Bishop Visitor Logo

Bishop Visitor's Center

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

 

Archived Stories

Tell us:

How do you enjoy OUR BACKYARD?

Error: Access Token is not valid or has expired. Feed will not update.
This error message is only visible to WordPress admins

There's an issue with the Instagram Access Token that you are using. Please obtain a new Access Token on the plugin's Settings page.
If you continue to have an issue with your Access Token then please see this FAQ for more information.

Follow Us on Instagram

Join Us on Facebook!

16 hours ago

If you plan to be in the area at the end of March, grab your tickets to this event early - it is usually a full house! Hosted by Inyo Council for the Arts, it is two evenings of adventure, culture, art, and good causes. Each night features different films - so get tickets for both ūüėĀ.Tickets for the 2019 Banff Film Festival go on sale February 18th! Tickets are $15 per night and are available at Eastside Sports and Inyo Council for the Arts in Bishop and Booky Joint in Mammoth Lakes. ******NOTE: Due to non-cooperation by the weather, tickets may not be available at Booky Joint on February 18th. We are working on getting the tickets up there as soon as possible. Thank you for your understanding and patience! Tickets will still be available on the 18th at Eastside Sports and ICA, and by calling ICA.****** Ignite your passion for adventure, action, and travel! This year’s exhilarating and provocative films explore remote landscapes, highlight mountain cultures, and feature exciting adventures and adrenaline-packed sports. The festival will take place Friday, March 29th, and Saturday, March 30th. Screenings are in the Charles Brown Auditorium at the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop. Doors open at 6pm, films start at 7pm, with different films shown each night. Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival is brought to the Eastern Sierra by Inyo Council for the Arts. For more information and tickets, call Inyo Council for the Arts at 760-873-8014 or visit www.inyo.org. ... See MoreSee Less

If you plan to be in the area at the end of March, grab your tickets to this event early - it is usually a full house! Hosted by Inyo Council for the Arts, it is two evenings of adventure, culture, art, and good causes. Each night features different films - so get tickets for both ūüėĀ.

18 hours ago

In town for the weekend? Don't forget to check out our great local merchants and galleries, including this new one on Main Street. Find more here: www.bishopvisitor.com/activities/arts-photography/ or stop by the Visitors Center at the Bishop City Park, across street from Schat's Bakkery! ... See MoreSee Less

In town for the weekend? Dont forget to check out our great local merchants and galleries, including this new one on Main Street. Find more here: https://www.bishopvisitor.com/activities/arts-photography/ or stop by the Visitors Center at the Bishop City Park, across street from Schats Bakkery!

2 days ago

Hello friends and fans of the Eastern Sierra! The Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau will be participating in the 2019 LA Travel & Adventure Show this weekend at the LA Convention Center! We hope you'll stop by our booth to pick up a free visitor guide. The first 150 people to use our promo code, VIPBSHP, will receive a free ticket to the show! Visit LATravelShow.com to get your ticket! ... See MoreSee Less

Hello friends and fans of the Eastern Sierra!  The Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau will be participating in the 2019 LA Travel & Adventure Show this weekend at the LA Convention Center!  We hope youll stop by our booth to pick up a free visitor guide.  The first 150 people to use our promo code, VIPBSHP, will receive a free ticket to the show! Visit LATravelShow.com to get your ticket!

 

Comment on Facebook

The Chuck and Joe show is always good. My two favorite Chamber hosts.

I've got go to my OSHA 30 training CLASS otherwise I would be interested!

+ View more comments

Load more
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!