In a fit of wishful thinking, the image and the sensation of warm summer days keeps coming to mind. Well, I haven’t been so much thinking about it as I have been longing for it with every fiber of my being. Punxsutawney Phil may have seen his shadow, but that overgrown rodent can’t take away my dreams of warmth, sunshine, and pain-free fingers! So, as I sit here trying to warm my cold extremities, I’ve decided to do a little planning ahead for warmer weather.
Even though it technically falls in the spring season, Memorial Day will forever be the official summer kickoff, in my mind. That’s why, today, we’re going to do a little looking forward to a classic Western summertime kickoff: The Bishop Mule Days Celebration. For 46 years, crowds have headed to the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to gather in Bishop, California for a Memorial Day extravaganza to celebrate the hardest working equine in Western history.
A Little Mule Days History
I’m always interested in learning how a town first began doing something, like say, honoring mules. Admit it; it sounds a little wacky. But the history of Mule Days is one to which I can totally relate. You see, the winter of 1969 was a bitter one for the people in the towns along the Eastern Sierra Nevada area. There was snow in them thar hills and I can pretty well guarantee you that someone was tired of having cold hands and feet! In fact, it had been one of the coldest, snowiest winters in recorded history.
Snow can be fun at first. Hey, who doesn’t like snow ice cream and making snow angels? But enough already! Pretty soon, the people in the Bishop, California area were ready for the ding-danged thaw! And cash-strapped locals were more than ready for the return of the tourists seeking pack rides into the mountains. A small group of mule packers hit upon an idea: They couldn’t make the snow thaw any faster, but they could at least bring a little interest to the town once the thaw started!
They planned a one-day competition to be held at the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop. They would have it on the Saturday before Memorial Day and they would call it Mule Day! Mule Day—it was poetic in its simplicity. There’s no need to use flowery words when you’ve hit upon a fine idea. If the Chinese could proclaim 1969 the Year of the Rooster, then Bishop, California could declare the Saturday before Memorial Day to be the Day of the Mule!
Yes, it was a celebration of the long ears! Up until that point, mules hadn’t gotten a tremendous amount of positive PR. There was a parade through downtown Bishop, in the morning. There was a showcase of “traditional pioneer packing skills” later in the day. And the day was a rousing success! It was such a success that packers from far and wide declared that they should have it again the following year. And so they did. And they kept having it. And people kept coming! In 1974, then California Governor, Ronald Reagan, even served as Grand Marshall of the Mule Day Parade.
What began as an itty-bitty mule show in 1969 has today grown into one whale of an event. (Er, maybe that should be one mule of an event.) The celebration draws a crowd in excess of 30,000 people to see, what the Mule Days official website calls, “part mule show, part test of skills, and part Wild West show.” And the best part? It’s warm! Well, okay, it can actually be quite hot, but that doesn’t sound so bad right now.
Competitions include everything from standard rodeo competitions, to packing competitions, to horse shows, to mini donkey driving. You can watch mule-back steer roping and penning! You can sign up for pleasure driving and trail rides. You can take trail and halter classes and jumping classes. There’s dressage of both the English and Western varieties and there is showjumping. There’s a chuck wagon race, a bedroll race and a Dolly Parton race. (I must admit that the Dolly Parton race has piqued my interest more than a little bit!)
All told, 700 mules compete in 181 events at Mule Days! Plus, there are country music stars, dances and an arts and craft show. Oh, and let’s not forget that there is barbecue, bar-b-q, B-B-Q! It is a rip-roaring, mule-packing, toe-tapping, saucy good time!
I Love a Parade
I love a parade! If you love a parade, too, you should add the Mule Days Parade to your bucket list. It is said to be the nation’s largest, totally non-motorized parade. Who needs motors when you’ve got mule power? Even the Budweiser Clydesdales will be there to add a little star power to the event! However, it can honestly be said that the mules themselves are the real stars of this event. Mule Days is all about celebrating the hard-working animals that helped make the American West what it is today.
The 46th Annual Bishop Mule Days Celebration will take place May 19-24, 2015. Tickets are on sale now so snatch yours up, mark your calendar, and start dreaming of warmer days ahead!
And take a few minutes to watch this great video, you’ll see what the Bishop Mule Days Celebration is really like!