Mule Train Nomads: Living in the Arizona Wilderness

One family is living its life on a mule train in the Arizona wilderness.


| July/August 1979



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The Hawthorne family mule train traverses an Arizona wilderness stream.


PHOTO: JOHN LOWERY

Our mules and the contents of the packs they carry are our family's only "worldly goods." And we live this way because we choose to, not because we must.

My husband Gene and I met in the autumn of 1974 when we were both employed at Grand Canyon National Park. He guided mule trips to Phantom Ranch while I worked in the curio shop. Our shared love for riding and packing soon drew us together, and we were married in January 1975. For our honeymoon, we took a 700-mile horseback journey through the wilds of Arizona.

That adventure helped us to decide upon the type of lifestyle we wanted for ourselves. So when Gene and I returned from the trip, we sold what few goods we owned and bought five mules and a goat. Since that day the Arizona wilderness has been our only home.

Mule Train Livin'

We ride two of the mules and pack the other three. Our "string" of beasts allows us to carry enough supplies to stay in the back country for two or three months at a time. Mules were the logical choice for our purposes, because they're stronger, more sure-footed, and have more stamina than horses. The stubborn critters can go for two to three days without water if necessary. And they don't need to be shod.

It's our practice to get an early start on "riding days" and travel until we find an appealing camp area—with water, grazing, and firewood—for the night. If we come across an especially nice spot, we may enjoy it for a few days (in order to give the mules, and ourselves, a rest) before moving on to the next site. You see, it really doesn't matter whether we travel 5 or 25 miles or simply spend our time around a camp. Each day living in the wilderness is enjoyed for itself.

For the most part, we try to stay in wilderness areas that have no roads and no human dwellings where the only possible way for us to get around is to hike or ride. (This is quite easy in Arizona, since only a small percentage of the state is privately owned. The majority is national forests and reservations.) It's not at all unusual for us to go for weeks or even months at a time without seeing another soul!

dave
3/28/2014 2:05:13 PM

Hello Connie and Gene. Just out of curiosity, would your family be willing to take on a single stranger for the time it takes to show him the ropes?






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