California - Eureka!

Just recently we found ourselves traveling the historic El Camino Real along the California coast, (otherwise Hwy. 101), making several stops and finally home via the Sierra foothills. This raised the question, is there anything more quintessentially California than the Juan Bautista de Anza trail? Or the Central Coast in spring? What about the orange blossoms blooming in the Central Valley? 

As native Californians we have an enduring love for our beautiful State. From the oak-filled arroyos of the central coast to the towering peaks and cirques of the High Sierra, there is no shortage of inspiration, beauty, history and culture. (And please, it's the Sierra, not Sierras!)


The Vaquero Tradition

Cattle baron Henry Miller (Miller & Lux) employed Narcisco Jesus Castro as a head vaquero (or majordomo) out of his Bloomfield Ranch headquarters. Vaquero heritage is strong in California's culture and history.

It is not hard to drive along the coast and envision the Vaqueros of old who worked the massive land grant estancias of the Spanish Dons, or imagine the rigors (or woes) of the Spanish Missions. From the Mission San Diego de Alcalá to the queen, Mission Santa Barbara, or to my favorite, Mission San Juan Bautista, we recall the daily life of the Chumash or the Paiute, and the graceful skill of the Pacific Coast horsemen. We take in the vast expanses of the ranchos of Henry Miller or the agricultural bounty of the Salinas Valley – the one John Steinbeck called "the valley of the world"; we gaze upon the shimmering Pacific from the tranquil beauty of the southern coastline to Big Sur, and the wild north of the Lost Coast. As the motto says, "Eureka!" – the Greek for "I have found it!" Our Golden State. Land of the Golden Poppy and the giant Sequoia; the Bristlecone and Redwood. For the heritage, the beauty, the graceful and the wild, the majestic and the awe-inspiring, we will always be grateful for such a place to call home. 



Owens Valley branding pen, Lee's good old horse Roany. Carrying on the skills and traditions.

A Day in the Life of a Pack Mule


Tucked up in McGee Canyon where there is no one but our wranglers, mules and horses, there is a historic pack station which can safely guide you to the best of the Mammoth Lakes Sierra backcountry. Since the late 1800s there has been a dirt road into McGee Creek Canyon and since the 1920s there has been a working Pack Station nestled 3 miles up the Canyon. That’s us: McGee Creek Pack Station. Come visit.

Wounded Warriors


Every year, Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra hosts “Operation High Altitude”, a weeklong event to host Wounded Warriors and their families in all sorts of outdoor mountain activities. For several years we provided horse and muleback rides for these combat veterans which gained us the opportunity to see first hand the challenges faced by these men and women who “offered up their full measure” on behalf of all Americans.

To say that this program is inspiring is an understatement. I also know for a fact how an animal, or in our case, an equine can impact a life with positive results. I’ve seen it before, but never quite to the extent, up close & personal, that I did with these events. 

When Warriors with wounds interact with a horse or mule, a bond or deep connection, heals in a way I doubt therapy or medicine ever could. It is unexplainable to those who don’t know it, unmistakable to those who have lived it or to those of us who have lived life with an equine savior. It is nothing short of a privilege to witness.

To those who serve, May God Bless and may you have our eternal thanks and gratitude. 

100 mules walking the Los Angeles aqueduct


In April of 2013, an opportunity presented itself serendipitously that had the capacity to bring value to the myriad of skills, talents and assets we had, that here-to-for had no economic value or use to much of anyone! 


We were approached by representatives of the Lauren Bon’s Metabolic Studio from Los Angeles. Lauren, an artist whose broad range of works delves into nearly any and every aspect of Art imaginable, had been engaged in numerous projects in the Owens Valley for several years. From community gardens and theater to restoration projects and photographic explorations, she has a broad range of visionary and engaging talents. At the time, it was the 100th Anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and Lauren had been looking for a method to very literally ‘draw a line’ from the source of Los Angeles’ water – the Owens Valley – to L.A. Having been made aware of the enormous contribution of mules to the building of the Aqueduct not to mention their incredible service to mankind in general, Lauren and her team at the Metabolic Studio envisioned using mules to draw this line. We were initially engaged to “scout out a route to take mules from the Lone Pine area to downtown Los Angeles and to do a feasibility study.”

This was accomplished in May of 2013, and submitted to the Studio. By mid- July we had not only authorization from the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power to use much of their right of way along the Aqueduct for the event, but we had determined to begin at the actual Aqueduct intake a few miles from our 8 Mile Ranch on October 18th, 2013. The route finalized and by Lauren, her team and us as collaborators ended at the “Cascades” in Sylmar California, where the Aqueduct essentially ends, then continued by circumnavigating the San Fernando Valley to finish off at the vaunted Los Angeles Equestrian Center. 

A few months of preparation before takeoff launched an all out fast paced process to obtain access to private places for camps, (more scouting!); gain permits from literally dozens of Government agencies, write emergency plans, Stewardship and Animal husbandry plans for such entities; develop protocols for nearly every imaginable scenario including animal rights protesters; hire a crew of wranglers, camp team, corral teams, truck drivers and cooks; purchase and/or manufacture camp gear, corrals, water equipment, pantry trailers, pack and mule equipment (from halters and sidepads to specialty containment devices and Panels); rent trucks and trailers for kitchens, privies and showers, water delivery, (potable & non potable), camp and corral transport, fuel vehicle (for gas, propane and diesel); develop timelines for various law enforcement and traffic management agencies; organize timelines and sourcing of services from grocery deliveries to septic pumping(!); develop reliable water supply sources for the entire 270 mile route and 18 campsites; source laundry services; develop financial procedures and certainly not the least of which: source and bring together 100 + mules from Eastern Sierra packing businesses. It was truly a whirlwind! 

While much has been written and much more will be written about this historic event, there is a facebook page dedicated to the journey (“One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct”) as well as a feature length documentary of the same title. The film has been shown to much acclaim at Film Festivals around the world, making its first theatre debut in Bishop, California during the 2014 Mule Days Celebration to a packed house! Its initial viewing was on KCET – Public Television, the same month. 

We could not have been more grateful to be asked to organize and produce the event with Lauren’s vision and incredible talents.

In closing – someday we’ll write a book about the journey! 

Have you ever been to Mule Days?


Have you ever been to Mule Days in Bishop, California? If not, it’s a ‘not to miss’ event for all. Not just for mule fans, but also for anyone who enjoys a bit of rural Americana, good clean family fun, and a celebration worthy of one of the most humble and unassuming animals ever created, the Mule! 

Held over the week of Memorial Day weekend, Mule Days is celebrating its 48th year in 2017 and we are as excited as ever. To kick off the countdown, we’re sharing this photo of one of our best lead mules ever, “Babe.” This photo from the 2012 event shows us in “Packers Choice,” an obstacle course set up for strings of 5 mules led by a packer on a saddle horse (or mule!). In this event, Babe was supposed to cross an obstacle set up to look like water. However she was having nothing to do with it, until with a bit of trust in her lead packer, she thought she would take a step on over. The rest of the mule string followed. While a bit of fun was being had, it truly demonstrates the harmony and trust that develops between a packer and a mule, a lead mule and the rest of the string. This is a glimpse of how packers and pack mules transport pack trip guests and their gear into the high country – safely and efficiently. Just a bit of the unseen talents and poetry that go into making a backcountry packing experience.

(For more about Babe, see the May 2012 issue of Western Mule Magazine!)