Mule Riders

Corral at Bright Angel Trail Head

A childhood fantasy of mine was to ride a donkey down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, camp overnight, and ride out of the canyon the next day.  At the time, I thought a donkey was the same as a mule.  Oh well.  Now that I was actually on the rim of the Grand Canyon with the mules, as only a spectator, I wanted to feel the experience through the camera.

Saddled, Bridled and Ready To Go

Mules are large sturdy animals with more horse sense than horses.

Fancy Tail

Some of the mules have fancy tails or brightly colored bridles.

Last Minute Snack
Last Minute Snack

It was cold and windy up on the rim that morning, about 40 degrees and strong winds.  The mule rides go on, rain or shine.   One of the handlers gave each mule a carrot or two before they left.

Trail Boss Prepares His Mule

The trail bosses obviously loved their job; they took whatever time it took to make sure each and every mule was fit and ready for the arduous task ahead.  It looked as though  each trail boss had their own special bond with each mule.

Trail Bossette

This boss(ette) was very talkative and friendly.  She told me that mules are used instead of horses because mules are more analytical.   She said, “Horses just react to a strange situation, get spooked and take off — not what you want when the only escape is over the side.  Mules will think before they act.”   The mules are at least 8 years old before they start hauling people/cargo down the steep canyon trail.  She said mules don’t fully develop their muscle mass until age 6.

Trail Master

The Trail Master (head trail boss) gave a very stern lecture to all the tenderfeet mule riders who made reservations a year in advance for this opportunity.

Trail Master – 2

This is the closest thing to a smile I saw during his one-hour lecture.


The trail boss gave some practical instruction before they mounted their mules.  This trail boss would bring up the rear so he could keep an eye on all the tenderfeet ahead of him.

Weathered and Wise

This trail boss would lead the tenderfeet “caravan”.

Mule Riders on Bright Angel Trail

This shot is taken about 100′ below the rim.  It’s about 9:00 AM and considerably warmer out of the wind.  The tenderfeet will want to shed their yellow ponchos before too long.

Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon

The mule riders are passing through a tunnel on the Bright Angel Trail.  Notice the hikers hugging the wall as the mules pass.   Mules have the right of way.  Hikers are instructed to stop and stand on the inside of the trail;  the sure-footed mules always pass the hikers on the outside of the trail — much to the chagrin of the riders who have an elevated and moving view of the sharp drop off.

Rest Stop

At the bottom of the photo, the mule riders are barely visible.  The mules stop for a rest break every 20-30 minutes.  The riders, however, must remain in the saddle.  At this point, the riders are approximately 300′ below the rim — only 1700′ more in vertical descent to reach their destination.

Making Progress

Without the pink arrow, it would be difficult to notice the mule riders in this photo.  It is now about 10:30 AM; I don’t know how far below the rim they are in this photo, but the riders will be in their saddles for another hour or so before they reach their first rest stop.

What an adventure!

Thought for the Day:  The wisest men follow their own direction.                       Euripides (484 BC -406 BC)

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