My first trip into the Grand Canyon was on the back of a real-live-rouge-mule named Jake.
While I was excited to meet and ride a real mule, Jake’s enthusiasm was nonexistent. Mules have always intrigued me, but I got an antisocial one. He grumbled at Fred’s mule, swishing his tailing several times in general irritation, and laid his ears back when I climbed on. Once I was in the saddle, his ears went back up. He resigned himself to task at hand.
I was disappointed I got a grouchy mule. When I ride my horses, I rub their shoulders, laugh at things they do, and talk to them constantly. Jake let me know right up front that this was a job, not a relationship. I resigned myself to a platonic relationship. As long as he didn’t try to pitch me over the edge, I would not bother him.
“Don’t steer the mules. Just leave them alone and let them do what they’re trained to do.” Jake already told me that. No micromanaging or annoying him while he worked.
“Remember, they’re trained to walk on the outside of the trail if you meet hikers coming up.” The outside of the trail comment registered, but I had no idea what that meant, so I filed it away for future reference.
Jake fell into line as we headed out. Settling into passenger mode, I held the reins, but loosely, and enjoyed the rock of his gait. He stepped different than a horse. It wasn’t unpleasant, just choppy, like he was short stepping.
The North Rim was much greener than the south. We headed out on our adventure through thick green forest, mule steps cushioned by pine needles. I couldn’t even see the Canyon.
We rode down a narrow path through the trees on a mild incline. It was almost chilly. The mules all went into a small, dark tunnel and disappeared! I was anxious for a minute there, until my mule went through and did a sharp u-turn to the right.
Whoa! An amazing view of the Grand Canyon opened up before me. It was a magical passage from one dimension into another.
What a great start.
We rode along incredible inclines and a few places of sheer rock, above and below. I was enamored. I hung over Jake’s side and looked, thankful for a tight saddle and his stoutness. It would be terrible to cause a misstep by leaning too far.
The trail guide entertained us with facts about the history, the terrain, and cute mule stories. She said there was a special place called White Mule Falls.
We’d seen a water fall across the tree tops, on an opposite canyon wall. How refreshing to get to ride through one and cool off! The sun was a cooker. I assumed the falls had been discovered by a white mule, one far more personable than Jake … someone like Brighty, of the Grand Canyon. Distracted by the gorgeous scenery, I didn’t notice she didn’t tell us the rest of the story.
Two groups of hikers passed us, going up, while we were going down. The mule train stopped. Some of the mules stopped on the outside of the trail, some – next to the wall, some planted themselves right in the middle. Watching the backpackers weave in and out of the mules, I wondered how much they knew about livestock. Would I rather be squished into a rock wall, or shoved over the edge … ?
The mules were not in the least perturbed by these strange looking, funny smelling, two legged aliens come at them up the trail. Several of the long eared equines took advantage of the lull and cocked a hind leg, resting; letting the hikers pick their unsuspecting, potential poison.
All parties survived.
When we got to 1700 feet of sheer rock, up and down, our guide yelled to us over her shoulder.
“This is White Mule Falls.”
We looked around. It was a sheer, white rock wall with a very narrow trail along the face of it, for rather large animals, with precious cargo, to traipse across. It was amazing, in an overwhelming sort of way, but there was no water. Obviously, the falls had dried up. Voicing my disappointment, she laughed and told us the story.
Her husband had been training a sassy, white mule. In the colt’s shenanigans, his rear end slipped over the edge. Her husband stepped out of the saddle, ready to let him go. To her husband’s amazement, the little beast managed to scramble back onto the trail. He stepped back into the saddle (as soon as the little guy was back on the trail) and they finished the ride without further ado. That mule became the best guide mule her husband ever had.
We all chuckled at being fooled by the name of that immortal spot in the trail, but shuddered at her story.
We rode half way into the canyon and stopped for lunch . The North Side of the Canyon only has half day trips, so we ate and headed back.
FYI: it is easier to ride uphill than down. The ground doesn’t fall away but rises up to meet you.
We changed dimensions passing through the magic tunnel again, and rode the last five or ten minutes in the cool, green forest. It was wonderfully refreshing after that blasting desert sun bouncing off the rocks.
My rouge mule and I were both glad to be back. Neither of us bothered with goodbye … well, maybe I looked back. His nose was buried in the hay.