Of Mules (and Mulemen) and Mountains

Happy National Mule Appreciation Day! What does the Blonde Coyote have to do with mules, you might ask? Well, mules are playing an unexpectedly large role in my life these days!

In my 20’s, my goal was to hike in all fifty states before I turned 30, and I did.

In my 30’s, my goal was to learn how to ski big mountains, and I did.

So far, I’ve spent my 40’s hiking Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon, learning to take off, fly and land a small airplane, forging a new adventure partnership and devoting myself to the age old art of mule packing.

Yes, I mean mule packing literally: packing supplies and equipment on the sturdy back of the greatest hybrid species humans have ever cultivated.

A Decker pack saddle on Cricket at the Muledragger clinic in Montana
Cricket ready to go
Putting it all together

As a young girl, I was in love with horses before anything else, and owned two. But after having my heart broken by my pony and my back broken by my horse, I said I’d never have a horse again. And now I’ve discovered mules. Mules are a cross between a horse mom and a donkey dad and the hybrid offspring are the best of both parents, with methodical minds and exceptionally strong bodies.

My newfound love is thanks to my other newfound love, a muleman, paraglider pilot, and professional chef named AJ. Two years ago, burned out on long-distance paragliding, and looking for his next project, AJ devoted himself to donkeys. One miniature donkey turned into two saddle donkeys, another mini donkey and then two mules; both crosses between quarter horse mare mothers and mammoth jack donkey fathers.

Riding Concho the donkey bareback in the desert

After AJ and I crossed paths in the desert, I spent the next few weeks riding his two sweet saddle donkeys with only a bareback pad (he only had one saddle). I loved the view between those long-ears so much that 28 days later, I bought my very own mule saddle and my very own mule: an 8 year old palomino quarter horse mule I named Zoroaster Rockytop aka Zorro because I want to ride him from the bottom of the Grand Canyon (where Zoroaster Granite is one of the basement rocks) to the tops of the Rockies.

Love at first ride on Zorro

Now, my muleman (cowboy doesn’t fit; he doesn’t know anything about cows and mule skinner is a bit too evocative) and I are living in a 100 year old cabin on the edges of two of the most spectacular wilderness zones in the western US, in the best possible place to learn how to explore the mountains on the backs of, and in the company of, these exceedingly capable equines.

Rock crawling on Zorro in our big backyard

Friends who’ve followed my travels for awhile—or even just the past year and a half, which I’ve spent living mostly in my Dodge Grand Caravan—might wonder if I’m settling down, having committed to at least a year in this cabin, not to mention the large equine that can live 40 years. As a geology writer, I don’t mind the word settle, in terms of my easing into a more centered place. I’ve been craving a home base, a haven, a place to park a few things for awhile; while also feeling ready for a new adventure partner; somebody who will push me to go farther than I go solo (and I go pretty fucking far on my own); lessons learned last frigid winter spent solo in an off grid school bus.

AJ and Okapi

But I don’t see settling here in this 14’er-fed river canyon as a stationary chapter. On the wall of our cabin we’ve hung maps of our wildernesses. After months of riding and hiking every day, and highlighting our routes, we’ve added a few squiggles of marker to the map. My goal for my 40’s is now to hike or ride every passable route on these maps, to see the view from the top of every mountain and to drink from every creek in every canyon on this map. I figure it’ll take me at least five years, maybe longer, mule-willing.

Dreamier than it looks…

I don’t update this blog very often anymore, but if you’re interested in following the mule adventures of the Blonde Coyote, find me on Instagram @theblondecoyote.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
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9 Responses to Of Mules (and Mulemen) and Mountains

  1. Joni Brown says:

    I am so proud of you. Thx for leaving this blog here so I can go back and read all ur adventures! I am going to follow you on Instagram. So excited for the 40s of your life.
    God bless you,
    Joni Brown

  2. Love it love it You go girl !!! Happy trails to you and AJ and those mules !!

  3. Andy says:

    I thought I’d not heard from you for a while. Immediate memories are my kids fascinated by dinosaur footprints and (I think?) a dead tarantula. And of course your canine friend. I’ve now followed you over on Instagram 🙂

  4. Sandra says:

    Thanks for the update. I’ve really missed your adventures and look forward to following you on IG

    Love the dog with the stick in the background

  5. pmdello says:

    Recently, I’ve been reading about the history of mule packers in Yosemite. So, it’s a wonderful surprise to learn about your latest adventure in the mountains. Glad you continue with this blog. Enjoy the freedom of your existence. Life can be fragile and short, but you make it seem sturdy and long.

  6. Jack Stansbury says:

    Mule willing! Love it!

  7. Rhonda Smith says:

    Awesome goals! My university mascot where I graduated from long time ago are called the “Muleriders”. Southern Arkansas University. Yours look incredibly sweet. Have fun exploring all those trails and I look forward to your next post!

  8. Jojo says:

    What an interesting story! I was wondering how flying planes and mules related 😆 I’m looking forward to reading more of your mapped out adventure! Please continue to update on here 🙏 The fast pace look at the picture and scroll pass life of Instagram does not provide nearly as much connection to the story!

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