Every year, on Memorial Day weekend, a great mob of mules and their packers, riders and trainers converge on the small town of Bishop, California, in the Eastern Sierras for an event called Mule Days. For us, the Mule Days celebration and Memorial Weekend marks the end of our bouldering season – it’s time to head to higher elevations and cooler temps. For fishermen, packers, and hikers, it’s only the beginning of a summer season for exploring Sierra mountain meadows and trout filled lakes.
Mule Days Parade
The highlight of the weekend Mule Days festivities for me has always been the enormous, horse and mule-filled parade that clogs up the main street in Bishop on Saturday morning. Purportedly the largest, completely non-motorized parade in the US, the parade features everything from the Budweiser team decked out in all its glory, to a bearded guy in a coonskin cap riding a single mule. In between, you can check out mules from at least 7 western states, a restored chuckwagon with clanking pots and pans (I kept having flashbacks to the Oregon Trail computer game), and an array of park and other government-run strings of pack mules, with “National Forest Service” or “Yosemite” emblazoned on their panniers. My only advice for viewing the parade is to sit on the shady side of the street. It’s hot in Bishop, even at 10 AM.
A team of Percheron Draft Horses prance down Main Street
Dalmation on duty on the Budweiser Wagon
No parade is complete without clowns and candy (this parade has both)!
In addition to the parade, the six-day event includes a competition with classes for the serious mule aficionado, as well as events that would be more interesting for the casual spectator. For instance, who wouldn’t want to see a mule chariot race, or the spectacle of the “packers scramble”, where teams of mule packers have to find, catch and tack up their mule teams among a mob of loose mules and competitors?
A little break from the Mules
Ideal temperatures and sweet camping make Clark Canyon
a perfect Memorial Day Weekend destination
If you have even a passing interest in mules, horses, or the history and traditions of the old west, you should stop by the Mule Days event. It’s a great compliment to a weekend of Sierra exploration, and a convenient stop on the way to other Sierra destinations like Yosemite, the Bristlecone Pine Forest (oldest single living organisms on earth), and Clark Canyon climbing (volcanic tuff playground).
Thousands of years of history revealed in one tree trunk
If you’re not local to the Bishop, California area, you can still catch some mule action at these other events around the country:
- Mule Day in Columbia, Tennessee (the self-proclaimed Mule Capital of the world) since 1840. This year it will be held March 31-April 3!
- Benson Mule Days in Benson, North Carolina, on the 4th Saturday of September.
- Calvary Mule Day in Calvary, Georgia. This year the festival falls on November 5, 2011.
- Mule Day of Winfield, Alabama, also on the 4th Saturday of September.
- Ider Mule Days, also in Alabama, on September 5, 2011.