Back across the Kaibab Bridge, back through the tunnel, past the River Trail cutoff, and out of the secluded lower canyon river gorge they climb. Riding uphill is different than riding downhill and most of the riders will find it easier. The red clay trail spirals up steeply in the shade of the early morning, as if to escape the perils of the river as soon as possible. Even so, as the riders will now trust their equestrian skills, it will be a quiet ride up this section of the trail to the rest stop on the edge of the first plateau. From here on, however, the Kaibab Trail will offer a completely unique and superior viewing experience. They are entering camera country.
With the trail now traveling along ridge tops most of the way, the views available to the riders will make them feel that they are on top of the world. Every day, even every hour of the day, the hues and tints across the vast canyon can change. The distant earthtones and pastel colors will transform as they climb, always masking the true rugged nature of the canyon. Each time the trail brings them to a higher plateau, the panoramic vistas are almost indescribable. Each time the river comes into view, it will be farther down and once more begin to resemble a painting rather than reality. The magnitude of the canyon will come back into focus and they will marvel aloud that, only a few hours ago, they were a part of that painting.
It is a near certainty that some of the hikers they pass will be physically stressed. The Kaibab Trail is shorter than the Bright Angel Trail and has more elevation gain. Being steeper, having no fresh water sources, and having precious few shaded rest areas usually catches the uneducated by surprise. They have found that the canyon caters to no one. By now, the riders will be taking for granted the strength, endurance, and trustworthiness of the animals they are riding. The sight of struggling hikers may remind them of their good fortune and prompt a few friendly expressions of gratitude to the mule that has become their friend. A friend who will be indelible in their memories.
As they approach the South Rim near Yaki Point, they will again be tired and somewhat subdued. Overall, the ride today has been quieter and more serene than yesterday. Then, one last time, the canyon will remind them of its superiority, just before it releases them. Near the top, the trail will again force them through a series of switchbacks, climbing steeply up the seemingly vertical rock wall. Once again displaying the characteristics of height and distance which make this a recognized wonder of the world and which caused them so much anxiety yesterday.
One final reminder to them that this is The Grand Canyon. One final verification, as if they needed it, that they have experienced the ride of their life.
Danny Smith is an Arizona outdoorsman and entrepreneur who writes from experience.
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