Mules at Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon | Mark Lindsay

Thirty years pass quickly. Suddenly I found myself at the bottom of Grand Canyon. In my heart I still felt like the sleepy-eyed kid my father had dragged out of bed to see the canyon sunrise. Part of me, when in a room full of adults, will always feel like a young buck. My brain's solder connections are hard-wired in that way. Serious adults always make me squirm like a teenager.

So, being at the bottom of the canyon was a sudden surprise, a dream dreamt and now realized. The first thing I searched for was the mule camp. I wanted to see where those ghostly echos had come from on that August morning in 1972. Phantom Ranch is the appropriate name for the place. I would find my phantoms from that long-ago morning with my dad. Maybe his ghost would be there at the hitching post. The ancient rocks play with your head. Who knows what you'll find?

The mules were there waiting for me, the decedents of the ones I heard all those years ago. The echos of the past were clearly in the air. I greeted them properly and spoke to them in a soft tone, too low for any bystanders to think I might be delusional. The animals stood there and stared at me the way mules do. I'm certain I was not the first person to have conversation with them. They carry humans for a living, a burden I can hardly imagine. They say the mules like the work, that going up and down the canyon is their reason for being. I sometimes wonder if whoever formulated that hypothesis might like to swap jobs with them. One does get the sense that the mules well-treated but tired in a worldly way.

One encounters the mule trains constantly on the trails from the South Rim. If it's not the animals themselves it's their ubiquitous droppings that one must circumnavigate. While I love the mules, I find myself sometimes annoyed with the people who ride them. They mosey up and down the trails while I, huffing and sweating with packs of my own, must yield to them and their animals' poop. It's hard not to get cynical over the whole arrangement.

But, the mules keep the whole canyon show operating. They bring food in and garbage out on a daily basis. They provide us with hot meals after long hikes. The cold lemonade at the Phantom Ranch canteen is reason enough to give them praise. The animals are noble creatures who work harder than any sentient beings I've ever seen. Save the occasional mule who has a minor hissy fit (who can blame him?) at precarious heights, they perform their burden without complaint.

I wonder how many generations of mules have gone up and down the canyon since I first heard them at the sunrise of my adulthood. How many trips have they made? Do they hear the echos of their ancestors like I do mine? I wonder how far back their canyon lineage goes. There are so many questions I have. But, the beasts just stare at me, looking at me in a knowing, yet mysterious way. We somehow seem connected through the trails of time.