The famous South Rim mule trips that descend into the Grand Canyon stopped early this week and will not resume for at least six months.
The National Park Service and Xanterra Parks and Resorts will perform approximately $1 million in maintenance on the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails. A six-month period was estimated for the day and overnight mule trip suspension to be in effect. Xanterra said in a press release that the trips will stop “until further notice.”
Dawn O’Sickey, public affairs officer with the park, could not provide details on the maintenance because the specifics were being worked on through last week. O’Sickey did say that the work will not hinder hikers as both trails will stay open. Private stock users will also have access to the trails.
The two main trails from the South Rim have taken a beating from mules, hikers and Mother Nature. O’Sickey said the work is in response “to the standard accumulation of wear and tear, using mules and normal usage, and also because we’ve had some decent monsoonal rains.”
Mule operations from the North Rim, which are not operated by Xanterra, will continue as scheduled.
Bill Johnston, Xanterra general manager for the South Rim, said the suspension of the mule operation will cost money. Visitors take about 10,000 mule trips into the Grand Canyon from the South Rim each year.
“Obviously, we’ll lose revenue over that time and with the expenses of maintaining the mules,” Johnston said. “But the mules deserve a rest.”
Xanterra typically sends half of its mule stock to southern Utah for the winter. Beginning next month, Johnston said the company will be sending “a few more than normal” to that site.
When the mule operation resumes remains to be seen.
“We cannot predict an exact reopening date for mule operations until the trail workers get in there and determine just how much change to the landscape the forces of erosion have made,” Johnston said. “Fortunately, the National Park Service here at the Grand Canyon has recently received the funding necessary to do this job.”
After the action was announced, Xanterra began to contact its guests who had reservations for day trips to Plateau Point or overnight trips to Phantom Ranch. The company is not accepting any new reservations for mule rides until trail work is completed.
Johnston said Phantom Ranch remains open to provide overnight accommodations for hikers. While the trail work is being performed, Xanterra will conduct maintenance operations of its own with updates to cabins and restrooms at Phantom Ranch.
O’Sickey said since Phantom Ranch is still being supplied, duffel bag service for inner Canyon hikers continues.
The park received $1.5 million in franchise fees, not to be confused with fee demo funds, for trail maintenance on the North and South rims. The South Rim portion is estimated to cost about $1 million, O’Sickey said.