Grand Canyon National Park Officials Release Stock Use Plan, Including Mule Ride Quotas

A stock use plan approved for Grand Canyon National Park greatly reduces the number of mule rides below the South Rim. NPS photo.

While mule rides will continue at Grand Canyon National Park under a new stock use plan, only 10 visitors a day will be allowed to ride below the South Rim, a decision lamented by some who say it will deprive many of venturing into the canyon's Inner Gorge.

"I feel like the Grand Canyon is a gift to people, and when you start restricting usage you make it almost impossible for elderly people to get down into the canyon, or the handicapped," Ron Clayton, a long-time mule skinner who began guiding mules below the South Rim in the 1980s, said Tuesday after the plan was released.

Under the decision approved by Intermountain Regional Director John Wessels on January 5, mule use will continue at "historically high levels," although the number going down into the Inner Gorge from the South Rim will be cut in half and will be solely for guests staying overnight at Phantom Ranch. No Inner Gorge day rides will be offered.

“Mule rides have always been an important part of the visitor experience at Grand Canyon,” said acting-Superintendent Palma Wilson in a park release announcing the plan's approval. “Our challenge with this plan was to balance that use with the protection of historic trails and to reduce the high cost of maintaining those trails. We believe this plan strikes such a balance.”

Mule use has been hard on the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails, according to park officials. Nearly a year ago when the park released its draft preferred alternative for the stock use plan officials noted that roughly $3 million a year is needed to adequately maintain the park’s corridor trails. But, they said at the time, the park only receives $1.5 million to $2 million a year towards that cost. "Additionally, deferred maintenance costs on inner canyon corridor trails currently exceeds $24 million," they said at the time.

And mule use can be messy, with the animals' wastes at times forcing hikers to hopscotch around the splatters, piles, and puddles. Still, there are those who maintain priorities, not budgets, dictated the reduction in Inner Gorge mule trips.

“I don’t agree with their rationale, that they don’t have the budget to maintain those trails. It saddens me to see that," Mr. Clayton said during a phone conversation from his Arizona home.

While he agreed that mules have impacts on the trails, he noted that erosion does as well.

"Erosion is what they have to address. That’s going to happen if they have mules in there or no mules are in there. That’s where I’d like to see them address their attention," said Mr. Clayton.

Park officials said the "stock use plan allows a potential 20 percent increase in commercial mule rides over the present yearly average on South Rim trails, and a potential 13 percent increase over the present annual average on North Rim trails."

For a park with more than 4 million visitors, most who head to the South Rim, just 10 slots a day for a mule ride below the rim seems a bit odd to Mr. Clayton.

“It kind of makes it sound like we might have some elitists at the helm," he said.

Such limits reduce the number of park visitors who see the Inner Gorge to, essentially, "the very fit" and the "very young," Mr. Clayton said.

The mule skinner, who in the 1980s "was honored by being able to take the first paraplegic and first quadriplegic down into the canyon," said mule trips are strenuous and are not for everyone. Still, he said, for the elderly or those with handicaps that prevent them from hiking down into the Inner Gorge, mule trips serve a great purpose with a great reward.

"We find it’s tougher and tougher on the elderly, but it’s still a trip they’ll never forget once they accomplish that," said Mr. Clayton.

Under the new plan, instead of 40 riders a day on the Bright Angel Trail (20 that traveled as far as Plateau Point, and 20 to the canyon bottom and Phantom Ranch) there will be just 10 mules hauling guests down to the ranch. With the South Kaibab Trail currently under repair, there also will be 10 rim-bound mules a day up the Bright Angel Trail; once the repairs are finished in another year or two, rim-bound mule trains will head up the South Kaibab Trail, park officials explained.

The previous Plateau Point ride will be replaced by an above-the-rim ride that park officials said "offers greater flexibility and more opportunities for visitors."

The plan also limits trips to Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail to 280 rides per week with a daily maximum not to exceed 48 riders a day, a number that has been exceeded less than a dozen times in recent years, according to Grand Canyon officials. The plan also eliminates the Roaring Springs ride due to the steep, narrow nature of the Roaring Springs section of the North Kaibab Trail.

The adopted plan allows the following:

South Rim operations

* Commercial stock use: Up to 10,000 commercial mule rides a year (current average use is 8,315 rides).

* Bright Angel Trail: Up to 10 mule riders a day, plus up to two guides, from the rim to Phantom Ranch on the Colorado River. Day rides to Plateau Point will no longer operate.

* South Kaibab Trail: Up to 10 mule riders a day, plus guides, from Phantom Ranch to the rim. In addition, up to 12 supply mules, including guides, will be allowed daily to Phantom Ranch.

* Above-rim ride: Up to 40 mule riders a day, with at least one guide for every 10 riders, on a loop route from the South Kaibab trailhead to the rim near Yaki Point, continuing east another mile before returning.

* South Rim stock facilities: The historic mule barn in Grand Canyon Village will continue to house a small number of commercial mules. Most of the concessioner’s stock will move to the South Kaibab trailhead mule barn and corrals, which will be improved to accommodate more animals.

* Private stock use: Up to six riders and six mules/horses on overnight trips below the rim. Day-use group size will be up to 12 riders and 12 stock.

North Rim operations

* Commercial stock use: Up to 8,000 commercial mule rides a year (current average use is 7,072 rides).

* North Kaibab Trail: Up to 48 riders a day, with no more than 280 in a seven-day period (average of 40 a day) to Supai Tunnel, with no more than 30 riders on the trail at one time. These numbers reflect changes from the original EA, based on public demand and meetings with the mule ride concessioner.

* Ken Patrick Trail (above rim): Up to 40 one-hour mule riders a day to the Uncle Jim Trail junction, with no more than 20 mule riders on this section of trail at one time.

* Uncle Jim Trail: Up to 20 half-day riders a day to Uncle Jim Point North Rim stock facilities: The hitching rail at Uncle Jim Point will remain in place, and a one-stall composting toilet will replace the existing facility, with weekly (or as needed) cleaning and routine maintenance.

* Private stock use: Up to six riders and six mules/horses on overnight trips below the rim. Day-use group size will be up to 12 riders and 12 stock.

* Commercial use at Tuweep and Whitmore Trail: Up to six stock-use groups a year at Tuweep under a commercial use authorization. These groups are limited to 12 riders and 12 stock, including guides, and are for day-use only. Stock use will be discontinued on Whitmore Trail, which is remote and not maintained.

Additionally, the park release said "the stock use plan will help Grand Canyon address the impact of heavy, continuous use and limited trail maintenance funds on the park’s 42 miles of corridor trails – the three main routes into the inner canyon."

Park officials note that Grand Canyon visitors have taken guided mule trips since the early 1900s, before the park was officially established in 1919. Today, an average of 15,400 visitors a year ride mules on commercially guided trips down into the canyon and above the rim. The number of private mule and stock use is unknown because day-use permits are not required, but on average, about 60 private riders a year make overnight trips.

Comments

NPS Public Relation Specialists did well with the numbers that bely the reality of the changes. By many accounts the above the rim rides on the South Rim are a disappointment with many wanting refunds because the Ride does not reflect the Inner Canyon Ride's "transformational" effect. What is also missing from the press release is the imprint on this effort by the same couple that was responsible for the Hubbell Trading Post affair. Both the Hubbell Trading Post AND the Grand Canyon Mule Rides have a diminished iconic presence now, both, with century old historic and cultural value. Both sites were apparently no match for the ignorance and arrogance of the NPS leaders in charge. NPS stature has also been diminished here. If NPS would embrace these symbols for the value that they have contributed and correct their mistakes it would go a long way in returning respect for the agency.

Thanks Kurt for your article on the Canyon Mules.
If it would be okay to post a link that has been up for the last three years since the threat to the rides became apparent. It's a good bunch and are saddened with the EA release.

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=188057931399

Boy this sounds way too familiar to the plight of Cape Hatteras, Replace the word Mule with ORV...

Erosion versus humans lets blame the humans (The low hanging fruit of the NPS)

Outside influences seem to run the NPS who was doing much better before they interfered.

There is documentation on how very little NPS has done to maintain the trails ... the evidence points to unrelenting moves in retribution after Spt. Steve Martin and his wife created a disruption in an encounter with the mules on the trail.

Without knowing who they were, the guide chastised them, as he was instructed to do with anyone in the same situation. The direct result was the loss of this guide's job, but it didn't stop there. The Martins became the "enemy" of the entire mule operation because he and his wife had been held to the same standards of safety as everyone else. The writing was on the wall, and Martin has consistently and doggedly used his connections and his position with NPS to bring the mule rides down.

I have a hard time believing that the people who consider themselves so "tough" when they hike the canyon are the same people who are so "sensitive" that they are bothered by a little mule manure. Come on, now!

This comment was edited to remove gratuitous remarks. -- Ed.

The rim ride that has replaced 75 percent of the mule rides into the canyon is nothing that even resembles a Grand Canyon mule ride. It is nothing more that an ordinary trail ride through common northern Arizona pinyon and juniper, and the mule riders never will see that canyon once from the saddle.

They will finally tie the mules up in a parking lot next to a few dozen tour buses, then they can walk a few hundred feet and then see the canyon from there for a few minutes, then turn around and leave the canyon, mount up and ride away from it again.

It is insulting to any one who had ever been on an actual grand Canyon mule ride, that this chinsy, rinky dink trail ride would be called a Grand Canyon mule ride.

Casey Murph
Former manager of mule operations,Xanterra
Grand Canyon Arizona

Mr Clayton states, “It kind of makes it sound like we might have some elitists at the helm"

I never understood why someone who opts out of more expensive transportation (in this case mules) and chooses to walk is then disparaged as an "elitist." The same attitudes seen here regarding the mule rides are seen throughout any debate regarding travel management on public lands.

These sentiments even cropped up on this very forum. Skeptic stated "I have a hard time believing that the people who consider themselves so 'tough' when they hike the canyon are the same people who are so 'sensitive' that they are bothered by a little mule manure. Come on, now!" Well, you know what, I am tougher than someone who needs an ATV, a mule, or some other assistance to access the back country. Also, while i'm out being tough, I prefer to do it without climbing mountains of shit and wading through lakes of hot urine. The mules will take many thousands of people on rides, but it will now have a more limited impact on those of us who actually take responsibility and prepare ourselves for the Grand Canyon and other back country areas we access.

Again, my question is, why does this make me an "elitist"? Is toughness no longer an American virtue? To be a real American do I have to waste my money on mule rides and ATVs instead of just making the effort to keep in shape? I guess I wouldn't care, but this whole cultural notion that real Americans don't walk is taking a tremendous toll on our ecosystems.

Please, i'm serious, I want to hear some insight on why personal responsibility and thrift make me an "elitist" when it comes to my choice to walk (instead of ride) into the wild.

You are an elitist by the fact that you state everyone else is not like you and should not be allowed the same things as you.

Tell this to a handicapped or elderly person tough guy.

I took Mr Claytons elitist remark to represent the fact that they are limiting these rides to just ten per day leaving open the fact that these rides are not available to all who either CHOOSE them or need them to enjoy the same adventure your elitist legs allow you to enjoy.

Reply to Stubbs:

Maybe the mule rides should be reserved for the elderly and disabled. Others can walk, with limited impact to the canyon or the experience of other visitors. Its not the fault of "elitists" that the Grand Canyon is deep and the walls are very steep. That's the way the world is. However, visitors can CHOOSE to prepare themselves for the physical world and then do some exercise before traveling to the Grand Canyon.

I realize its a zero sum game. Mule rides benefit you and hurt me (I have to walk through the mules' output). Limiting the mule rides benefits me and hurts you (you have to walk). It isn't a one way street, where limiting the mule rides is some scheme designed by walking, physically fit "elitists" to persecute couch potatoes.

What I still don't understand, is why someone is not an "elitist" when they promote a circumstance where you can use money to avoid the effort of walking while at the same time diminishing everyone else's ability to enjoy themselves, but I am an elitist when I say everyone should keep their money and just walk.

As I stated in my previous post, this just doesn't just apply to mules at the Grand Canyon. This is relevant to all public lands travel management debates. Why are people that advocate discreet and inexpensive activities like walking considered so distasteful and disparaged as "elitists"? Why is someone who pays a lot of money to avoid walking and having to prepare (e.g., exercise) for the physical world not considered an "elitist"? What is the cultural context for this?

This comment was slighted edited to remove some 'colorful' language regarding mules and their output. We really do try to offer a product the entire family can read. -- Ed.

Lets take it to the next level of elitisms and have the NPS destroy all trails down and up and force you to rapel into the canyon and rock climb out. The non elite elderly, handicapped and couchpatatoes either can take a copter (oops these are eliminated also as they distract the elitist tranquil surroundings) or watch it on tv (filmed by the very elitist who decline your access)

You are very correct as there is a huge intolerance in the environmental community of people who cannot walk or hike for miles without assistance. The mindset that these people do not deserve the same rights and access to the NPS systems as they tend to block the trails with their wheelchairs and trip others with their white canes...

I don't get the term "elitist" being bandied around here to describe either those who will pay or those who are physically fit enough to hike down then up the canyon trails. The overnight ride is almost $500. I also saw some people going down the South Kaibab Trail who weren't exactly super fit. I think the average middle-aged person could probably hike down a few hundred feet and make it back as long as it's done early enough in the morning (before the heat picks up). The view is spectacular even if just a short distance down.

I also understand the concerns. I tried going around some of that mule poop. The only thing I've seen nastier than that was bison turd.

Still - I think the mules are an important part of their history. I remember summers watching reruns of "The Brady Bunch" and the multi-episode story arc where they visited the Grand Canyon and took a mule ride down to the bottom. Although I never rode a mule at the Grand Canyon, the idea holds a special place in my heart even after dodging mule poop. The mule ride starts at about 6 minutes in:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZfFTabKNBM

It does make sense that perhaps the rides could be reserved for those with a demonstrated physical need. However, the quotas that have been established seem rather arbitrary.

I had written something earlier to head off what I knew was coming, LOL. It was good, too, but my lap top lost it so this is a bit late. I did get a chuckle, oddly. I've had the same reactions of both Spirit and Matt. Flip side of the same coin, really. Everything seems divisive these days. At any rate it seems out of place and not becoming of what the Canyon is about. What goes unseen in the arguments, at times, is the great middle ground of visitors that, through the Canyon experience whether it be on mules or their own two feet, realize that what they are coming away with is that it isn't about them. EVERYONE has something to learn in the Canyon on a daily basis. We all are at different levels of the learning curve and I welcome the passion that both of you bring to the argument. I am also expectant of the breakthroughs that are just around the next corner. I've seen it repeatedly on the trail where I've ridden up on overheated, in trouble (some seriously) hikers that are not into polite conversation, LOL. Whether it was the extra water I would always pack for my riders and for just these situations, for people in trouble on the trail, it was very fun to turn these situations around with everyone involved feeling better for the experience. Amazing how attitudes change with a little cool water pored over the heads of people in heat issues.
I, also, do a LOT of hiking in the Canyon particularly since I've been involved in the preserving of the mule legacy in the Canyon which is another story (can't work for a concessionaire). I have many in my family that are back country adventurers whether it be on their own feet or riding horses or mules. My father was a past president of a hiking and mountaineering club in Washington State where during his tenure he and two club members dedicated Mt. Mathis in the Olympic National Park. The issue should not be resolved with picking one group over another but to just put the issue above our own desires as the Canyon teaches us so well, if we pay attention. Sounds more lofty than I meant but I've seen it so often on the trail that I'd like it to be THE moving factor for the differing views to find breakthroughs.
Rock On Canyon,
Rich


"who actually take responsibility and prepare ourselves for the Grand Canyon and other back country areas we access"

that is the elitism (and arrogance) right there. the ASSUMPTION that those who choose to ride mules into and out of the canyon are irresponsible and unprepared, or fat, or lazy, or ignorant because they don't CHOOSE to experience the canyon the same way you do. i think i shall make the ASSUMPTION that those who hike instead of ride have issues with trust, and control, and are just big fraidy cats who are askeered of mules. stupid, no?

if you are so much tougher and better prepared than the rest of us, i wise and strong one, why do you insist on hiking the EASIEST trail in the canyon, the BA? hmmm? there are more than 250 miles of trail you can use, where you won't have to worry about getting doody on you fancy goretex hiking shoes. on some trails, you won't even see any other people, and can have the canyon all to yourself :-)

i don't suppose it ever occurred to some that when one takes the 2 night mule trip, one has an entire day to hike and enjoy the bottom, for instance the 12 mile Ribbon Falls hike, or go half-way up the S Kaibab and back to Phantom.

too many people are just buying into the spew put forth by the NPS that the MULES damage the trails ... i guess they've never heard of erosion. hikers, you want a nice smooth trail with no ruts, no challenges, no big steps, stay on the damn pavement. the mules have no problems negotiating the trails that were made by mules for mules. the park has purposely neglected trail maintenance for more than 20 years, and now their claims of no money for repairs ring hollow. educate yourselves on what's actually happened people, instead of being ignorant sheep.

Sounds odd but why discriminate in favor of just the handicapped. It isn't a bus ride to the bottom. There are many that have never even been on an animal that come to the Canyon and might not be ready but would come back years later and climb on a mule and go into the Grand Canyon. I REALLY respect anyone who pushes their comfort zone and does something like that. It is amazing what it does to a young (or old) person growing up in this video game world and somehow gets to do the ride. Parents attempting to expose their children to something bigger than themselves, glowing with the growth they see in themselves and their children after the family adventure. It is very good and something the country needs more of. Okay, enough writing. Gotta get into the Canyon for the good stuff.
Blessings

Laurie:

too many people are just buying into the spew put forth by the NPS that the MULES damage the trails ... i guess they've never heard of erosion. hikers, you want a nice smooth trail with no ruts, no challenges, no big steps, stay on the damn pavement. the mules have no problems negotiating the trails that were made by mules for mules. the park has purposely neglected trail maintenance for more than 20 years, and now their claims of no money for repairs ring hollow. educate yourselves on what's actually happened people, instead of being ignorant sheep.

What's with all the insults?

My reading of the history of the various trails in GC is that they were often built by either the natives or by people looking to charge an entrance fee. I didn't get any history that they were necessarily designed for pack animals.

I certainly think they're an appropriate part of GC, but is there anything that can be done about the waste? Dog walkers in a city park have to pick up their droppings. Can't maybe a small pack train come by and pick up the poop on a regular basis?

what insults?

Uh...:) one thing people learn when they go into the Canyon is that "they aren't in Kansas anymore." I know it's tough but as hard as some might try, it ain't Kansas! No offense intended, LOL.

"Ignorant sheep" is an insult where I come from.

Hey Kurt

Have you considered making a movie ? Better yet, a TV series.
You got the stories. You got the sets. You probably got the players just for the asking.
Anybody that can stir up this much stuff, Man, you might be missing your real calling.
I can think of a couple dozen episodes without even trying and just think, a new and never ending supply.
Think of how much influence you would wield on the populous of this nation and no doubt we could use some of the right stuff.
You could do it.
On second thought, people change when they become a star or get in front of a camara. might not work. you just can't beat the ole ordinary people when it comes to stuff like this.

Best to ya,
Ron

PS: Just thought it was time to lighten up a little.

Access should not be provided to everyone just because. I am unable to do certain things at this stage of my life that I could when I was younger, and I except that. I would rather know that others can enjoy it for the foreseeable future than build more trails, or roads or make it easier to access. I will probably never get to float the Colorado river, I WILL never get to the top of Denali, I may never get to climb halfdome, so does that mean I should be given some sort of entitlement to do so? Should there be a road paved to the top of Denali just so I can reach the summit because I am not a mountaineer? Should we put up handrails along the entire rim of the grand canyon just in case someone gets to close and might fall?

I am not elitist because I chose to walk. I am not elitist because I feel that not all 300,000,000 people in this country should have equal access to everything. Some folks are built some things and not for others, thats the way of nature.

When I was a kid, I wanted to play in the majors, but you know what, as it turned out, I was not a good hitter, or very fast, so now I work at a desk, so is life.

Access to public land is important, but there is more than one way to experience the natural wonders, we don't need unbridled access to every single thing on this planet.

Ryan:
Access should not be provided to everyone just because. I am unable to do certain things at this stage of my life that I could when I was younger, and I except that. I would rather know that others can enjoy it for the foreseeable future than build more trails, or roads or make it easier to access. I will probably never get to float the Colorado river, I WILL never get to the top of Denali, I may never get to climb halfdome, so does that mean I should be given some sort of entitlement to do so? Should there be a road paved to the top of Denali just so I can reach the summit because I am not a mountaineer? Should we put up handrails along the entire rim of the grand canyon just in case someone gets to close and might fall?
You'd be surprised at what goes on in other parts of the world. Mountains in Europe are dotted with via ferrata for easier access. Mount Fuji in Japan has a ridiculously easy path - so easy that septuagenarians regularly summit the peak. One can drive up to the top of Pikes Peak.

Heck - in China there's a national park that's a sister park to Yosemite. Within the last couple of decades (and spurred by China's economic prosperity) they've installed a cable car system and built a hotel at the top of one of the peaks. This is the equivalent of building a hotel at the top of Half Dome:

I guess there was a different era with such natural areas in the US. They built the cables up Half Dome, and there used to be a hotel at the top of Glacier Point in Yosemite.

To much theory gang! You've gone off the charts. Nothing real I've seen in the last few comments. I'll take you all for an adventure and then we'll talk. :) Kind of like the focus group Albright or maybe Mather had in the Sierras with the big shot Congressmen. Boy, does this country need some direction. I'll give you parachutes and we'll have an adventure :), then we'll talk, LOL!

Ryan
I guess we are not that far apart, my friend. One of my (maybe original) sayings in life has been "all men are created equal until they are born, then that all ends". Just think about it and it becomes immediately clear.
Anyone that believes life is going to be, in every way equal for him, just because he was born, is fantasizing. That said we should ask ourselves, are we better off than our friend or neighbor. Are we able to do things in a manner or capacity that others are not able to. Are we more knowledgable about some things than they are. And then ask ourselves if that person should simply accept that fact and live with it. I think we all know the answer to that. Now this is a supposition carried to an extreme. But, there are cases where this must be considered. Most important, those that God has seen fit to endear with desirable physical abilities, should be the first to understand the plight of those that were not. And, we will all hopefully reach a point in our life that our bodies are unable to carry us where our mind wants us to go, under our own power. I am 66 and fortunately still able to do most anything I want, thank you God. I have been blessed to experience the wild in so many ways. I, for one, would never suggest any restrictions that would prevent one single person from experiencing what I have. I may not be able to provide the means for all to do it, but I would never do anything to stand in their way and this often involves means of access. To some, it may simply be for convenience or even just the fun of it. Whats wrong with having fun, People surely need it. For others it can be much more significant. We have to be very careful to examine every aspect of an issue to make sure this does not happen. I know I have said a mouthful here and it just scratches the surface when it comes to the issues. But, it seams to address a common issue and I hope everyone will take these thoughts into consideration when addressing the contraversies between groups concerning use of our parks and recreation areas.

Bless all of you,
Ron

I hear ya Ron, I just worry about the day when everything is motorized and human have lost the ability to use their legs because they have no need to walk anymore...just kidding. I never want to deny access, I simply think that not all access needs to be invasive, walking is still a very viable means of transportation.

Only ten mules a day to Phantom? Try getting a backcountry permit for the Corridor during rim-to-rim season, or anywhere in the park during Spring Break or Thanksgiving. Waiting list to be drawn for a private river trip is about ten years. Fact is, the Canyon is a limited resource, and the Park Service is charged to protect and preserve.

If there were unlimited mule rides, hikes, and river trips, as well as mountain biking, BASE jumping and hang gliding (as visitors have asked me about), the Canyon would become a place that none of us would want to visit.

Marjorie:
Waiting list to be drawn for a private river trip is about ten years.
I thought that they switched to a weighted lottery system, where anyone previously on the waiting list was given an extra entry per year of being on the waiting list.

http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/weightedlottery.htm

Biggest impact on the resource and funds are the 350 requests for aid and the 250 helicopter evacuations per year by, almost ALL, hikers. The most of the arguments reflect something quite different from the reality and the significance of the Grand Canyon Mule Rides while not mentioning at all the part that mules provide supporting those 20,000 hikers that hike to and stay at Phantom Ranch. The well known artist and NPS employee that lived up from Phantom for decades was the beneficiary of COUNTLESS courtesies from GIVING rides to friends and relatives, bringing him supplies and in general, being a good neighbor, is now in the arts crowd and advocates against the mules. LOW CLASS and reflects the lack of real meaning to their opinions and supports a REAL loss to what is to be learned from the Canyon. I see a lot of this type of attitude but I don't see it in the riders that I've taken into the Canyon. The experience is MUCH more than what is characterized by those that I've been hearing from those that haven't been.
Respectfully

re: waiting list for river trips. You are correct: there is now a lottery system. But most folks still find themselves in the lottery for an average ten year wait.

Marjorie:
re: waiting list for river trips. You are correct: there is now a lottery system. But most folks still find themselves in the lottery for an average ten year wait.
Just a technical point, but isn't it a little early to be figuring out how long the average wait is going to be? I mean, the lottery system has only been in place for two years and we'll have no idea if the number of entries picks up or drops off in years to come.

The lottery has been in effect more than two years, but I am too lazy to look it up. I think four or five? Anyhow, you want to see some name-calling and invective, get onto a chat room full of private boatpersons trying to get onto the Colorado. So I take back the 10 years, but I haven't been drawn in four.

Riding a mule is not for the infirm. It hurts the knee, the ankles, and the back. A strong body core is required to stay upright in the saddle. Strong thighs to grip the mule, especially on the way down. If one has any fear of heights, parts of that trail are terrifying.

Also, on Christmas day, four people rode down on mules. MLK weekend, a three day weekend and a fee free weekend, three people down on Wednesday, two on Thursday, none on Friday, two on Saturday. January and February are wide open. Bundle up and ride on down.

Park's pretty much empty of visitors during the yearly lull between New Years and the beginning of rolling spring breakers. Could be especially so this year with the economy not looking encouraging (understatement). The absence of the affordable day ride and the less than transformational Rim Ride also diminishes the inner Canyon ride numbers. I really don't like to do numbers as every ride is so special. It is a great time to get a spot on a ride particularly when you get to the bottom and the temperatures are the same as being in Phoenix.

Supposed to be in the high 60's at Phantom Ranch tomorrow. Far from the low single digits just two weeks ago. Ride or hike it should be equally nice...if you are prepared:)!

I was only guessing. Apparently it was first in place for the 2006 season.

http://www.grandcanyonnews.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=718&ArticleID=9116

I thought it was still in place by the time I saw Into the Wild. Apparently not. I think there they said that the waiting list was maybe 12 years for a new application.

Years ago I had believed a national treasure, such as the Grand Canyon Mule Rides, would be protected and preserved by the government. Even when my son first saw the "writing on the wall", I was incredulous at first. Over the years, it became more and more evident that the mule rides were on Steve Martin's "hit list", and NPS and Xanterra would support him. Any handy excuse would have been used .. the condition of the trails (after decades of NPS neglecting the effects of erosion)... were the most expedient.

All under the guise of saving the environment. Ah, yes, the religion of the environment.
"Have to put up with women that don't shave their armpits but we can make a great living." Dandy Ferr (Oregon). Overheard at Hart Mountain Hot Springs, really :).

The number of hikers has so drastically increased that those allowed into the Canyon will, sooner or later, have to be curtailed.
Some toss rocks or kick dirt!!!
Some hog the trail and force... others to go around them!!!
Some leave trash that must be cleaned up!!!
Some have been known to......gasp....urinate in a secluded spot or even over the side

Comment someone submitted during the public comment period.

"With regard to safety, in 2009, 9 hikers died in the Grand Canyon. While this may be an unusually high number, it is not uncommon for hikers to be injured and require evacuation. In the history of the Grand Canyon there have been no deaths (except one employee) and few injuries involving stock users. With the proposed reduction (now implemented) in stock and mule use, will marginally fit and or older individuals now feel they have no choice but to hike down into the Canyon in order to experience it; and die or be seriously injured, where previously they would have ridden a mule safely and without incident? What is an acceptable death and injury rate in the view of Park Management? What is the cost of helicopter rescues of hikers? While not borne by NPS (Tax Payers tab), this cost is still relevant in the decision making process. What is the environmental impact of the noise of these rescue helicopters on wildlife? these are important questions since the decision to reduce mule and stock use did not address the impact on hikers or their safety in the Grand Canyon. there are reportedly 200,000 hikers annually and only 20,000 mule and stock trips(actually just 10,000 Inner Canyon Mule Riders). this is a huge difference. "

Note: There are, on average, 350 requests for aid and 250 helicopter evacuations each year. Almost ALL are by hikers. Personally, I had one such event in three years which was precautionary only.

This is really good news for Grand Canyon hikers that stay at Phantom Ranch. Currently, Phantom Ranch has 4 hiker dorms (two male and two female dorms - each with 5 bunk beds for 10 people), and 12 historic cabins. As many of you might know, it is extremely difficult to get reservations for either, and the phone lines to Xanterra are jammed for hours on the first day of each month. The cabins (11 out of 12) are almost exclusively set aside for the mule riders, since a couple will spend almost $1000 for the ride package (the mule rides, overnight accommodations in a cabin and all meals). By allowing only 10 riders per day (instead of 20), this would free up the majority of the cabins for hikers, since only 5 cabins would be needed (unless more riders decided to stay two nights at the ranch, which I would definitely recommend).

Over the past few years, I've had 4 opportunities to stay at the ranch, and each time is a truly awesome experience. I stayed in the dorms for the first three hikes to Phantom, while I really lucked out recently and had 3 nights in a cabin over Christmas 2010. On Christmas, there was a special holiday dinner at the Canteen, which included carved turkey and ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, an assortment of pies and free wine! By staying several nights at Phantom, you can take one of several day hikes - such as the 12 mile RT hike up to Ribbons Falls, and you’ll be better rested for the long hike out. I'm already looking forward to my already-reserved cabin for 3 nights in 2012!

I've noticed fewer mule rides over the past year, and I believe the Plateau Point rides have stopped running some time ago. Currently, the Xanterra website only offers the Phantom ride and the on-the-rim Abyss ride. These new rules would likely eliminate the Abyss ride in favor of a similar rim ride at Yaki Point, where there are far fewer people compared to the village area. This is unfortunate. Seeing the mules is an important experience at the Grand Canyon, even if you’re not taking one of the rides. And kids won't be able to see very many (if any) mules at the corrals near Bright Angel Lodge or at the BA trailhead in the near future. Also, this would lessen the Grand Canyon experience for the train riders, who only spend a few hours around the Bright Angel Lodge.

Submitted Public Comment by Keith Green, long time Canyon Resident and NPS Interpretive Ranger, Retired.

"I just want to say that I'm legally blind and I really understand what an impact this would make to anybody with any kind of inability that couldn't hike in the Canyon; although, yeah, you could go down the river, but then you only see what's down at the River, you don't get to see what's on the trails. To eliminate the trips to Plateau Point, one of the most beautiful places in the Canyon, and to eliminate the trip down to Roaring Springs on the North Rim, would be a real disservice to anybody with any kind of disability who cannot handle the trail. I used to be able to handle the trail, but now, you know, I'm just getting to the point where-I'm only 62, but I'm too, it's to hard for me to hike on the trails, so I can't go down there anymore unless I can go down on the mules.
And so, like I said, I'll say it again, eliminating the mules to Plateau Point and to Roaring Springs would pretty much tell anybody with a disability that can't go to those places.

Note: Keith, has for years, given wildly interesting, Interp. talks at Shrine of the Ages relating effectively what can be learned from the Canyon.

I think that the hikers who don't want to share the trails with the mules are selfish and ill-informed, with a large sense of self-entitlement. If they don't like the mules, then why don't they hike on some of the other more than 250 miles of trails in the canyon? Why do they insist on the (relatively) easiest trail, the BA for their use? Those hikers complain that mule riders are just too fat and too lazy to hike (which of course is not true), well if they are so fit, then they don't need to use the easiest trail. Which, BTW was made BY mules FOR mules; that is why it works so well for mules and hikers.

Yes, I realize that not all hikers feel this way. Many of the hikers are wonderful people and not selfish at all. Many people enjoy hiking and riding, as long as they are in the canyon, they don’t care. They appreciate the fact that the mules brought EVERYTHING to the bottom for Phantom RANCH to be built in the first place, and that mules continue to supply all the beer and food they enjoy at Phantom, and to pack out the trash. They know that what trail maintenance is done, must be assisted by MULES, because people can’t do it alone.

They are well informed enough to know that the problem with the trails is not caused by mules, but by the lack of proper maintenance on the trails for the past 20 years and more. Trail maintenance funds have been diverted to pet projects, and the trails were allowed to deteriorate. Then when the trails are a mess, the blame is put on the mules. Talk to people who have been around for a while and know something (and are not employed at the park, and thus able to speak freely). Try reading the series of articles by Terry Wagner in Western Mule Magazine.

Informed people who are honest with themselves appreciate the fact that the mule wranglers, on a day-to-day basis, have the most responsibility in the entire park And that in more than a century of taking people on mule back down the canyon, the mules and the wranglers have the best safety record of any in the park. Plus, the wranglers always carry extra water to assist hikers and riders and can be in radio contact with assistance for injured hikers often times much more quickly than one could find a ranger to do so. Hmmmmm, I wonder how much of the money spent to rescue injured and recover dead hikers could otherwise be spent on properly maintaining the trails?

There is, unfortunately, a group of “vocal locals” who think the canyon belongs to them; that if one doesn’t care to see it their way, with Camelbak, and Powerbars attempting a new record on their latest rim-to-rim, one does not deserve to see it except to gaze from the rim. This group would love to see mules out of the canyon entirely (except for their supplies of course!). They many eventually get their wish.

Please visit my group and get to know some of the people who are members, and know much more than I and have been very helpful in opening my eyes. Watch some of the videos—those mule hooves do NOT strike like pickaxes and destroy the trail! All the riders weigh less than 200 pounds, and many don’t even approach that—fat? Look at the young and not so young riders (all taller than 4 7)—lazy? Look at the photos posted of the S. Kaibab, freshly repaired and 18 months mule-free, after the first rain storm (erosion anyone?) and tell me that is damage caused by mules.

Grand Canyon Mule Riders and Wrangler Appreciation

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=188057931399

P.S. Notice how many hikers have many, many visits to the park? Gosh, they can't allow some people to have a once in a lifetime experience on mules because it might spoil their umpteenth visit to Phantom. Must be nice to have the money and time to make so many visits to the Grand Canyon. And you can bet your sweet bippy that the hikers are oh so happy that now more of the cabins are freed up for them instead of mule riders.

Submitted by 20 year veteran of rides originating from North Rim, KM:
First of all, the Superintendent said that due to the excessive stock use on the trails, they are eroding the trail and that's 90% of the issue on the trail. That isn't the case. I know because I've worked there for 20 years. When I first came to the North Rim, we took twice what we take now and the trail was in better shape. The trail crew knew how to keep the trail up and they would let us help them. They would let us work with them and help. Now they don't spend much time at all down there.

All last summer, 90% of the trail work that was done on the North Rim was on the rim, it was not even in the Canyon. The trail crew is not down there like it used to be. The picture of trail damage on display (at public meeting) on the North Kaibab Trail is at a place that we don't even go anymore. That's part of what we don't do. The trail crew had to fix it like they have to EVERY year for the 20 years I've been here because it is on a flood area. When it rains, it floods and washes out, so that picture looks like they're having to fix it from the mule use. No, it's because it flooded, it floods every year whether the mules are there or not!

Note: No apparent erosion in the Grand Canyon, LOL! A revisit of this issue is suggested :).

Well since I last visited there has been some very lively discussion here! I did notice some small confusion that I can help clear up. With regards to why and who constructed the trails, almost all the inner canyon trail network was originally constructed as mining access trails, where pack animals, including mules and burros were used to bring out ore. Notable exception being the south kaibab, which was built for political leverage to force Ralph Cameron to relenquish his right to the bright angel trail to the government. Native people had many routes into the canyon, and you hikers know the difference between a route and a trail. Without exception, these trails were ALL built for stock use originally.
I had to laugh at the fellow,(we assume) who bragged himself up on how tough he was to hike the canyon instead of ride. HA! This fellow does not know Ron Clayton, the toughest man I have ever met, and one who would not be caught dead "afoot" if he could help it. I would like to see this tough hiker work side beside by Ron and take bets on how long he lasts.
What it all has come down to is competition over resources , people. Mule riders came first. Recreational hikers are recent pilgrims. Many recreational hikers dont want to share, for whatever reasons, so they have worked toward taking the place over for their own purposes. (Yes its elitism). Its nothing unique in the west.
Now that the pioneers have taken the arrows, the pilgrims move to push them out and take over.
Such nobility!
Casey Murph

Oh ive seen something nastier than that bison turd or mule poop you talk of. I worked in the canyon as a mule packer and trail maintenance for a long long time. Pick up a rock beside the trail, yep, likely there is human feces under it.
This deal about the mule poop disgusting rings hollow to me, I know what nasty creatures the human packpacker can be.
Casey

With respect to all those that are intimately involved here and are transformed into better people by the Inner Canyon experience I'd like to add the following:

The Canyon does make us all small. Such a burden being BIG, LOL!
What I'd like to avoid is to further an adversarial situation that doesn't really do the Canyon justice. The mule/hiker experience is so intertwined and positive by MOST opinions. The most endearing quality that I hear expressed about the Canyon is that it is so humbling and puts us in a good place, if we survive,LOL!
I take exception to what Supt. Steve Martin has done here with the Mule Issue at the Canyon as well as with the HubbellTrading Post. The iconic and personal value to the public have been diminished. Mistakes were made and a correction is warranted. RG

The argument that has been used is that mules are responsible for all the trail damage. The denial that erosion and the lack of trail maintenance over last 60 years does not support the public's interests (or the resource). It would seem that erosion had nothing to do with the formation of the Grand Canyon, LOL! The picture here is the damage resulting from just one rain storm this year without any mule traffic on it for the previous 18 months (South Kaibab). Just shining a little light on the discussion here, respectfully:). Mistakes were made in the EA process and need to be corrected.


I ride mules, I hike, I swim, I explore in a 4x4,I enjoy the outdoors in many ways. My choice is not based on the cost of the enjoyment. Rather it is based on the enjoyment and the experience. I don't begrudge anybody that wants to walk or ride, but I do begrudge it when they feel that "Their" opinion or choice of mode of transportation is the only one that is right. I Don't drive a Toyota Prius because it is my freedom to choose what I drive. What I see here is the same thing that was common when I designed and built log homes....The people that had the most influential opinion had never been in a log home. There is nothing wrong with regulations on mule traffic in the Grand Canyon just like there are speed limits on the Interstate. But restricting mule traffic to an absurd limit by people that have not truly experienced the views from a mules back or have a solid understanding of the facts is like post a speed limit on I-40 of 25 miles an hour by somebody that thinks cars have no place in transportation. Based on the expressed theory that it is wrong to use money to avoid walking one might want to consider how they got to the Grand Canyon to "Take a walk" in the first place. Then on the other hand, I would rather walk in 100% organic by products than the byproducts that humans create by the millions of tons. Spend a little time with a mule. Look in his eyes. You can trust 100% that that mule will take care of you. That mule can be more trusted than most people. Mules don't do stupid things, people do and people don't ever want to accept any personal blame. It is always easier to blame someone or some thing, so lets blame the mules, they can't fight back.

“Our challenge with this plan was to balance that use with the protection of historic trails and to reduce the high cost of maintaining those trails. We believe this plan strikes such a balance.” Wouldn't one solution then be to simply charge a mule ride fee that would fund trail maintenance and restoration efforts - but still maintain access to the inner Canyon for those not physically able to handle the hike?

JohnT:
I ride mules, I hike, I swim, I explore in a 4x4,I enjoy the outdoors in many ways. My choice is not based on the cost of the enjoyment. Rather it is based on the enjoyment and the experience. I don't begrudge anybody that wants to walk or ride, but I do begrudge it when they feel that "Their" opinion or choice of mode of transportation is the only one that is right. I Don't drive a Toyota Prius because it is my freedom to choose what I drive.
For the most part, it's not up to government to ban the freedom to do certain things save the truly stupid. However - government does have an interest in restricting certain activities that might be detrimental to the common good if done in excess - whether it's too many people driving gas guzzlers (leading to increased pollution and carbon) or limiting activities that cause excess wear on a resource. For vehicles, it's CAFE standards and (formerly) gas guzzler taxes. The NPS has various quotas for backpacking at some day use areas in the peak season at popular parks.

I do agree that these limits seem absurdly low, but I also feel that there are certain activities that are by their nature destructive. Such activities should certainly be restricted or even outright banned via regulation.

Sabattis, there are answers to ALL the issues here but more to the point it's the outcome that one particular individual has framed the arguments. There is lots of evidence to support this.
Trail maintenance? These trail crew guys are AWESOME and have the one most grounded :), difficult, and rewarding jobs in the park. long term trail crew guys and gals are every bit as personally invested in what they do as trail guides. The physical demands keep the "goo" between the ears at a minimum, LOL. They, however, don't make the decisions where their efforts are directed. The phrase used is that "money isn't an issue" (except when they don't any). The recent use of a heavy lift helicopter for a week to haul rocks to the Red and Whites (switchbacks on South Kaibab) at a reported cost of $150 per rock the size that a man could pick up is but one example.. Could these costs be greatly reduced by private contractor business acumen, of course. $2 Million goes a lot farther in many ways when profit is a motivation. What is even more the issue, in my opinion, is that a superintendent spends quite a lot of time raising funds. Whether it's taking Ted Turner and entourage on a private Inner Canyon Mule Ride to catch a raft trip or countless other donor opportunities, the Supt. can direct the conversation to any project he decides. It's just the way it is. A National Park goes the way of the Superintendent and in this park and the IMR, there have been issues, LOL:).

NPS Data:
‎"Grand Canyon National Park is renowned for its trails. The park has more than 630 miles of trails, including 415 miles of inner canyon backcountry trails and 42 miles of inner canyon corridor trails."

So, how many trail miles are commercial mule rides allowed on out of the 415 mies of Inner Canyon? The answer is 23 miles or 0.05% of all Inner Canyon Trails. I think reasonable people should be able to find their pleasure in the Park.

Keeper:
NPS Data:
‎"Grand Canyon National Park is renowned for its trails. The park has more than 630 miles of trails, including 415 miles of inner canyon backcountry trails and 42 miles of inner canyon corridor trails."

So, how many trail miles are commercial mule rides allowed on out of the 415 mies of Inner Canyon? The answer is 23 miles or 0.05% of all Inner Canyon Trails. I think reasonable people should be able to find their pleasure in the Park.

I'll preface this by stating that I think the reduction of mule rides is something I don't particularly like. I would one day like to take one, although I'm not sure if my slowly increasing weight means I'll be over the limit with my stuff.

However - that's 5% and I don't think it's necessarily a meaningful number in any case. The mules are now being used on the most desirable trails for hikers in Grand Canyon NP - the ones that can easily be accessed via the North and South Rim villages close to parking. Of course that's where the conflicts are likely to be. The NPS has already set limits on the number of backcountry users, and I don't think they're going to substantially drop the number likely to use these popular trails just to avoid conflicts with mules.