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Drive just about any backroad near Bishop, California during the winter months and you’ll see herds of horses and mules out in pasture. Drive that same backroad during the summer and those pastures are likely to be empty, raising the question, “Where did they go?”

image of mules in pasture

The answer is to be found up in the high Sierra. Aside from the privately owned mules and horses, the vast majority of equines you’ll see in the Owens Valley belong to the eastern Sierra Pack Outfits – locally owned businesses specializing in getting people and their gear into the backcountry for fishing and camping. Come summer time, those cute and friendly mules and horses you stopped to photograph are back at work. It isn’t a bad gig; the typical pack station equine “employee” works about 4 – 5 months out of the year. They work for room and board – but that room and board extends year-round, which is why you see them down in the valley after October.

Horses and mules will be pastured together. You may be more familiar with horses but mules will quickly win you over, even if you are a little leery of their size and power at first. Mules have large gorgeous eyes with long lashes, and super soft big ears. Their muzzles are about the silkiest thing you’ll every lay a hand on, and you’ll soon learn they are playful, inquisitive, and intelligent. Mules have a very distinctive vocal call, and once you’ve heard a plaintive bray you’ll never forget it. Mules look a lot like horses, but there are some key differences, including their big ears. After a while you’ll be able to impress your friends with your ability to distinguish one from the other at a glance but for a primer to get you started, check out this blog post.

image of a woman standing next to a mule

Photo: Vickie Taton

Spend a little time watching them out in pasture and you’ll be able to pick out the clown or prankster of the herd – the one who’s always in everyone else’s hay or hair. Mules are quite curious by nature, and will likely wander over to check you out. It’s fun to test your identification skills – how many horses and how many mules? Girls or boys? Any burros or donkeys? Equines are fed once or twice a day, and when they aren’t eating they do a stellar job of hanging out and lounging. Mid-day you’re likely to see several laying down soaking up the sun and snoozing while others stand watch.

image of curious horses with a photographer

Photo: Katherine Belarmino

Good equine etiquette is to avoid feeding other people’s animals unless you are invited to. Despite their size and hardiness, mules and horses have fairly limited diets, and offering the wrong treats could result in illness. Additionally, your own fingers might be at risk! If an owner or wrangler is around don’t hesitate to ask for permission, especially if you have a stash of carrots or apples on hand, but also be prepared for a polite “no, thanks”. If you do get the okay, here’s a general rule to follow for safe feeding. Keep your fingers together, place the treat on the palm of your hand, stretch your hand tight, and offer your outstretched palm, letting the horse or mule take the treat from you. Be prepared for a tickle as their whiskers touch your skin!

If you get the go-ahead to touch, a great place to start is on the neck. Rub firmly but gently. Some animals will move away, but some will stay and enjoy your touch. Just like people, some mules are more touchy-feely than others. A friendly mule might move in a little closer for a little more petting – just watch your feet and fingers. Remember, mules weigh any where from 1000 pounds or more – getting a toe stepped on is going to hurt. Another good rule to follow is to never walk behind a mule or horse; they have a blind spot directly behind them and may accidentally kick or startle.

Image of a Sierra lake through the ears of a mule being ridden

Photo: Jennifer Roeser

Another treat is to drive out 20 miles east of Big Pine on Hwy 168 to the Piper Mountain Herd Management Area to look for burros. Burros are another equine species – smaller than mules and horses, with big ears and a short mane. Burros were used extensively by early prospectors, as they are hardy, strong, and sure-footed. Read more about the BLM wild horse and burro program here: https://www.blm.gov/programs/wild-horse-and-burro/about-the-program

image of a burro looking in a vehicle window.

Photo: Julie Faber

A great place to get close to mules & burros, and to learn much more about these amazing animals is Bishop Mule Days. Every Memorial Day weekend, Bishop is filled with mules, donkeys, and burros. There are mules jumping, doing dressage, cutting cows, reining, pulling, and racing. There is an incredible parade of mules right down Main Street, Bishop. For ten days you can learn, touch, hear, and smell mules. It really isn’t to be missed – there’s something for everyone from the youngest wrangler wannabe to the senior citizen reminiscing about the good ole days of mining and logging. Find out more about Bishop Mule Days and get your tickets here: https://muledays.org/

image of a burro with hat on its head.

Photo: David Calvert

After Mule Days, the pack stations begin preparing for their summer seasons, and you can actually ride a mule or horse into the backcountry. Whether you are looking for an hour ride or to spend a few days in the wilderness, the pack stations are your gateway into the mountains via saddle. Watch “A Day in the Life of a Pack Mule”

to get an insider’s glimpse into what you can expect to experience. The backcountry normally starts to open up in June, and pack trips generally are scheduled through September and even later, depending on the weather. Some pack stations offer rides in the off-season, such as this one in the Alabama Hills led by McGee Creek Pack Outfit.

image of a rider on a horse in the Alabama Hills

Photo: Jennifer Roeser

You can find a list of local pack stations here: http://www.easternsierrapackers.com/members.htm. 

And once you’ve fallen in love with that special mule, consider supporting the American Mule Museum here in Bishop, California. You can find out much more about mules and their history in the Sierra, enjoy historic photos and recollections from local mule packers, and understand some of the lingo tossed around the pack stations and Mule Days. Check out their website here: http://www.mulemuseum.org

 

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2 weeks ago

We are buried in smoke again today, so we thought it would be fun to share a little about how the names of some of the towns in the Eastern Sierra came about. Thank you, California High Sierra for the article!
californiahighsierra.com/trips/california-high-sierra-towns-the-origin-of-their-names/
Photo by Amy Leist
... See MoreSee Less

We are buried in smoke again today, so we thought it would be fun to share a little about how the names of some of the towns in the Eastern Sierra came about. Thank you, California High Sierra for the article!
https://californiahighsierra.com/trips/california-high-sierra-towns-the-origin-of-their-names/
Photo by Amy Leist

Comment on Facebook

Wow... been a good long while since I’ve been to Bishop. Their high school team was in our league (I went to Tehachapi High) and we traveled there for some football games — something like a 5-6 hour drive each way if I recall correctly. A tough team to beat also. I’m betting it hasn’t changed all that much over all these years (circa late ‘60s).

I'm so sorry the smoke is bad there still. I missed my annual visit this year. It's on my to do list for next year.

We can see it over the Spring Mountains to the West/NW here in Las Vegas. Fortunately, not much of it made it into the LV valley.

Would LOVE to move there if my hubby can find a job nearby!

We left this morning. Not only is it very smokey the smell of smoke is incredible. I don't smoke and I was ready to light up.

Nice photo. That's the real West.

Miss Bishop, Lone Pine, Big Pine, Tinnamaha campground!!!!

No, that is where the theater and Joseph’s used to be. Joseph’s has been gone for some time now. Penny’s is now Dollar General. Unfortunately a lot of vacant stores. Hi Kent!❤️

Hello and good morning. I am planning to drive up to Bishop from Southern California. The main purpose is to see fall colors. May I know if the fall colors are still at peak this coming next two weeks or is it past peak? Thank you for your advice/suggestions.

We were just there.😔

We have to leave too, I almost threw up it was so bad, got to Lee Vining and blue fresh air..take care of yourselves

so sorry for the smoke crazy time for all this year.

I spent a week here and didn't get to see the beauty through the smoke 😏

When was this picture taken, Sunday at 6 am ? never seen it this quiet.

Awesome pic! I wish a Main Street business had a rooftop deck so you can eat with that exact same view!

No smoke in the photo. ??

Is this an old photo? Joseph’s market was the only market back when we lived in Bishop in 1969.

It’s still Smokey? Where is the smoke coming from ?

Beautiful town

I always love to go threw Bishop.

Went thru Bishop yesterday, it was terribly Smokey 😪💚

I wish it was still small !

Does bishop still have a jack in the box

My favorite place ❤️

Isnt that the Old JC Penney store?

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2 weeks ago

Wonder if this little sheep was as grateful as we were for a view of the mountains this morning??!! Happy Friday! From Bishop, with love ❤️
#keepbishopsafe #mttom
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Wonder if this little sheep was as grateful as we were for a view of the mountains this morning??!! Happy Friday! From Bishop, with love ❤️
#keepbishopsafe #mttom

Comment on Facebook

Wonderful vacation destination

And a free thinker! This is Good!

🙏praying that it stays like this 💖

I miss Bishop so much and living there too 😢😉❤️

This is one of my favorite places to take pictures when I lived in Bishop. There’s many more.

Sigh. Bishop. Love it.

See you next week little sheep

We loved our visit to Bishop

Miss bishop fun times there

Nice!!!

Oh how I love that view

It was beautiful

Love Bishop

👍

Need snow on them things!

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2 weeks ago

In case you are wondering what roads and campgrounds are open, here is the latest, as of yesterday, October 14th:
www.sierrawave.net/state-of-inyo-roads-and-campgrounds-whats-open-closed-oct-14
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In case you are wondering what roads and campgrounds are open, here is the latest, as of yesterday, October 14th:
https://www.sierrawave.net/state-of-inyo-roads-and-campgrounds-whats-open-closed-oct-14

Comment on Facebook

I've been on that same road every year at this time...

It sure was smoky today.

Still hazy there.😥

I love the West.

Beautiful picture thanks for sharing 🙂🙂❤❤

We always used to stay at Brown’s Millpond Campground just north of Bishop. Very nice private campground with a stream running through it. So many wonderful memories from Mule Days!

Up her for 4 day little smoke but really nice trees turning colors

It's the hunting and fishing Road 🏞️🎣🏕️🌌🤠🥰

Love Bishop and the surrounding mountains !!!

Hwy 168 going to Lake Sabrina, North and South lakes?

With I was there.

maybe next weekend any hotel suggestions?

Johanna Atwell

GOD HOW I WISH I WAS ON THAT ROAD... CAREFREE HIWAY...

Lots of nice smoke.....

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2 weeks ago

The Eastern Sierra Cancer Alliance is hosting a virtual 5K walk and fun run this year!!! Going on NOW!! You can do it from WHEREVER you are!!!Hello Friends!☺️
💥 ESCA 20th Annual 5K Walk & Fun Run! 💥October 11-17th! Virtual Edition!
Please LIKE and SHARE this flyer with your friends and family!
Thank you for your continued support! ☺️
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The Eastern Sierra Cancer Alliance is hosting a virtual 5K walk and fun run this year!!! Going on NOW!! You can do it from WHEREVER you are!!!

2 weeks ago

Dog days of summer or fall??!!
Last weekend we had warm temps and blue skies again. Fingers crossed we get some more blue skies this weekend!

Photo by Amanda Zhang
#NorthLake #fallcolors #keepbishopsafe
... See MoreSee Less

Dog days of summer or fall??!! 
Last weekend we had warm temps and blue skies again. Fingers crossed we get some more blue skies this weekend!

Photo by Amanda Zhang
#NorthLake #fallcolors #keepbishopsafe

Comment on Facebook

I heard the colors have peaked in this area. Is it still worth visiting or are there other good spots to hit up?

Beautiful picture.

Wonderful vacation destination

Beautiful

Beautiful picture! Cute dog!

North Lake?

Looking good

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