As we walked to the edge of the Grand Canyon, the full impact of what we were seeing came into view. It was as though we were witnessing the dawn of creation in the form of a magnificent, inverted mountain range opening before us.
Grand Canyon National Park (www.nps.gov/grca) overwhelms your senses with its dazzling scenery. It’s also is a window in time. Incredible forces of erosion carved rock history. Standing on the canyon edge, you look back in time to rocks nearly two billion years old.
The rims are separated by 215 miles of road.The North Rim is 8,255 feet in elevation, and winter snows close the area from mid-October until mid-May. At 7,100 feet, the South Rim is open year-round, but often receives brief blankets of snow in the winter.
We took our own horses, Cowboy and Nate, 5-year-old Missouri Fox Trotters, and explore both the North and South Rims.
To take your own horse into the park, you must have a current health certificate with proof of Coggins test (for equine infectious anemia).
You can order regulations for private stock use from the park. This will include information on trails open to horses, trailhead parking, day and overnight use, and information on feed and water.
The North Rim
We began our visit to Grand Canyon National Park at the North Rim. The high-elevation North Rim is cushioned in a Ponderosa pine forest and overlooks nature’s masterpiece.
There’s a horse camp at the North Rim (open spring through fall) located one-quarter mile from the North Kaibab trailhead. The camp has a pit toilet, water, and a small holding pen.
Allowed in camp are up to six people, six stock, and three, 30-foot horse trailers. However, during our stay, the camp was closed for repairs. We had to do day rides and camp out of the park.
Armed with lunch, horses, and an adventuresome spirit, we rode east on the Ken Patrick Trail. Early on, the trail skirts the edge of the Grand Canyon, providing tantalizing views to depths below.
Shortly, the trail returns to pine forest and works its way east through forest-covered, hilly terrain.The trail is easy and in good shape.
The trail eventually goes to the Cape Royal road. After following the trail for a while, we backtracked a few miles and took a fork to the south leading to the Uncle Jim Tail.
This trail does a small loop just before Uncle Jim Point. From here, you can see down into Bright Angel Canyon and across to the switchbacks of the North Kaibab Trail. This makes a great spot for lunch before returning to the trailhead.
Traveling below the North Rim on the North Kaibab Trail with your own horse requires preplanning and a trustworthy mount. With vertical drops of hundreds of feet, a misstep is totally unforgiving.
A good rest point is the “tunnel,” 2,000 feet below the rim. At the tunnel are restrooms, drinking water, and hitching posts you must share with the mule trains.
If you’re a history buff, stop at the Grand Canyon Lodge (www.foreverresorts.com) on the North Rim. Built in 1927, it has been designated a national historic landmark.
With the North Rim horse camp closed, we left the park to find a camping spot. Roughly four miles north of the park boundary, we took Forest Service Rd. 611 east toward the East Rim Viewpoint. About four miles past the viewpoint, there are camping places along the road.
From there, you can access the Arizona Trail going both north and south. However, there’s no water for humans or horses. This trail is a work in progress. When finished, it’ll stretch from Mexico to Utah.
Riding north, the trail passes through patches of trees, including Ponderosa pine, spruce, and aspen.There are open, grassy parks along the way providing views to distant vistas.
Riding south on the Arizona Trail will take you past the East Rim Viewpoint. You’ll eventually get to the north boundary of the park.The Arizona Trail picks up again on the South Rim and can be accessed from the South Rim horse camp.
The South Rim
The horse camp at the South Rim is conveniently located in Mather Campground. There are two sites. Each one holds up to six people, six stock, and one trailer.
The campsites are very nice. There are two spacious pens for each camp, complete with hay feeders. Set among towering pines, each site has a picnic table and fire ring.
There are two rides from this camp. It’s a good idea to drive out and see where you want to go, because the trails are faint leaving camp.
Our first ride was to the South Kaibab Trailhead. Ride east, through the trees. Keep the campground on your right hand side. Cross the South Entrance Rd., where the power lines cross above it. Then you’ll be on a visible trail.
Ride alongside the power lines a mile or so, and look for the Arizona Trail marker. Turn left at the marker; the trail will cross Desert View Dr. From here, you can follow the trail out to the South Kaibab trailhead with intermittent, splendid views of the canyon on your left.
At the South Kaibab Trailhead, there’s drinking water, a restroom, and picnic tables.
Our next ride from camp was five miles west to The Abyss, which overlooks the canyon. Ride west out of camp, and follow the trail on the small ridge to the south of the paved road going to the mule barn.
Make your way to the north side of the mule barn, then follow the mule trail that runs alongside the railroad tracks and into the forest to the west.
The horses had fun gaiting through the cool pine forest filled with sounds of warbling birds.Tie your horse at the hitching rails, and enjoy lunch with a canyon view!
Overnight rides into the canyon are available from here through Xanterra South Rim, LLC (www.grandcanyonlodges.com). The two-day trip includes accommodations and delicious meals at the historic Phantom Ranch, located in an oasis on the canyon bottom.
If you choose this option, book your ride well in advance of your trip.
(For more on the Krones’ Grand Canyon adventure, see Postcard from … Arizona, The Trail Rider, November/December ’12.)
Seasoned trail riders and equine photojournalists Kent and Charlene Krone enjoy sharing their riding adventures in the United States and Canada.