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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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1 day ago

We appreciate our local businesses as they are working to #KeepBishopSafe. The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Inyo County continue to climb, so we ask you to please do your part to keep our community safe as well!! Thank you. ❤️ ... See MoreSee Less

We appreciate our local businesses as they are working to #KeepBishopSafe. The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Inyo County continue to climb, so we ask you to please do your part to keep our community safe as well!! Thank you. ❤️

Comment on Facebook We appreciate our ...

Stay safe! I want to visit this fall!

I'm going to keep telling you Bishop just how much I miss you. 💜💜💜😷🐈

Maybe next summer I can come, and I will wear a mask if still needed. Love the High Sierras.

Great job

I'm GOING to visit this fall! I promise myself!

Where is the truck located?

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3 days ago

It’s official...WE LOVE THE FAIR, BUT WE LOVE YOU MORE.

Sad news to our friends and families and riders and destruction derby drivers: The Tri County Fair has officially been cancelled for 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic rages on..... Fortunately, it looks like we are planning a major comeback in 2021 and for many years to come.
... See MoreSee Less

It’s official...

Comment on Facebook WE LOVE THE FAIR, ...

Darn, I was thinking about going there for your fair since ours was cancelled here.😏

Ok, but it will be missed!

. Not in Bollings it is going on this week

Sad, but necessary..

This year sucks!!

It will be back bigger and better, than ever. Stay well. <3

It's the Dems again!

Do sorry,. next year.

What ! Ran out of jobs !

Me too.

A couple more months of stuff like this and there will be Prime real estate in Bishop selling cheap!

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6 days ago

Heading into the weekend dreaming of backcountry lakes... which is your favorite?
#DreamNowVisitLater #KeepBishopSafe
Thank you Instagram user @kimonlhi for this spectacular shot!!
... See MoreSee Less

Heading into the weekend dreaming of backcountry lakes... which is your favorite? 
#DreamNowVisitLater #KeepBishopSafe
Thank you Instagram user @kimonlhi for this spectacular shot!!

Comment on Facebook Heading into the ...

Would have guessed Split Mtn, but have only flown over these mountains twice.

Too many to choose, the higher and more remote the better

Saddle Bag Lake. ❤️

Blue lake! The best, at least I know of~!!!

I need a good-looking tour guide(male) to show me around on my next visit. 😉🐈😷

So beautiful. I miss being up there.

Mt. Aggasisz? I probably butchered that spelling.

Blue Lake

Blue lake❣

Sabrina

Dorothy Lake

Horton Lake

Dorothy and Mildred

Beautiful

I'm guessing the trail to Bishop Pass at Bishop Lakes. :)

Beautiful

Upper Lamarck

Beautiful

That’s beautiful.

Nice 👍

Ruwau Lake, Tyee Lakes, upper Lamark lake, Blue lake, & Little Lakes Valley.

Terra Rankin

Lake.

Johanna Atwell

Any part of Bishop is fine, I JUST WANT TO BE THERE TO ENJOY THIS BEAUTIFUL PLACE! 😀❤️😄💙

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1 week ago

Our friends at Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association welcome everyone to stop by for in-person visitor service plus a great selection of area maps, books and more. They do a great job of helping our guests recreate responsibly!Thanks ESIA for providing helpful information and advice to visitors on responsible recreation in our region! ... See MoreSee Less

Our friends at Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association welcome everyone to stop by for in-person visitor service plus a great selection of area maps, books and more.  They do a great job of helping our guests recreate responsibly!

1 week ago

Community: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals (Oxford Dictionary)
We are grateful to our COMMUNITY locally and afar, for loving and supporting BISHOP and Inyo County. ❤️

Here is a little glimpse of how our community has pulled together over the past few months:
www.bishopvisitor.com/eastern-sierra-covid-stories/
... See MoreSee Less

Community: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals (Oxford Dictionary)
We are grateful to our COMMUNITY locally and afar, for loving and supporting BISHOP and Inyo County.  ❤️

Here is a little glimpse of how our community has pulled together over the past few months:
https://www.bishopvisitor.com/eastern-sierra-covid-stories/

Comment on Facebook Community: a feeling...

The community stories are wonderful

The big deal when I was growing up was going to the Tri-County Fair rodeo, taking in a movie, and having dinner...all over Labor Day. Then there were the trips from Mammoth to Bishop to go to the grocery store, topped off by a stop at Schatz for sandwiches and to buy bread. What a wonderful place!!!

Used to watch movies at this theater back in the early 70's. Great memories wonderful town. I visit just about every year and enjoy the old school vibe. My parents started AYSO soccer in Bishop. I used to bicycle down the street as a kid, drop a fishing line and pull out lots of trout.

No Bishop does not need a Walmart mart or another supposed better grocery store. We do not have the people to work them. Plus we have new buildings that weren't supposed to be built and a whole mess of empty buildings. We want to keep it a small town feel.

I was sorry to hear that the JC Penny store closed there. I used to work there when I lived in Cali. I had the most wonderful coworkers and the best boss ever!!! Bishop will live on in my heart forever.

Remember Jill Kenmont👍👍

Great little town Bishop is, leave it alone. My mom graduated from Bishop High school, we went to Bishop many years for Christmas with my Grandparents

I was born in Bishop and moved out around 1990. I've moved all over California since then, and no matter where I moved to I always wanted to go back. Some day... Maybe when my kids are all grown and out of the house I'll take my wife and dogs and move back...

Great town. can't wait to come visit when things calm down. Missed Mule days and our family reunion at the lodge but we will be back

Looking forward to visiting as soon and we can! We love Bishop!

Love Bishop! Just passed thru Monday on the way back from Yosemite!

Bishop is in one of the most beautiful settings on Earth. The eastern Sierra and the Owens Valley will persevere.

I love that Bishop is a smaller town. It part id it s charm for visitors. Needed some items last trip , found them in town and what friendly people !! And you should fit your town , not always for the town to fit you.

3 yrs ago we just started driving , landed in Bishop, stayed several days, just loved that trip, no fish but who cares .... 😍🎣🚗💨💨

best town in California

We believe in Bishop. Stay well. <3

Between 1934 and 1939, I spent some Saturday afternoons watching movies at the theatre in Bishop - think the Hollands owned it then - one of the Holland boys was in my elementary school grade. Best wishes to all.

Bishop is fine the way it is.

Please don't change! I love you the way you are!!

We would like to keep it that way, but there are a lot of people coming into the area now who are leaving their trash on the ground & putting graffiti on any available surface. Do that S... at home, not in our town.

You have no idea how badly I need to visit You Bishop.

Saw it has been 100 degrees up there.

Play my brother Danny scene Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at that theater years and years ago

Lived here in the early 80’s

Soon as possible.

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