Living on the Edge (Part 5) A mule ride at Grand Canyon

Kaibab Trail

by Sherry Jarvis

Blanche and Maude ready to go again.

Blanche and Maude ready to go again.

As we mounted our mules leaving Phantom Ranch that morning it was sprinkling and the low clouds created a haze like mist over the canyon. As the mules walked down the trail you could barely hear their hoof beats because the trail was just wet enough to soften each stride. The serene quiet of the morning was sweet music to my ears and I marveled once again at the essence of this picturesque placed called Phantom Ranch.  It had waltzed in and out of our lives in a moment in time charming us with it’s quaint yet regal presence. As I looked back over my shoulder catching one last glimpse of this peaceful location I hoped that I would be able to visit again someday. When I turned back around I saw Joan riding her mule Blanche in front of me and I thanked God for making this opportunity of a life time possible for both of us. I could not contain my emotions as I held back the tears forming in my eyes. There are just some moments in your life you never want to forget and this was one of them.

Leaving Phantom Ranch early Sunday morning Sept. 8,, 2013

Leaving Phantom Ranch early Sunday morning Sept. 8,, 2013

As we approached the CO River this time the thought of crossing the suspension bridge did not bring any pucker factor to me but rather a sense of awe at how it was built. I thought of the men who had built it and the difficulties they must have encountered. I wondered if the experience of thousands of other people who had crossed the bridge before me had found this ride as special as I did. I wondered why they had chosen to take this journey? I wondered how it had affected their lives? Was it just a vacation or something much more like it was for Joan and I? I would never know the answers. But I could not imagine how someone could take this extraordinary journey and not be altered or at least see life and creation from a new perspective after experiencing one of God’s most remarkable formations. I know that I would never be the same because every time I think of this trip I would be reminded of God’s incredible power, grace and love. I would remember the generosity of all the people who helped make the trip possible. I would not forget the friends we made along the way. I would reminisce about the stories Doug and Bill told us. I would recall how flawless and trustworthy our mules Maude and Blanche were as they climbed up and down the trails with a calm pace. I would memorize the smile on my friend Joan’s face as her bucket list ride was being fulfilled. I didn’t want to forget one single breath-taking view, the feelings of excitement, the sensations of riding Maude, the contentment of riding the trail of life in the will of God.

Wearing our rain coats in the light rain as we began our ride back up the Canyon on Kaibob Trail

Wearing our rain coats in the light rain as we began our ride back up the Canyon on Kaibab Trail

After crossing the bridge and going back through the tunnel it wasn’t far before we had to stop at a wide spot to wait for the mule skinners who were bringing a train of mules down the trail with supplies for Phantom Ranch. I heard Doug talking on the radio to them before we reached the place where they would pass us. There were two mule skinners with about 10 mules each on their train. It still amazes me that all of the supplies and garbage are hauled in and out every day by these mules. They must be in great shape because they were not strolling along like we were; you could tell they were in a hurry. They had a job to complete. In fact they went down to Phantom Ranch unloaded their goods, reloaded and caught us by the time we were at the second bathroom break. They were not wasting any time. However they were sure puffing and sweating when they reached us up on the flat where they were allowed to catch their breath before leaving ahead of us to make their final assent to the top of the rim.

Meeting the pack train on the trail.

Meeting the pack train on the trail.

I left the canyon with a new respect and adoration of mules. I am astounded at what they can do and how well they can do it. It isn’t surprising I felt a real affection for Maude and wanted to take her home with me. I will always hold her dear in my heart because she helped create some of the fondest memories in my life. Of course I was partial to her and thought she was the best mule of them all. Isn’t that silly? They were all great mules. I am sure everyone else felt the same way about the mule they were riding. I remember my Dad telling me all about his mule “Twine” like he was the best mule in the world. Mom thought her mule “ “ was perfect for her. Joan loved the way Blanche had a nice long stride on her. I guess everybody bonds with their mule. They have a way of capturing your heart. Besides the magnificent scenery they are probably to stars of the show on this journey. Heck without them you would have to walk. We met some people at Phantom Ranch who had walked down but had decided it would be too difficult to walk back up so they hired some mules so they could ride back to the top. One gal was going to walk but hired a mule to take her backpack out for her. Truly, the mules are very valuable in the Canyon, they are not just a form of entertainment. They may have the reputation of being stubborn but we can certainly learn a lot of lessons from them.

Maude, who I wanted to take home with me.

Maude, who I wanted to take home with me.

As we started back up Kaibab Trail Doug told Joan and I all kinds of stories. We were in the front of the line this time; Doug leading us, then Joan and then myself with Bill following up the rear. I think Doug spent most of the time turned around talking with us about some of the exciting trips he had and why he loved his job. We delighted in his stories. We told him how blessed he was to have such a gorgeous office and to have found his calling in life, even if he isn’t getting rich doing it. I thought if I was younger, single and liked heat I would love to be a guide at the Grand Canyon. The last part about not being fond of heat would be the biggest obstacle to keep me from liking this job.

Dpug turned around telling us stories.

Doug turned around telling us stories.

I am not sure if Doug and Bill realize it or not, but they are much more than a couple of mule skinner guides who show people the way down and up the trail at the Grand Canyon keeping them safe. They are central characters who play a significant role in the lives of people embarking on not just an ordinary vacation but for some of us it is a very spiritual  journey. They touch lives in unique ways. I saw them offer compassion, encouragement, reassurance, help, and support to those who needed it just at the right time. They provided mule savvy, history, geology, nature, and geography lessons that were fascinating. They inspire us with a dedication and love for mules, the Canyon and work ethic that gives one a sense of pride and determination to live your dreams. I know it must be somewhat of a sacrifice to live the life they do, but I want to say Thank you to Doug, Bill, and all the other mule guides who ensure each trip is safe and picture-perfect for each one of us. I know there are probably people who whine and complain about certain things on the trip. You can’t please all the people all the time.  But for me it could not have been more ideal. So for Doug, Bill and all the other guides I want to encourage you to keep on being the best you can be and look at each ride as an opportunity to touch a person’s life in a very rare way that nobody else can do.

Bill sharing his knowledge with Joan.

Bill sharing his knowledge with Joan.

Doug told us the ride out was easy. I guess he might have to define “easy”. I thought the trails were much more difficult in places. Maybe he meant that they would seem easier today because the riders were now used to the trails and sort of knew what to expect. The element of surprise was over. Of course the mules had to work a lot harder going up the steep trails and so we had to stop and rest more often so they could catch their breath. At one of these rest stops Joan’s mule Blanche decided to urinate. She put her left foot right next to  the edge of the trail and hung her right foot over the edge of the cliff. Joan was leaning away from edge. That’s what I call “Living on the Edge”. I was laughing and had to get my camera out to take a picture.

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Blanche taking a break on the edge.

There were a couple of times  when we parked the mules out to rest that Joan kept her mule fairly straight on the trail because when the mule was positioned the way they were suppose to be, the mules head was hanging out over the cliff. I had fun taking pictures of Maude’s ears during these rest periods. It was spine-tingling to sit there on your mule with his front feet so close to the edge. The mules took advantage of these times and were very relaxed. So I found no reason to be afraid and I thoroughly delighted in the moments taking in the gorgeous countryside at each outlook.

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Letting the mules rest, note Maude’s ears at the bottom of the photo.

As we made our way up Kaibab Trail every now and then we could see a glimpse of the CO River. As it got further and further away it seemed as if it’s size and power dwindled. The reality of being at the bottom of the canyon was already fading into a memory, I wanted to grab it and never let it go. Pretty soon Doug said, “Take one last look at the river, after this you will see it no more.” His words sent a pain into my heart because it brought me back to reality for a moment. This was only a holiday, an escape from our real lives, a retreat that broke up the monotony and pressure of life in the real world, a bucket list event that would not happen exactly like this again. However, no matter what tensions we would have to face back home, I would not let that spoil the joy of being a part of this voyage. I pushed back all fear of what the future may hold and of regrets of the past. I chose to live in the pleasure of the moment. I would take the lessons learned on this quest and apply them to living life to the fullest “right on the edge”  once we returned to what can seem like the mundane of everyday life.

Nearly the last view of the CO River.

Nearly the last view of the CO River.

A couple of my favorite spots on Kaibab trail were “Window to Heaven” and “Jacob’s Ladder”.  Window to heaven was a hole in the top of a rock which looked like a window. We were far below it when Doug pointed it out to us. As we looked up you could see right through the hole into the sky above. I almost didn’t get my camera out in time to take a picture of it because I was so drawn to the eye-catching spot. Have you ever thought much about the windows of heaven? What does God mean when He says, “I will open to you the windows of heaven?” Of course, that is a figure of speech with a very powerful message.

Window to Heaven

Window to Heaven

I love windows a great deal, I love windows in a home, I love windows in buildings, and I love windows because they let the light in. And I love to be at a place where there is a lot of light. And I love windows because they allow those who are inside to look out upon God’s wonderful creation. Windows are a wonderful, wonderful blessing. I love windows of all sizes and windows of all shapes. I especially love stained glass windows in a church that tell the story of Jesus. As I gazed at this “window to heaven” somehow miraculously carved in this rock I thought of references in the Bible about “windows of heaven.” Many times in the Bible you read that God opened the “windows of heaven”. But the main truth is that God opens the windows of heaven on our behalf. He has already done that on two occasions and some great day He is going to open the windows again. God has been so good to us. He opened the windows of heaven and sent us His only begotten Son to rescue us. He opened the windows again and sent the Holy Spirit to purify and empower us. Then some glorious day He will open the windows of heaven again and send His precious Son back to take us to be with Him forever.

Looking back down at Jacob's Ladder

Looking back down at Jacob’s Ladder

“Jacob’s ladder” was a long series of abrupt vertical switch backs over a precipice that seemed to go on and on. It was almost like a winding staircase. It reminded me of the one we had seen in the church in Santa Fe. One doesn’t climb up a stairway like this very quickly. Getting to the top is a gradual process where the mules take one step at a time.  Even though I could tell the climb was quite extreme because of how hard Maude was pushing with her hindquarters it wasn’t until we reached the top and I looked back that I realized how vertical the climb had been. I thought this is how the Lord leads us on with very gradual steps, so gentle that we don’t even realize we’re ascending until we look back.

Another view of Jacob’s Ladder through Maude’s eyes. You can also see the mule train near the bottom of the ladder.

If you are not familiar with the story of Jacob’s ladder in the Bible it happens in the form of a strange dream. In his dream Jacob saw a “ladder or stairway.” descending from heaven to earth. On the stairway Jacob saw the angels of God going up and down the stairs. At the top of the ladder stood God himself. Just think about that. Jacob at the bottom, God at the top, a stairway filled with angels in between. What does it mean? The message of the dream is this: “Jacob, I’m nearer to you than you think I am. Although I am in heaven and you are on earth, there’s a stairway that reaches from me to you. And my angels are constantly watching over you. They tell me what you need and I send them back to earth with my answers. I’m not very far away. In fact, I’m with you wherever you go. When you travel, my stairway travels with you. Everywhere you go, I will go with you.

Some of the trail was almost like a stairway with the beams across it.

Some of the trail was almost like a stairway with the beams across it.

Think about it this way: While I am struggling with the problems of today, God is hard at work providing solutions for the things I am going to face tomorrow. He’s already there, working creatively in situations I have yet to face, preparing them for me and me for them. Or to say it yet another way: God is already at work providing solutions for problems I don’t even know I have yet! That blows my mind even more than riding a mule on Jacob’s ladder did.

Are you worried about next week? Forget it. He’s already there. How about next year? Don’t sweat it. Sleep well. He’s already there. What about the tough decisions that loom up ahead for Joan when the fantasy ride is over?  She need not fear because God is there to walk her through the days ahead. And God will do much more than that. He is going ahead of her, clearing the way, arranging the details, so when she gets there she will have confidence that He has already been there before. Just like our mules had already been on that trail before and knew exactly how to take care of us every step of the way with safety so we could enjoy the ride.

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Maude and Blanche the stars of the show. The ones who had been there before and therefore were trustworthy.

I believe that through this dream Jacob discovered the omnipresence of God—that God is everywhere present all the time. I was reminded of this truth again while riding Maude below the “window of heaven” and on “Jacob’s ladder”. I know that wherever I am, there is God. And wherever God is, there is a stairway or window to heaven reaching down from God in my deepest moments of desperation or victory to be near me.

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Friends that touched each other’s lives for a moment in time that will always last.

Jesus Christ is himself the stairway that leads back to the window of heaven. If you want to go through the window of heaven, Jesus is the stairway, he is the ladder, that will take you from here to there. That’s why in the gospel of John, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”  Jesus is “the way” to heaven. Without him, there is no other way.

Now that Jesus Christ has come, we know that God can never be far away from us. He is the ladder that leads to heaven, he is the bridge that crosses the great gulf, he is the stairway that leads to paradise, he is the window to eternal life.

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This smile tells all the fun I had on the trip. And I am enjoying reliving it again as I write about it in this journal. I hope that it has blessed you as much as it has me.

I didn’t think it would take me this long and this many pages to journal about our mule trip. I believe that this Part 5 is long enough so I will close for now.

Part 6 will include the rest of the ride to the rim. There may even be a Part 7 about our drive home. And who knows a Part 8 about the rest of the story????


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Living on the Edge (Part 4) Mule ride at Grand Canyon

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Our Cute and Comfortable Little Cabin at Phantom Ranch

PHANTOM RANCH

By Sherry Jarvis

Our cabin had a toilet and sink, 2 bunk beds, a table and 2 chairs. As we settled in I put my bathing suit on right away even though it was raining and the temperature was dropping rapidly. Joan decided to go to the Cantenna to visit and have a drink. I put my cowboy boots on and headed down to Bright Angel Creek with my camera. When I arrived at the creek I sat down on a big rock and took my boots and socks off. As I waded into the water it was icy cold.  The smooth river rocks were extremely slippery, I just about fell down several times. Despite the fast-moving cold water I sat down in the middle because it was easier than standing. It didn’t take me long to start shivering so I stood up and took a few pictures of the majestic surrounding mountains. Then I waded back over to my rock to let my feet dry before putting my socks back on. As I sat there I attempted to memorize the sounds, sights, smells and feelings as I offered praise to  God for this experience. I wanted to burn this moment into my mind so that when I am too old to ride and I am sitting in a rocking chair, I can recall the joy and thrill of the ride of my life. My feet still weren’t completely dry when it started to rain accompanied by a little thunder and lightning.  Reluctantly I put on my socks and boots, thanking God for the quiet moment alone with Him in such a beautiful place. As I reached the Cantenna it was starting to rain harder so I went in to visit with Joan and our new friends from the mule ride.

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Wading in Bright Angle Creek at Phantom Ranch

My peaceful time by myself in Bright Angel Creek

My peaceful time by myself in Bright Angel Creek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I bought a mule post card for my parents in the Cantenna that would be sent back up the canyon by mule the next day. I wrote a short message to them about how they were right about what a wonderful adventure this would be and thanked them for encouraging us to do it. It was time for the Phantom Ranch workers to prepare the tables for supper, so we had to leave. Joan and I went back to the cabin and then went to the shower house.

That hot water sure felt good after being in the chilly waters of Bright Angel Creek. Then we took a short nap before supper.

We were served a delicious steak dinner with salad, baked potatoes, peas, corn, cornbread, and wonderful chocolate cake for dessert. We sat at long tables where the food was served family style. There was a lot of laughter and fun conversation. We ate until we were over stuffed.  It is amazing that all that food is hauled down on the mule pack trains every day. Those mules certainly earn their keep.

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Joan petting Blanche and Maude in the background.

After supper Joan and I walked down to the mule corrals. I called for Maude and Joan called for Blanche. Amazingly enough they both came to us. I stood by Maude for a long time rubbing her chest and scratching her back over the fence. I felt so honored that Maude came to me and seemed to be enjoying the attention I was giving her. But I doubt she was enjoying it near as much as I was. I know she couldn’t understand my words, but I thanked her for being such a good mule and giving me such a perfect ride down the canyon. Just think without her the adventure would not have been possible. I was astounded at her agility, composure, and willingness on the trail. I would rename her Reliable Maude.  I’m sure it was just another ordinary day, another usual job for her, but to me it was something extraordinary, a day that I will treasure as long as I live. It is like that in life sometimes;  you are just doing your job and you don’t even know how you are touching another person’s life in a unique way.

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Joan on the Bridge at Bright Angel Creek on our walk down to the CO River

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Joan dipping her hands in the CO River.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was starting to get dark. Joan and I wanted to hike down to the Colorado River, so we had to say good-night to our mule friends. As we hiked we talked about how remarkable the trip had been so far and how everything had way more than met our expectations. There was only one negative thought that kept bugging both of us, the fact that our voyage was already half over and we did not want it to end.  We took some pictures as we walked. We posed on the Bright Angel Creek bridge and dipped our hands in the muddy Colorado River. We saw a deer and a coyote within 20 yards from us on the way back, but it was too dark to get a good picture.

We talked about what a gift life is and how blessed we were to have this time together in such a magnificent place. It was completely dark by the time we got back to our cabin. It had been sprinkling on and off since my dip in the creek earlier. I was wishing I had my mule rider yellow rain jacket. Somehow Joan had taken hers off her saddle and kept it, so she was dry.

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Early morning sunrise in the canyon.

We got back just in time for the program presented by a Park Ranger. She talked about the pink rattlesnake which is unique to the Grand Canyon area. This particular type of rattlesnake was first discovered in the Canyon by a Ranger back in the early 1900’s, I think?  After a good lesson on the anatomy and behavior of the rattlesnake she also gave us tips on what to do if we encounter one.

The second program included interesting history stories about explorers, miners and entrepreneurs who succeeded and failed in their attempts to claim their place in developing the Canyon for industry and tourism. A couple of my favorite stories were about the deer and donkey population problems. The park rangers hired cowboys to round-up the deer, which of course didn’t work. I could just pictures cowboys trying to chase deer on horseback swinging their ropes while riding the steep and treacherous trails. No wonder it didn’t work, not to mention the fact that deer don’t round-up well. It is quite the humorous idea.  The second story was about miners who had turned their donkeys loose after they were finished with them. The donkey’s thrived in the environment. So again they hired cowboys to round up the over-populated donkeys who were chasing out the mountain sheep. This time the cowboys succeeded. However when they got them to the river and put them on rafts they jumped out and now they had donkeys on both sides of the river. It seems the cowboys and rangers had a love hate relationship.

It was nearly 10:00 by the time the programs were over so we went straight to bed. It was like being a kid in summer camp. While lying in our beds we visited in the dark about how thrilling the mule ride had been and about how it was like a fantasy world down in the bottom of the Canyon. A fantasy that would be enjoyable to keep living, especially since Joan was not looking forward to facing reality of some difficult decisions once we returned home. As we said our prayers and faded off to sleep we had confidence that no matter what trials or afflictions we may have to face in this life that God is good, He is faithful and his mercies are new every morning.

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I guess I love cactus. We have plenty of them in NE too. But not quite this big. Many riders who come visit the Sandhills don’t like the cactus. I love their blooms.

It rained a ½ inch during the night and was still sprinkling when we got up. We had set our alarm for 5:30 because breakfast was served at 6:30. But we didn’t need an alarm because we were both awake with excitement long before it rang. We repacked out small plastic bags, then headed for the Canteena. We were early and it wasn’t open yet. So I walked up Bright Angel Creek to see what it looked like beyond Phantom Ranch. I took some pictures of cactus as I thought about the name “Phantom”. It means: “something that can be seen or heard or whose presence can be felt, but that is not physically present”. I could sense God’s powerful presence in this place, after all He is the awesome creator of this impressive scenery. I had an overwhelming feeling of admiration and wonder of His artistic hand and even more appreciation that I was given the opportunity to visit such a grandiose place. Grand is a fitting name for this Canyon. I can’t think of a better word. Words just can’t describe it. Even pictures don’t do it justice. I was thinking about my parents also standing in this very place eighteen years earlier. They too understand there is no way for one to realize what the big deal is about this enchanted journey until one actually experiences it for themselves.

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Joan, always meeting new people. Yuri was a very interesting person.

As I was off jaunting around Joan was being her usual social self. Joan knows no stranger. She will strike up a conversation with just about anyone. When I got back to the Cantenna she was sitting on a picnic table out front visiting with a young man from Switzerland who was traveling all over the world hiking. He had lost his camera earlier. I think we felt worse than he did about it. He was such a positive fellow. Joan asked him what He did for a living. He was a lawyer. She thought he looked much too young to be a lawyer. He had a good laugh about how young she thought he was. We saw him again back up at the top and wished him blessings on his travels .

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Both a sad and happy time, happy about getting to ride the mules on the trail again, but also sad because that means the journey will be over soon.

After a tasty breakfast of pancakes, (Joan’s favorite) bacon and eggs we headed back to the corral where the mules were already tacked up waiting patiently to take us on another spectacular ride. The journey back up to the top of the south rim on Kaibab trail would be bitter-sweet. We didn’t want the journey to end.

Part 5 ride back up the rim and Part 6 The journey home will be coming soon….