the rest of your life, and not just because the sure-footed mules walk so close to the edge! The wrangler guides were ever-vigilant, ensuring the safety of all riders; they’re knowledgeable about the canyon, its flora and fauna, and they’re friendly with great humour: “We ain’t never lost a dude yet,” always raised a smile.