[Click here] to watch 1913 film of mules & L.A. Aqueduct construction
* * *
The mules are here.
A hundred pack mules and their muleteers, hired from ranches in the Eastern Sierras, were trailered into Whitney Canyon Park in Newhall on Monday afternoon, getting a little break from their 240-mile walk.
Most of the way, they’ve been hoofing it along the course of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which was completed 100 years ago – actually 100 years ago tomorrow, Tuesday.
“These mules come from different pack stations, which is a back-county mode of transportation when you go camping,” said Tessanne Moran, one of the wranglers. “Instead of carrying your gear on your back, these beautiful animals will carry your sleeping bags and all of your stuff for you.”
“One of the reasons we like to use mules,” said fellow wrangler Seth Riley, “is because they inherited a lot of good traits from the donkey and a lot of good traits from the horse.”
“A lot of these mules are very versatile,” he said. “We have two black mules named Dolly and Peggy; they’re a real good team. I’ve driven them a lot. They ride, drive and pack basically do anything you want.”
As to their reputation for being stubborn, “I don’t think they’re stubborn at all,” said Moran. “They’re just darn smart. … Mules are very calculated.”
The mules are on hand to pay homage to the place Angelenos get their drinking water, and to remind them it’s a precious resource.
Rounding up 100 of them and driving them the length of the L.A. Aqueduct was the idea of Lauren Bon, a Santa Monica-based artist and activist – and granddaughter of philanthropist Walter Annenberg.
“(Bon) wanted to commemorate the endeavor of the aqueduct with the mules, and the involvement of both men and mules,” said Moran, “and also the appreciation of the water and where it comes from. This is a great opportunity for us all. … This is a chance of a life time.”
In a statement, Bon says the point is to “move forward into the next hundred years with renewed appreciation for this vital resource. Let it be resolved that the citizens of Los Angeles will do better at utilizing this life-giving resource in the next one hundred years.”
Bon next plans to break through the concrete lining of the L.A. River and erect a 60-foot water wheel to irrigate the area north of Chinatown known as the Cornfield – a onetime industrial brownfield that she converted to agricultural use. Now it’s called “Not a Cornfield,” even though it’s more like an actual cornfield than it was previously.
* * *
While underway, the 100 mules carry saddle blankets marked “100.”
It was Nov. 5, 1913, when workers from L.A.’s Bureau of Water Works and Supply (now called Department of Water and Power) turned the giant spigots at the Cascades – the “waterfall” east of Interstate 5 just below the Newhall Pass – to quench the big city’s thirst with water piped in from the Owens Valley.
William Mulholland’s great water project made possible the further development of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley we know today.
There were costs – and not only to the L.A. taxpayers who financed the deal. Owens Valley farmers expressed their consternation over the draining of “their” lake by dynamiting sections of the 240-mile pipeline. Then in 1928, just two years after it was completed, the St. Francis Dam collapsed, sending 13 billion gallons of L.A.’s water from Saugus to the sea, killing an estimated 450 people along the way – including most of the student body of three little elementary school districts in Saugus.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
None of it would have been possible, at that time, without mules. Teams of 52 to 54 animals carted enormous sections of pipe from the harbor in Los Angeles all the way up to a point near Independence, the Inyo County seat above Owens Lake.
Controversial though it was, Mulholland’s aqueduct was also a phenomenal engineering feat. The system was entirely gravity-fed. When it couldn’t go over a mountain, as in the Elizabeth Lake area, work crews drilled through the landscape. (The aqueduct runs 250 feet below Lake Elizabeth). But in most places, tunneling was unnecessary. At a place called Jawbone Canyon near Red Rock in the Mojave Desert, the water runs downhill with enough force to push it back up through the pipe over another hill. The same thing occurs within Santa Clarita, on a much smaller scale, near Saugus High School and the Centre Pointe business park and in Placerita Canyon, where the pipe can still be seen above ground.
Mules had to scale all of those hills.
Today’s 100 mules will be heading to a ranch in the Sun Valley area as they near the end of their journey. It culminates Nov. 11 in a Veterans Day Parade on Western Avenue in Glendale.
Meanwhile, Tuesday at noon, the L.A. DWP will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of water with a reenactment at the Cascades. Paid actors will play the roles of William Mulholland and other key figures, telling the story of the aqueduct as they might have told it.