Triangle B
Tennessee Walking Horses
Millarville, AB   Canada

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The Great Escape 2009
Pictures are down below the text.



The Great Escape, 2009
About 10 years ago my friend and fellow TWH owner, Charis Cooper watched a very entertaining video that our neighbor Glen Robinson brought home from a trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Being the veteran of many rides in our own Rocky Mountains, Charis was most intrigued by the Mule Trip segment.

Meanwhile during a lunch break on a busy shoeing day, my farrier, who had been on a family holiday to the Grand Canyon, mentioned that there were Mule Rides down to the bottom. This really piqued my interest. The Grand Canyon was something I'd wanted to see ever since I knew it existed. A mule ride could only make it better!

In December of 2007 my husband and I went on a short getaway to Phoenix AZ and ended up spending a couple of hours on the South Rim, (wow!), but did not stay long because poor weather was moving in. I knew that I would be back.

The winter of 2008/2009 came abruptly about December 1st with cold weather and lots of snow that did not melt away. Being raised in the foothills and spoiled by many Chinook filled winters, Charis found this winter to be especially long and cold. Late in December 2008 she read an article published in the Horses All newspaper about a mule trip a Canadian couple had taken. She phoned me wondering if I'd like to do this too! The planning started soon after. We decided to book a 2 day Mule Trip with an overnight stay at the Phantom Ranch located at the bottom of the canyon.

On Feb 27 Charis & I hopped on a West Jet 737 to leave winter behind. We were to have a wonderful adventure in Arizona. We slept in honeymoon suites, cabins, bunk beds and queen beds in quiet hotels, historic, (noisy) hotels, hotels near railway tracks, (more noise), and down at the peaceful bottom of the Grand Canyon. Charis has done her share of world traveling so although I am a "country mouse", I had an experienced traveling companion to act as navigator while I drove the rented car into the sunset…..

During the first few days in Arizona we watched a parade complete with the Budweiser Horses then drove the Apache Trail loop (east of Phoenix) to the Roosevelt Dam. One third of this trail is a very rough red dirt goat track winding through the Superstition Mountains. It is high desert country that stirs the imagination.

Heading up toward Flagstaff we stopped to see both Montezuma's Castle and Montezuma's Well to learn a bit about ancient cliff dwellers. We spent a few hours in the excellent Museum of Northern Arizona near Flagstaff, then took a leisurely drive past the Snow Bowl ski hill and on to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Before that day, Charis had never been to the Grand Canyon so it was quite exciting for her to look out over the rim at last.

When we checked in to our hotel, (the historic Bright Angel Lodge), we also checked in with the mule outfit. They immediately weighed us both. The rule is no one rides if they are over 200lb. The mules would not have a problem with a heavier rider but in an emergency, the guides can only handle so much weight safely. Some of the guides were not big men so it made sense to me.

Each of us was allowed one 2- quart sized plastic bag for our overnight needs. These bags went into the saddlebags that every mule carried. We were given brand new water canteens to fill for the trip. These would become souvenirs as they could not be reused. We were instructed to tie string to glasses & sunglasses so they would not blow off during our ride. Our cameras were on strings around our necks, (no cases allowed) and we were each loaned a yellow raincoat. I wore my riding helmet but if I had fallen down hill off my mule my head would not have been the greatest of my worries! All headgear had to be attached to strings and once the wind hit us for the last hour of our ride, I knew why; my helmet felt like it wanted to fly away even with its snug chin strap.

All of our meals would be supplied until we got back to the rim so the next morning after breakfast we stowed our suitcases with the bellman at the hotel and we were ready to ride!

The orientation lasted about 20 minutes and the focus was safety. It was done in an engaging but professional manner and I felt confident we were embarking on a well-organized adventure. Like so many of us, Charis doesn't like heights. She said her stomach was churning but she was determined to ride! I downhill ski a lot so heights are not a big problem however my learning curve came when I realized that we were not allowed to mount or dismount without help! The mantra, " please don't help me", was one my guide heard every time he stood at my mule's head to help me on or off. To his credit, he did not give me a boost but I know he was ready to help me. Later on, after supper he told me that he heard that phrase a lot when ranchers came to ride. A few more things we were not allowed to do were: adjust our stirrups, feed our mules, tighten our cinches, or touch our halter shanks. The guide even noticed that I'd had to retie the halter shank on my saddle after my mule, Marcie, had gotten it in her mouth and happily chewed it till I shortened it a few inches, using the same knot but with two more "links".

There was no chance to have second thoughts once we were mounted; down over the rim we went. We went single file, of course. Although the trail is 4 feet wide it seemed much narrower since the mules are trained to walk on the edge. After about 15 minutes I felt confident in my mule's desire to remain on the trail so I looped the reins around the saddle horn and started to take pictures of the most spectacular scenery I have seen to date! There is so much more to see in the canyon than at the rim of the canyon!

The mules were very steady, placid animals. They were as tough as equines can be and they responded to the voice commands from our guide as well as from us, but only as long as it was safe to do so. Our guide told us that the mules are supplied to the outfit by a broker in Tennessee. Some of the mules are Tennessee Walking Horse crosses and of course many are draft crosses. There are pack trains going down & back everyday to bring supplies to the Phantom Ranch and to pack out garbage. We met one of these on our way up the second day and they were really moving! The pack mules are much bigger than the ones we rode and they are super fit. Not a single mule I saw had a mark on it. Their legs are clean and their feet are perfectly shod for the conditions with 4 tungsten carbide "grips" for traction.

After descending about 5000 feet in six hours, we experienced a 27degree C temperature increase! The rider in front of me fainted from dehydration just after we rode over the bridge that crossed the Colorado River. She told the guide she felt woozy and he got to her in time to catch her as she dismounted. The guide had stressed getting enough to drink out of our canteens all the way down but I guess that rider wasn't comfortable drinking as she rode.

Once we arrived at the Phantom Ranch we enjoyed hot showers, short naps and an excellent steak supper. After a good night's sleep and a big breakfast we rode out the next morning for a 51/2 hour ride back up to the rim by a different trail. We were thrilled to have completed the ride of our lives. The next day we poked around on the rim, took in some excellent ranger led walks and enjoyed the beautiful crisp weather.

Eventually we left the Grand Canyon and spent a couple of days in Sedona with its red rocks. We took in a jeep tour, horseback ride in the Dead Horse State Park and a great night of western entertainment at the Blazing M Ranch near Cottonwood. Unfortunately, although these were all nice activities, we found that everything paled in comparison to riding those mules!

On the last day of our holiday as we headed back to Phoenix to catch our West Jet flight home. I told Charis it was a good thing we were going home, other wise we'd have to go back and do the mule ride all over again!

Now that we are back in our own beds, our dreams are happy recollections of dizzying heights, hairpin turns on ledges that drop off into space, beautifully colored rocks in the distance and the smell of mules.

PS For a look at more pictures of our adventure go to http://triangleb.com and click on The Great Escape, 2009 .

Click on the thumbnails to see the big pictures

1 Budweiser Horses was taken during a parade at Apache Junction in front of our hotel ( first day there) , to kick off Apache Trail Days

2 The Roosevelt Dam

3 Charis Cooper, my traveling companion and excellent navigator surveys the wild country at the top of the hill far from the pavement on the way the the Roosevelt Dam.

4 Another view from" the top of the hill " on the Apache Trail.

5 All kinds of cactus on the Apache Trail

6 Montezoma Castle, north of Phoenix.

7 Charis sees the Grand Canyon for the first time!

8 The view from the south rim of the Grand Canyon

9 From the south rim

10 Looking down at the trail we are about to take a mule ride on.

11 And down the trail we go!

12 Charis on Chester

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16 Look closely and you will see the other mule train far below us!

17 Ancient petroglyphs on the rocks near the trail.

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19 " The Battleship", one of two battleship-looking rock formations in the canyon.

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21 Approaching Indian Springs, the lunch stop about halfway down to the Phantom Ranch.

22 Indian Springs

23 Indian Springs

24 Our trail boss and guide, Dave with his mount called, of course, Molly.

25 Now the trail starts to look rougher

26 Entry to the Devil's Corkscrew...

27 Down we go!

28 And down some more....

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32 At last we get to the Colorado River. The black bridge is to be the one we will cross.

33 Entrance to the Phantom Ranch from across the river.

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37 On the way back up, looking back at the bridge we just crossed.

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45 Look at the pack mules outlined on the ridge

46 Here they come!

47Beautiful big mules!

48 there they go!

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50 Train Wreck rock formation

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53 Look closely at the horizon, see "Snoopy on his doghouse" and just to the right of that, the "Gateway to the Bright Angel".

54 The Window to Heaven

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62 This is Brenda with her hair colored up by the red dust of the canyon!

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64 A California Condor sunning himself on the Rim

65 This is a white mule colored up with the red dust of the canyon.

66 red Rocks at Sedona

67 More rocks near Sedona.

68 At the end of our trip, We stopped to say good bye to the rocks south of Sedona.


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