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Mules In Grand Canyon National Park: Should They Stay?


Grand Canyon National Park officials are asking for public input on the continued use of mules in the park. NPS photo.

Mules in Grand Canyon National Park. They can be a bane, and they can be a beast of burden that makes your trek down into the chasm somewhat easier. Now park officials want to know if mules should continue to be utilized in the Grand Canyon.

Folks who have more than a few hikes down into the canyon can speak harshly of mules, largely for the mess they make with their urine on the trails but also for the spacing of steps in the trails to accommodate the beasts. But mules no doubt have made the canyon accessible for folks who otherwise wouldn't have ventured down the trail.

So what do you think? Grand Canyon officials are now accepting comments on mule operations and stock use in the park as they begin to develop an environmental assessment. The presence and use of mules in and around the canyon is a long-standing tradition and one that the park would like to continue.

But park officials also are interested in continuing to provide opportunities for stock use in a manner that is sustainable. This planning effort will address the following management objective identified in the park’s 1995 General Management Plan: “Where livestock and visitors share the same trails and areas, minimize conflicts and resource impacts, and enhance safety.”

The planning process will consider the following:

* Commercial and private stock use (including horses, mules, and burros) throughout the park.

* Appropriate levels of stock use on park trails.

* Appropriate locations for stock use in the park, which may include: keeping commercial stock use on the North Kaibab Trail down to Supai Tunnel; moving stock use to one of the South Rim corridor trails (Bright Angel or South Kaibab); keeping stock use on the Uncle Jim Trail, Whitmore Trail, and select corridor trails; initiation of a concession-operated day ride on the South Rim; the need for new stock facilities or modification to existing facilities on the North and South Rim, including compliance with laws and regulations for mule health and safety.

The Park Service encourages public participation through the National Environmental Policy Act (commonly known as NEPA) process during which the public has two opportunities to formally comment on the project – once during initial project scoping and again following release of the EA which is expected this fall. The NPS is currently in the scoping phase of this project and invites the public to submit their comments in a variety of ways during the next 30 days.

Three open house meetings are scheduled in June where Grand Canyon National Park staff will be available to answer questions and take comments on stock use in the park. Meeting dates and locations are as follows:

June 2, 4-7 PM (Arizona Time) – Flagstaff Public Library, 300 W Aspen Avenue, Flagstaff, Arizona

June 3, 4-6 PM (Arizona Time) – Community Building, Room B, South Rim Village, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

June 4, 4-7 PM (Utah Time) – Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Kanab Visitor’s Center, 745 East Highway 89, Kanab, Utah

You may also submit written comments on this web site or by mailing them to: Steve Martin, Superintendent, Grand Canyon National Park, Attn: Mule Operations and Stock Use EA, P.O. Box 129 (1 Village Loop for express, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023 by June 22, 2009.

The park expects to prepare an EA this summer, with a decision document for this project anticipated in December, 2009. Additional information about this project can be found at this web site or by contacting Rachel Stanton, Project Planning Lead, at (928) 774-9612.


Don, I certainly appreciate your sentiments and the work you did on the ruins near the Black bridge.  The conversation in many circles and subjects often does not get past the I, me, wants missing the big picture.  When I first came to the Canyon, the Canyon itself and the mules were a given but I never expected to truly enjoy the people that are (for many young and old) transformed to a better place by the experience of being in the Canyon, growing in confidence in their mule (and themselves), discarding emotional burdens and seeing the world in a different light.  A very good light, indeed.  And I got to hang out with the young and not so young that were humbled and grateful for the experience making them all better citizens.  I also do a lot of hiking on the remote back country trails so I appreciate my feet also but I believe part of the transformation that riders experience is that they gradually put their confidence into something other than their own two feet and it seems almost biblical to watch it come over many.  The handicapped in various ways both physical and mentally find a special partner in their mules as found in many therapy situations.  Yes, the mules do have the edge in tradition and much, much more:).  Again, I appreciate your sentiments and your contributions to the Canyon.

Years ago, I was hiking down the South Kaibab trail very early in the morning (3AM or so) and I walked right into a standing pool of mule urine.  It was a bit dismaying, but it wasn't really that big a deal.  Indeed, with the perspective of time, it was one of the more memorable events associated with that project and that trip (stabilization and excavation of the small pueblo along the trail between Phantom Ranch and the suspension bridge).  I have made a fair number of trips in the Canyon, both line of duty and personal, and while the mules are a bit of a hassle, they really have tradition on their side.  It is interesting to see some of the actual figures associated with mule use and trail upkeep.  It is worth pointing out that hiking use also causes trail erosion and damage, especially at the volume incurred on the Bright Angel and Kaibab.
It is definitely true that mule free hiking cn be experienced on the many other trails in the park.  They are much better bets for experiencing solitude, a rare commodity on the BA&K.

Tradition is on the side of the mules.  I say keep them, pools of urine and all, but give serious thought to alternative scheduling, excrement cleanup, and other measures which will improve everyone's Grand Canyon experience.

I wouldn't trade my mule ride down to Phantom Ranch for anything. If they want to cut cars from entering Grand Canyon National Park, cut down on the number of mule trains and hiking permits they can, but the park will just become even more exclusive. Back in '92 when I rode down it cost over $100 for one night af Phantom ranch (I forget how much) and we had to make our mule reservations over a year in advance.  And this is just a typical family from inside the USA. But when we got to the Grand Canyon, we were amazed by the vastness of visitors from all over the world. Limiting or eliminating Mules/visitors/cars might be better for the environment but at the same time so sad that less people would be able to enjoy the Park in their lifetime. But if they do cut down, only the more affluent or hopefully more eco-minded people would go, making the overall park quality better long term. I hate to see ignorant people littering at such a beautiful place.  I say keep the mules, but keep out people without common sense.

I've hiked down and I've ridden down. The ride is breathtaking because you can enjoy the scenery and take photos without having to mind your step. You are also able to enjoy the view from a higher vantage point. The hike is grand as long as you can afford to take the time to view/record the sights without endangering yourself or losing your footing. That having been said, there are other trails that a hiker can take that aren't used by the mules.

Just remove hikers from the Canyon would also solve the problem since the great majority of mule support and helicopter rescues are for hiker benefit. Ex Superintendent Steve Martin would like your argument better. He may even like my argument as long as he has his raft trips and personal mule rides with Ted Turner:):). Could be a ring of truth to this, LOL!

There are usually 12 mules a day delivering supplies for, mainly, hikers such as yourself John and Phantom Ranch which has 13 full time employees which also cater to mostly hikers. Add on NPS mules that also haul supplies for the Ranger Station both there and to Cottonwood. Add on NPS mules and concession mules that do trail work of some kind everyday. As far as paying their way, the surcharge that could be put on every hiker that goes into the Canyon to cover search, rescue and in some cases, retrieval of room temperature hikers would COMPLETELY eliminate hikers altogether from the Canyon it would be so exorbitant. 250 rescues a year exclusively by helicopter at $3000 per hour. Some searches go on for weeks. Occasionally there is a rider that needs to be evacuated. I had one such situation in three years of guiding. I also do a lot of hiking. Some others in my family ride and some are extremely accomplished hikers and outdoorsmen. Knowing both worlds well, in my opinion, I enjoy the Canyon more on a mule. For me there isn't the need to prove to myself that I can do it. I can and have many times. Just by putting your confidence in something other than your own two feet is transformational for most. Some would be afraid to do that. The Canyon is about (what I've seen) breakthroughs and like someone else has said, we ALL have something to learn here.

The dried mule droppings do not bother me, but the puddles of mule urine do emit disconcerting odors (and I do not hike the canyon in waterproof/urine-proof boots). Nevertheless, I will find it upsetting if the the authorities decide that the mules must wear diapers. A mule driver at Phantom Ranch told me that the "powers that be" are talking about requiring diapers on mules.

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