LAUREL CANYON—I know I’m not the odd-man-out when I go on my local adventures. My most recent challenge was to find and visit with the “100 Mules Walking the LA Aqueduct.” I was wired about this goal for days, I was buzzing with energy. I kept following the Facebook posts as the mule train made its way from Independence California to Los Angeles.
At first, I thought this was a mule train re-enacting the mules which hauled Borax out of Death Valley. I love the mystic of Death Valley. Clearly it was a tough place to survive in. Its natural beauty is still awe inspiring. But that was a 20 mule team. Then I learned that this mule team was a “moving artistic vision” or performance art by Metabolic Studios. It’s the mules, the landscape and the context that convey the grandeur of this event. Its goal was to re-enact the route used by the mules that carried supplies to the remote locations for the construction in 1913 of the LA Aqueduct. 100 mules, 1 for each of the 100 years.
What’s the big deal? Well Studio City would surely not exist except for the ever controversial LA Aqueduct which brought water to the San Fernando Valley. Studio City’s southern border is Mulholland Drive, a roadway named for the aqueduct mastermind, William Mulholland.
I finally caught up with the mule train in Stetson Ranch Park in Sylmar. They had been trekking along the aqueduct’s dirt trails – 240 miles in total. These mules were monsters. I’d say 6 to 7 feet tall at the shoulders. The mules were settling down for a windy night tucked in a ravine, surrounded by pure chaparral and blue skies. Stetson Ranch Park is an accessible park, with pristine landscape. It’s part of the Rim of the Valley Trail. 12600-12619 Glenoaks Blvd.
Then I got to chatting with the garrulous mule skinners. The PC reference these days is mule wrangler. However, the mule skinner reference has its own romance. A muleskinner is a professional mule driver. The term “skinner” is slang for someone who might “skin” or outsmart a mule. We’ve all heard the tales about how stubborn mules can be.
Moving freight by mule was an industry in frontier American. Before steam engines, mules traveled to main junctions and remote outposts transporting goods and supplies. Here in California they were carrying gold and prospecting tools to and from the mines. Studio City was the bread basket for the Gold and Silver rushes of the 1800s.
The mule wranglers are all professionals from working pack stations and ranches scattered all over the U.S. They wanted to give the outside world a peek into their world. Many of them know one another, having worked together at different pack stations over the years. They are committed to their craft, and passionate about the wilderness they work in. One wrangler directed me to their magazine Back Country Horseman Magazine of California and encouraged me to inform myself on the concerns they have (www.BCHCalifornia.org). The wranglers do an amazing amount of volunteer work. They also bring their mules into the back country to work with the U.S.Forest Service.
They worry that the younger generation is not gaining back country skills, so they have an educational program. I learned once again not to judge a book by its cover. This mule train, dressed as an artistic statement, has a serious and important message. A remarkable achievement.