52-mules-haul-siphon-pipe-laa-553Editor’s Note: Boom has an ongoing collaboration with KCET Artbound, which features Southern California art journalism, and regularly includes articles from Boom. We thought our readers would be especially interested in this article from Artbound on artist Lauren Bon’s “One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct.” Our fall issue focuses on the LA Aqueduct: environment, culture, politics, history, and the future. It is supported by the Metabolic Studio.

By Jon Klusmire, KCET Artbound

It’s hard to match the physical scale and impact of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, but walking 100 mules along the length of the aqueduct, from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles, with 100 mules might match the aqueduct for sheer audacity and could top the 100-year old structure when it comes to creating a landscape-scale artwork.

The mule caravan will also likely be the most visible, unique, and, in some situations, unavoidable event marking the 100-year anniversary of the completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which started bringing water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles on Nov. 5, 1913.

“On the centenary of the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Lauren Bon and the Metabolic Studio will perform ‘One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct,’ a commemorative artist action to connect Los Angeles to its water supply,” noted a press release from the Metabolic Studio.

LAWP mule team pulling aqueduct pipe section | Photo: Courtesy of Eastern California Museum

“Many people in Los Angeles don’t know their water comes from 240 miles away,” Bon said when announcing project at the Metabolic Studio’s studio, located in downtown Los Angeles, on July 26.

A 100-mule caravan marching 240 miles for 27 days along the L.A. Aqueduct will remind Los Angeles residents of their city’s history by providing “an experience with water” that has come from the Sierra Nevada for 100 years, she noted. The sight of 100 mules walking along the Aqueduct could lead Southern California and Los Angeles residents to the conclusion that “they are passing through their neighbors’ property,” when traveling through the Owens Valley, since “that is where their water comes from,” Bon noted.

The mule train pays homage to water history, but it is also is intended to make a statement about the future of water in Los Angeles. “One Hundred Mules Walking the Aqueduct is an action with a resolution to move forward into the next 100 years with renewed appreciation for this vital resource,” Bon said. “Let it be resolved that the citizens of Los Angeles will do everything possible to make the best use of this life giving resource in the next 100 years.”

Map of the mule walk.

Trekking with mules alongside the canals and pipelines of the gravity fed aqueduct as it snakes through three counties and nearly 50 communities, is one way to raise consciousness about the city’s water infrastructure and invite “direct contact” with the resource and its conveyance, she added.

Many Angelenos will probably not be able to avoid “direct contact” with the mules. The final legs of the expedition will take place in the San Fernando Valley and the City of Los Angeles. The traveling troupe will arrive at the Cascades, where the Aqueduct ends, on Nov. 5, 2013, to mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of the aqueduct. The herd will then take part in a Veteran’s Day Parade in Glendale, so the mules will receive “a heroic welcome from the City of Los Angeles that is long overdue,” Bon said.

The expedition will come to a final stop in Griffith Park at, where else, the William Mulholland Fountain. There, people can mingle with the mules, and “we’ll have a big square dance and community potluck,” Bon suggested.

Putting the focus on the mules will honor the role mules played in shaping the west in general, and the L.A. Aqueduct, which “was built by the labor of mules,” she noted.

Handling the logistics of the mass of mules will be Jen Roeser, who with husband Lee are long-time owners of the McGee Creek Pack Station. She said there will be 25-35 people on the Mule Walk, with a wrangler assigned to each string of 10 mules. A group of up to 10 support vehicles will supply feed and water for the mules and riders, portable corrals, camping gear, a veterinarian, a truck to haul off the mule manure, and other essentials outlined in the various permits and permissions for the event, she said.

Jen Roeser, of the McGee Creek Pack Station, talks about the logistics of moving and feeding and caring for 100 mules for 27 days while covering 240 miles. | Photo: Jon Klusmire.

The entire action has been coordinated with and approved by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which Bon called a “more responsive agency than many people know.”

Bon and one other member of the Metabolic Studio plan to ride the whole route. The riders and those watching will be able to enjoy “the magic of 100 mules walking” through a striking landscape.

Lauren Bon and Jen Roeser

Once the mules stop, though, there will be opportunities for people to “drop by camp” or participate in various public events along the route.

The mules will start their journey at the Aqueduct Intake, and the first public event will be held near Manzanar. The group will spilt in two and circle the Owens Dry Lake, and then have another event near Haiwee Reservoir, “where water and power come together,” Bon noted.

The walking art work will proceed through Red Rock Canyon, to Mojave and through the Mojave Desert. There will be a two-day stop at Holiday Lake and the California Aqueduct for a “block party” to recognize “the people taking care of our water supply,” Bon said. The convoy will then proceed to the Cascades and the final, urban leg of its journey.

Bon and the Metabolic studio have been active in the Owens Valley since 2007. Some of the group’s more visible projects include the IOU Garden in Lone Pine, events at the PP&G plant on the Owens Lake, restoration work on the Cerro Gordo Mine, and famer’s markets in Lone Pine and Independence.

The Metabolic Studio, a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation, of which Bon is a director, has awarded about $1 million in grants to universities, tribal organizations, libraries and museums in the Owens Valley, Southern California and the West, for various projects related to the 100 year anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The Metabolic Studio’s AgH20 project is a 240-mile work that aims at reconnecting Los Angeles with the elements that made it viable historically: silver and water, both mined from the mountains of the Owens Valley.

Jon Klusmire was a journalist and writer covering Colorado’s Western Slope for about 20 years before moving to Bishop, CA, where he wrote for the Inyo Register before taking his current job as the Director of the Eastern California Museum, in Independence.

Top Image: A team of 52 mules hauls a section of pipe for one of the siphons on the Los Angeles Aqueduct. | Photo: Courtesy of the Eastern California Museum.

Posted by Boom California


  1. I have been a fan of Wm Mulholland since reading a book by Margret Davis called “Rivers in the Desert” many years ago and yet I found that the feeling was not shared by everyone. I think it is brilliant to honor the mules as a way of celebrating what was and still is a spectacular achievement by all those involved. I am looking forward to this event. I wish we could fix politics this way.

  2. would love to be a volunteer !!! is this possible??

  3. […] with people and institutions in the valley through her artwork. There are a number of articles in Boom and on the website Artbound and there is a one-hour program on KCET that describes the art she is […]

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