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Death Valley set to host 20 mule team reenactment

Twenty mules will pull replica borax wagons through Death Valley National Park in a rare public reenactment today, Friday, Nov. 8 and Nov. 9, the park announced.

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 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 8.

The mules will pull the wagons on the same route from 2-4 p.m. Nov. 9. Parking is available at The Ranch at Death Valley, Furnace Creek Visitor Center, and at 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, the park said in its news release.

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

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.

In the 1880s, teamsters used 18 mules and 2 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 only operated in Death Valley for 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,” Preston Chiaro, Death Valley Conservancy president, said in a news release from the park. “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 with the same methods and materials used to build the original versions by wagonmaker Dave Engel. 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.

Dave 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.

Death Valley National Park celebrated its 25th birthday with a full week of special events from Oct. 26 through Nov. 2.

The 70th annual Death Valley ‘49ers Encampment started Nov. 6 and runs through Nov. 9. Some events are free and open to the public. Others require joining the ‘49ers, which can be done on site ($35/person or $60/family). These events include history presentations, Western music, cowboy poetry, and a vendor area. Encampment information is at deathvalley49ers.org

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