Published: June 12th 2012June 12th 2012
MULE DAYS IN BISHOP, CA AND RESEARCH AT THE MUSEUM IN LAWS
Memorial Day Weekend: Saturday May 26th-Monday May 28th
Snow on the mountains. Dry camped at the J Diamond RV Park and Von’s Grocery Store parking lot. Temps in the 60’s.
Whenever we are traveling, Valerie and I are constantly amazed at how little we know about certain subjects. Take mules for instance. Did you know that mules are used in the very same way as horses? They are jumped, ridden for pleasure, trained in dressage, raced, shown, packed, and pull conveyances in teams [of which the last two uses are basically what we knew about them].
Since 1970, Bishop, CA has hosted Mule Days every year over the Memorial Weekend. On Saturday we watched a parade down main street with over 100 entries. It is billed as the “World’s longest-running non-motorized parade.” There were a number of pack mule teams, mule driven wagons and carriages, law enforcement and rescue rider groups, as well as the required school bands, drill teams, and rodeo clowns.
A special sight was the old U. S. Borax’s original wagons being pulled by a 20 mule team like
they did in the 1880’s in Death Valley and was seen in the 20 mule team Borax TV commercials from 1952-75. The string of mules and wagons is over 200 feet long and we got to see them again, the next day, as they maneuvered in the fairgrounds arena. The HUGE wagons were designed to carry 10 tons of ore, are equipped with iron tires that are eight inches wide and an inch thick on wheels that are from 5 to 7 feet high. They hauled 20 million pounds of borax 165 miles from the mine to the rail line, a trip that took 10 days across the desert and over the Panamint Mountains.
Those are the same mountains that we rode the tow truck over and contained miles of tortuous switchbacks that required some of the mules to jump over the 80’ chain that runs from the wagon to the lead mules, in order to make a curve. On the return trip they hauled hay so that they could feed all of these animals.
We started the day on Sunday by participating in the Lion’s Club/Boy Scout pancake breakfast and then toured the Arts and Crafts booths
set up around a stream and lake with lots of ducks in the City Park.
In the afternoon, we went to the fairgrounds and looked around at the exhibits---all kinds of things for mules from medicines to hand made leather saddles, tack, and strong canvas packs. We ate lunch from a couple of the booths set up and manned by service organizations.
We bought our tickets for the 1:30 show and settled ourselves into the shaded bleacher seats to watch the scheduled events. Later we learned that the young high school girls should not have allowed us to sit in the shaded seats with backs on them because the general admission tickets we purchased were for grandstands in the sun. Such a shame, they told us to sit anywhere, and we did!!
What fun!! We watched some 400 yard races and young women barrel racing and then team events including cattle roping, all with mules. Part of the show was where they called all of the kids 9 and younger to come down to the field for a “shoe scramble.” The kids had to take off their shoes and leave them in a pile and return to
a starting line (shorter for the younger kids). The rodeo clown then tossed the shoes to mix them up. When “go” was shouted, they all raced to find their shoes and put them on. The first kid back to the starting line won a pair of boots.
We had the most fun watching what is called “team packing scramble”. A team of 5 mules are still widely used by the National Park services and packing outfitters in the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains to haul in equipment to fight fires or build trails or take in sportsmen for instance. During this contest, about 7 mule teams of both outfitters and park services came into the arena fully packed. They then had to unload all equipment, saddles and tack from all animals (including 3 lead horses per team) and put them on the ground. The MC/clown then shot a starting pistol so the 50 plus animals ran around and mixed themselves up.
The idea was to be the first team to get all of their animals tacked and re-saddled, harnessed together, packed, and then win a race around the track without any items coming off. The team that won was
well-known area packers, who in nothing flat, had all of their mules in a circle with their heads facing in, so that it made it easy to harness them. One of Park teams had one mule that could care less if it was caught and wanted to run free for awhile.
A good time was not had by all (especially the last team), but we sure enjoyed watching them. The end of the program was the 20 mule team on parade and when they finished the audience was allowed to come down to ask questions and get up close and personal with the mules.
After the show, we wandered through the stalls and looked at a variety of mules in all different colors. Apparently, one can breed almost any variety of female horse to the male burro. Some of the prettiest were appaloosa mixes. We also saw a number of mules sired by a large, reddish donkey shown and owned by UC Davis, called Action Jack. It was interesting that the mules were more colorful than the ones we have seen in the southeast, which are mostly red in color if not the ordinary bay color.
Tuesday, May 29th through 4:30 on Saturday, June 2nd
of this week we worked on research at the Laws Railroad Museum when the manager was available to allow us to look through the original Inyo County Register newspapers for information about our family. It was very tedious work to go page by page scanning for names. We stayed most nights dry camping in the Von’s Grocery store parking lot after trying to stay cool by finding some shade here and there. We paid for one night on the 29th
, at the Highlands RV Park so that we could fill the tank with water, charge all electric things, and dump our holding tanks. We also had wifi to be able to check our e-mail.
There are more photos below