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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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….