Grand Canyon Adventure
How five women ended up meeting at the Grand Canyon

with Elaine Marsh McElroy

Here are Elaine’s Journal Entries…

Journal Entry #1 February 2017: Riding a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon had been on my bucket list for a long time. When I retired, I decided that I was going to make it happen. One of the requirements for this ride is that you cannot weigh over 200 pounds, fully clothed, boots and all. That meant that my husband wouldn’t be able to go with me. In early 2017, I asked a few friends, and also asked on "Horse Trails & Camping Across America | HTCAA on Facebook, if anyone wanted to join me. Initially eight women thought they wanted to go, but four backed out before I made the reservation. I had to make that reservation one year ahead of time on April 1st of 2017 to be able to go on the Grand Canyon Mule Ride in April of 2018.

Side Entry by Jan Hodge, February 2017: One morning I was drinking my coffee and scanning HTCAA's Facebook Group and I saw a post that said something like "I have always wanted to ride the Grand Canyon, is there anyone else out there that wants to also?" I had wanted to do that for some time but didn't want to tackle all the logistics of reserving a spot... so I commented “Yeah, I've wanted to also!” I had no clue who the poster was...she sent me a pm and we started a private group page called the "April ‘18 Grand Canyon Mule Ride",  to start all our planning.

That poster, of course, was Elaine…

Journal Entry #2: We had a couple other woman agree to come. A total of five women from five different states. I had met two of the women before in person but had only met the other two online through HTCAA. The others in our group had never met each other in person. Our private Facebook group allowed us to get to know each other online during our year of planning.


It was not an easy process to make reservations for our ride. I made 75 phone calls with a busy signal and redial, before I was finally connected, and then I was on hold with 30 people ahead of me. For 2018 they have changed to a lottery system, and I am not real sure how that will work out. It requires an online application of 14-15 months ahead of your desired ride dates, and then you have to wait for quite a while before you hear if you won the lottery or not.


It took over a year of planning the logistics and dreaming of the day we would finally be able to climb on that mule.

Journal Entry #3 April 2, 2018: The day finally arrived! We all met in Phoenix, AZ and rented a mini-van to make our way to the Grand Canyon. It was so great to finally all meet each other in person! Because we were all arriving in Phoenix at different times, we had decided to spend that first night in Phoenix. We were all so excited the next morning as we were getting ready to start our journey to the Grand Canyon!


Photo from Pheonix - left to right: Mary McMahan from South Carolina, Jan Hodge from Kansas, Carolyn Gruby from Arkansas, Elaine Marsh McElroy from Missouri, and Colette Finne from Minnesota.

Journal Entry #4 April 3, 2018: We didn't have to check into the Bright Angel Lodge until 07:30 PM the night before our Mule Ride, so we had a chance to do a little sightseeing along the way and also had time for a nice lunch in Flagstaff.


Journal Entry #5 April 4, 2018: The next morning we had to be at the corral at 06:45 AM for our instructions and to meet our wranglers, then we were matched up with our mules. The temperature was about freezing when we arrived at the corral.


We were not allowed to put anything in the saddle bags, nor were we allowed to bring our own horn bags to put personal belongings in, while on the Mules. So, we all wore vests to put our money, chap stick, tissues, etc in. Everything had to be tied on. Glasses and cameras both had to have a neck strap on them.

Photo of everyone ready to ride - left to right: Colette Finne, Carolyn Gruby, Jan Hodge, Elaine Marsh McElroy, Mary McMahan.

At around 08:00 AM, we were starting on our journey from the South Rim down the Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Wahoo!

After we had been on the trail a short time, one of our wranglers, Simon, said a prayer in English and also in his native Navajo language. I asked Simon if I could have a copy of his prayer, so he said to come to the mule barn after the ride was over. He later handed us each a piece of paper with the prayer written in English and Navajo and signed them. I love Simon's prayer!

This is the prayer:
Keeper of the Canyon

I respect this place because I am a native. The Keeper of the Canyon is going to keep us safe with an eye on us on our way down to Phantom Ranch, all the way back out tomorrow, and on your journey home. God Bless all of us.

The sacred journey into the Grand Canyon National Park is not only to enjoy the canyon’s wonders and history, but to rejoin myself and my people with it, to be part of it. I say this prayer before down for our safe trip home.

Signed- Simon

Journal Entry #6: The Bright Angel Trail is about 10 miles of downhill, and it takes roughly 5-6 hours by mule to reach Phantom Ranch. The Grand Canyon Mules are ridden down to the bottom of the Canyon every day of the year. The only exception would be if there is dangerous lightening, extremely deep snow, or if the trail has been washed out. Each mule is given 2 or 3 days to rest before they are ridden to the bottom again The National Park Service only allows 10 riders and 2 wranglers to ride to Phantom Ranch each day. The temperature at Phantom Ranch is usually about 20-30 warmer than the temperature on the Rim. In the summer, temperatures at Phantom Ranch can reach over 120 degrees.

Side Entry from Jan Hodge: I drew the mule “Spot”. A nice chestnut molly mule with a chocolate spot on her shoulder. She was an edge walker… loved walking on the outside edge… the whole trip!

Journal Entry #7 – The Black Bridge: Riding to Phantom Ranch once we reached the bottom of the Canyon and the Colorado River requires riding across the Black Bridge. It's really not as scary as you think it would be. The mules are used to crossing this bridge and they go right across it without any problems. Most of us were so busy taking pictures and soaking in the beauty that we didn't even think about it being scary.

Side Entry from Jan: The wranglers pointed out petroglyphs made by ancient people as well as fossils and other geological events along the way. Real neat to see those!



Journal Entry #8: The temperature was in the mid 80's by the time we reached the bottom of the canyon. We reached Phantom Ranch around 02:00 PM.

There are several cabins here where hikers and mule riders can spend the night. The cabins do have a stool and sink in them, but there’s a separate shower house. There is also a nearby campground, where hikers with tents spend their nights. 

There is also a canteen, where they fed us a steak dinner and a big breakfast the next morning. They also serve beer and wine in the canteen, as well as sell t-shirts, souvenirs, and postcards that you can mail from there. The postcards are stamped "Mailed from the bottom of the Grand Canyon". Everything, including the postcards, is hauled to and from Phantom Ranch by mule.

Journal Entry #9 April 5, 2018: The next morning, immediately after breakfast, we started our trip back up the South Kaibab Trail. Even though this trail is shorter than the Bright Angel Trail it is steeper, and the mules are given a lot of breaks on the second day, so it also takes about 6 hours to ride back up to the South Rim. When we stopped to let the mules rest, we always had them face out, so they could see what is in front of them. Mules are smart animals and they don't have a death wish, so they aren't going to jump over the edge of the canyon.

The South Kaibab Trail has prettier scenery than the Bright Angel Trail. The views were absolutely beautiful! We were very lucky, and our weather was perfect. We saw a lot of hikers on both trails, but it seemed like there were more on our trip back up to the South Rim. I think because this trail is more scenic, there are some hikers who only go down it part way and then go back up on the same day. The hikers were always told to keep to the inside of the trail when meeting the mules. Hikers can actually be fined if they cause any problems with the Mules.

Journal Entry #10: We had a blast on our Mule Ride. It was soooo much fun, and we saw some amazing country! Our guides, Simon & Yvonne, were awesome guides! This was an adventure that we will never forget, and I am so glad that I was able to mark this off of my bucket list. Who knows, maybe we will decide to ride the Grand Canyon Mules again someday.


Back row, left to right: first two on left back row are our wranglers, Yvonne and Simon. Then way in the back is Carolyn Gruby, then Jan Hodge, and Mary McMahan. Front row, left to right: Colette Finne and Elaine Marsh McElroy.


This is an adventure you don’t want to miss out on. If this is something you’ve always dreamed of doing, make it a reality like these ladies did! You won’t ever regret it!


Here’s the link to The Grand Canyon Mule Ride 

From there, click on “Enter the Phantom Ranch Lottery”.




Elaine and her husband, David, are both retired. They have two grown children and six grandchildren. They live on a small farm in Missouri and have four quarter horses and two dogs. “We love to trail ride and camp. Every summer, we escape the heat and humidity of Missouri and spend 2-3 weeks camping in the Rocky Mountains. We also camp and ride as much as we can nearer to home in southern Missouri, northern Arkansas, and eastern Oklahoma.” 

Can you tell in this picture that Elaine is having a great time in the Grand Canyon?




Photo below of everyone on the Mules - left to right: Carolyn Gruby on Sansa. Mary McMahan on Meg. Elaine Marsh McElroy on Kolbe. Jan Hodge on Spot. Colette Finne on Joey.


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