|THE RIDE OF THEIR LIFE
The Grand Canyon Mule Experience
(Part 1 - The Day Ride)
As sunrise begins to unveil the magnificence of the Grand Canyon every morning, every day of the year, a group of forty to fifty Canyon visitors gathers around the mule ride check-in desk in the lobby of the historic Bright Angel Lodge. The old lobby is the picture of comfort and security with its rustic beam construction and fire roaring in the huge rock fireplace. But the smiles and cheerful banter of this group mask the anxieties which lie beneath. They are about to embark on an adventure that only a fortunate few people in the world will ever experience.
Probably never having been to the Grand Canyon, they made their reservations over a year ago and have patiently enjoyed the anticipation ever since. However, having arrived early this morning and made their way out to the patio behind the lodge which overlooks the Canyon, reality has just set in. Big time! On the other side of the short, rock retaining wall the Canyon begins - and it goes straight down. The sheer magnitude of the Grand Canyon couldn't possibly have been grasped through the pictures they admired at home. Even now, as they stand beside it, they are struggling to grasp the reality of it. Everyone is awestruck and some even suffer a degree of shock. It would be easy to conclude that only an experienced parachutist could safely make that descent.
They are checked in now, and have been issued their rain slicker (Canyon weather is fickle) and their bota bag for water (a souvenir of the trip), and have made their way a quarter mile along the Canyon rim to the round, rock corral next to the trail head. While the anticipation remains as high as ever, for most, the anxiety level drops slightly when they get their first look at Ron Clayton and his wranglers. Even though they resemble a picture out of the old wild west, they are for real. One look at Casey, Dave, Jack, Sean, or any of the seven or eight others (including several equally competent lady wranglers) will rightfully calm their nerves. These are some of the best cowboys in the world. They love what they do, they do it well, and they instill trust at first sight.
As Ron gathers the riders around for instructions, a crowd of other tourists gather also, out of curiosity. Unexpectedly, both the riders and the spectators are treated to a first class monologue with twenty minutes of instructions and education woven into a humorous presentation which further calms a few jitters. He stresses safety and reassures them that if they simply obey their wrangler, all will be well. He also assures them that if they don't obey their wrangler, they will quickly become hikers. Every single soul standing in that crowd believes him. The riders are now ready to go.
A sharper trail boss doesn't exist than Ron Clayton. With an eye gained only from a lifetime of experience, he looks the riders over as they walk toward him into the center of the corral, one at a time. As they approach him, he calls out the name of one of the sixty mules tied up around the corral perimeter, a mule which will inevitably turn out to be a perfect fit for that rider. Ron is that good. After each group of eight to ten riders has mounted and been given last minute reminders by their wrangler, they follow the wrangler through the corral gate. Fifteen feet farther and they are at the Bright Angel Trailhead and over the edge they go.
YeeHaw!! Hearts are pounding!
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