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The 100-mule journey

Massive mule team stops in SCV along 240-mile route of Los Angeles Aqueduct

Posted: November 5, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 5, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Lee Roeser, mule boss from the McGee Creek Ranch, walks two mules to a free range pen at Whitney Canyon Park, where they will rest until Tuesday morning before their trek to the aqueduct cascades in Sylmar. Photo by Charlie Kaijo.

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It took Jennifer Roeser of McGee Creek Ranch about five or six months to plan the 240-mile journey the ranch’s 100 mules would make from Independence — near Mammoth Lake — to Sylmar for the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct opening.

“The effort involved finding out if the project was feasible and possible, finding routes, getting permits and authorization, and taking care of logistics of caring for the animals and the people,” Roeser, the trek boss, said Monday.

The “100 Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct” performance parade arrived in the Santa Clarita Valley at mid-afternoon Monday, a few hours behind schedule — “We’re operating on mule time,” one spokeswoman said — and aboard trucks –— permits couldn’t be obtained for the Neenach-to-Whitney Canyon leg of the trip, organizers said.

The journey commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct opening. A ceremony is planned at “the cascades,” where the Owens Valley river water has tumbled into the San Fernando Valley for 100 years.

Conceived by artist Lauren Bon and organized by her Metabolic Studio, the performance art recognizes Los Angeles’ dependence on the Owens Valley water and the important role played by mules in building the aqueduct.

During the summer months, the mules work at McGee Creek Ranch as carriers to haul gear and riders up the mountains adjoining the Owens Valley. Roeser said the animals were well conditioned for the trek because of the nature of their work.

“Mules were mostly used during the building of the L.A. Aqueduct during 1913,” said Luke Painter, a wrangler for McGee Creek Ranch. “The crew originally utilized caterpillars to move pipes, but found they couldn’t move them in tight spots, so they used mules to pull the pipes. They made it possible to complete the project on time.”

Some 45 people from the ranch are moving the mules south, passing through three counties and nearly 50 communities along the way.

About 15 people ride with the mules while the rest serve as ground support hauling hay, grain and water.
Jaime Lopez Wolters, who scouted the entire trip, said he had to research back-country roads and coordinate with local authorities for cattle crossings and open pathways.

“An important consideration is reading the mules and knowing their characteristics and behavior to know who can be together and which ones need to be separated,” said Lopez. “The mules travel roped together in groups of 10. A lot of thought goes into it.”

The crew will begin around 4:30 a.m. today to catch the mules one by one from a large pen where they roam freely overnight. The mules will be fed and saddled, and by about 8:30 a.m. the crew and mules will be ready to travel to Sylmar for the ceremony at the aqueduct cascades.

Barring “mule time,” of course.

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