Finished! Tiki and rider complete the Arizona Trail as big stars
Forest fires created a couple of delays for Tiki and his rider, Carol Fontana, on their quest to complete the entire Arizona Trail in one season. The recent fires north of the Grand Canyon finally subsided enough to allow a Grand Canyon passage that ended their adventure this past week.
Fontana undertook the ride as a fundraiser for Prescott Area Shelter Services (PASS), beginning the ride at the border with Mexico on April 2. She met her goal, raising $25,715, of which 100 percent of the funds goes directly to PASS.
Much of the Trail was unpopulated, but she met many hikers and tourists along the Kaibab Trail especially as they neared the top of the South Rim.
“Unlike the Wilderness, there are a lot of people on the trails, and the trails are very well maintained even if parts of them are quite narrow and steep,” said John Hughes, Carol’s husband. “There are hikers and runners, but mostly there are tourists who may walk down a short way and then head back up.”
They expected to share the trail with people, particularly within 1,000 feet of the South Rim. Volunteers placed “Caution” posters at the north and south trailheads warning people of a horse and rider on the trail. The posters mentioned the 800-mile Arizona Trail and that the Canyon ride was the grand finale.
“By the time Carol and Tiki were heading up the last part of the trail, they were being greeted like rock stars, stopping to get their pictures taken and being momentary celebrities. Tiki enjoyed the attention as he always does,” Hughes said. He and Tiki have “written” a blog together of the trip, posted on the SaddleUp website (saddleupaz.us).
Realizing that temperatures at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon were expected to be 105 degrees at midday, Fontana and Tiki decided to leave the North Rim at 3:30 p.m., just after the last mule train of the day, and to ride into the evening under a nearly full moon. They arrived at Phantom Ranch at 7:30 p.m. and caught a little sleep on a metal picnic table. Tiki grazed and dozed, too.
A funny thing happened in the darkness when a wrangler mistook Tiki for a mule that escaped the pen. He got hold of a lead rope ready to capture Tiki, then noticed something odd. He said, “What happened to your ears!”
“I explained it all with much laughter,” Hughes said, referring to the long ears mules have. “You don’t see a lot of horses in the bottom of the Grand Canyon.”
Back on the trail again by 5 a.m., they reached the South Rim, ending the Grand Canyon portion of the ride at 9:30 a.m., and concluding the entire Arizona Trail. Too early for champagne, Hughes said. “But Tiki got a tub of his special mash which is always well received.”
Trust was a big factor in making the journey a success – and it had to go both ways. Fontana said Tiki refused to walk across bridges when she first acquired the 11-year-old Arabian horse. They practiced around Prescott before the start of the trip.
“When we rode up to the first bridge near the North Rim, Tiki hesitated. Then he hesitated some more. I dismounted and walked across in front of him. We did that for all of the bridges, and it worked just fine. He trusts me, and I trust him,” she said.
The Canyon portion of the ride took a lot of planning, preparation and coordination with park rangers and mule wranglers, Fontana said. She needed a special permit for parking the horse van. A crew member cached water for Tiki a few miles from the South Rim. Despite recent rains, the trails were in fine shape, she said.
“Tiki is in extraordinary condition. He had no trouble with the long steps going down or up. He wanted to trot the inclines,” Fontana reports. “He worked up a sweat, and when we were done, he was ready for more.”
Fontana said there were times when she thought the venture was crazy and she should give up. “But then I thought of PASS and that I couldn’t let them down.”
Fontana and Tiki will be sharing their experiences at Olsen’s EquiFest in Prescott on Sept. 17, and at Arizona Trail Days in Flagstaff on Sept. 10. To read more about the ride and the fundraiser, visit www.saddleupaz.us.