Mule Team reenactment comes to Death Valley

Mule Team reenactment comes to Death ValleyTwenty mules will pull replica borax wagons through Death Valley National Park in a rare public reenactment on Nov. 8-9. Several partners are working together to create this event, which culminates two weeks of special events in the park.

The 20 Mule Team will lead a parade from The Inn at Death Valley to Harmony Borax Works and back on Nov. 8 from 1-3 p.m. The mules will pull the wagons on the same route on Nov. 9 from 2-4 p.m.. Parking is available at The Ranch at Death Valley, Furnace Creek Visitor Center and the overflow lot across from the Visitor Center.

Parking will not be available at Harmony Borax Works because the 165-foot-long train of mules and wagons will need the entire lot to turn around.

Expect traffic delays of up to one hour on California 190 in the Furnace Creek area during these events.

In the 1880s teamsters used 18 mules and two horses to pull 20 tons of borax—plus the mules’ drinking water—165 miles across the desert to the railroad at Mojave. The mule teams operated in Death Valley for only six years, but their legend lived on through the” Death Valley Days” radio and TV show, and the “20 Mule Team Borax” brand.

“The Borax 20 Mule Team represented a transportation breakthrough more than a century ago and has since become an icon of the Wild West,” said Preston Chiaro, Death Valley Conservancy president. “We hope you’ll join us to see the legend brought back to life and to meet people like Bobby Tanner and Dave Engel who helped recreate this exciting chapter in Death Valley history.”

The replica wagons include two freight wagons weighing four tons apiece with a capacity of 10 tons and a 1,200-gallon water wagon. They were built by wagonmaker Dave Engel with the same methods and materials used to build the original versions. Efforts to build historically accurate wagons were led by the Death Valley Conservancy and mule expert Bobby Tanner, who will drive his mule team using the same techniques pioneered more than 130 years ago.

Engel used traditional materials and methods to reproduce the wagons, each of which weigh four tons. When not being pulled by mules, the wagons are on permanent display at Laws Railroad Museum near Bishop.

The 70th annual Death Valley ’49ers Encampment is Nov. 6-9. For information see deathvalley49ers.org.

The 20 Mule Team reenactment was made possible by Death Valley Conservancy, Bobby Tanner, the Death Valley 49ers, the Death Valley Natural History Association and private donors.

Story First Published: 2019-11-08