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The U.S. Postal Service announced this week that it would postpone the end of Saturday mail delivery, which it had proposed to stop earlier in the year, but mail service will halt at the bottom of the Grand Canyon where mules have delivered the mail since the 1920s. The company that runs the mule train says they will no longer deliver packages starting next week. The service was a way for loved ones to send care packages to guides rafting down the Colorado River. Laurel Morales of member station KJZZ reports from Flagstaff.
LAUREL MORALES, BYLINE: The packers are up at 3 A.M. getting the mules ready for their seven-mile trek down into the Grand Canyon.
LEVI GOLDSMITH: I need to catch up on my beauty sleep, man.
CHAS BRASHEARS: That is the truth.
GOLDSMITH: Hey, I'm here for eye candy.
MORALES: Levi Goldsmith and Chas Brashears brush and feed the mules, then strap each one with 150 pounds of saddlebags filled with boxes. They work quickly so they can leave at first light.
(SOUNDBITE OF HOOVES ON GRAVEL)
MORALES: The mules supply Phantom Ranch with what it needs 365 days a year. Phantom, as it's called, is a modest resort, about a dozen cabins, two bunkhouses and a restaurant on the floor of the canyon. It's nestled in the trees beside Bright Angel Creek, a tributary to the Colorado River. The company that runs the mules and all the hotels and restaurants in the park is Xanterra. John Berry works for the company and is in charge of the mules on the South Rim.
JOHN BERRY: And we pack everything from food to bedding, pillows, windows, everything, Christmas trees during Christmas and the mail all on the back of a mule. It got too big for us. We just could not handle how many boxes were being sent down.
MORALES: And Berry says they also had to haul a lot of boxes out.
BERRY: Well, I think we last year we packed out 150 pounds worth of boxes that had not been picked up. I know at Christmastime we packed out 25 pounds of cookies that were left down there for a couple months.
KRISTIN HARNED: You know, it's almost like getting a toy at Christmas.
MORALES: Kristin Harned has been getting mail, including packages, at the bottom of Grand Canyon for more than a decade. She and her husband John are both river guides.
HARNED: I remember one summer John and I spent, was it, six or eight weeks apart. And we were both on river trips and when he got home I left the day before or somehow we missed each other. And that is a very long time. So, I look forward to the letters from him because you're inspired down there too. They're kind of poetic, you know. So, it's kind of like being there with them and being connected.
MORALES: It sounds very romantic.
HARNED: It is.
MORALES: Many river guides are sad to see the package service canceled. Boaters reach Phantom about a week into their Colorado River trips. For the past 10 years river guide Marieke Taney has spent her birthday on the river.
MARIEKE TANEY: And so that was always a really special thing to get to Phantom and have something waiting for you for your birthday, 'cause a lot of times, you know, clients - you can tell them it's your birthday but it doesn't really mean anything. And sometimes I wouldn't even tell people. And so to have that little bit there when I'd get to Phantom was really special.
MORALES: But now Taney says she'll have to make do with birthday cards.
TANEY: I just hope they, really, really hope that they don't stop just at least the letters.
MORALES: For now Xanterra says it has no plans of discontinuing its letter service. So, you can still send postcards and letters into the canyon and you can send them out of the canyon as well. And if you do it will still get stamped: Sent by mule from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. For NPR News, I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.