The Twenty Mule Team
I’ve been photographing the Twenty Mule Team for many years now. People sometimes wonder why I continue to take photographs of the giant replica wagons and mules (as well as the original set of borax wagons in Death Valley – I cannot get enough of those). Sometimes I wonder about it myself. What is it about this whole thing that drives me to do it? When I’m not around it I think, well, you’ve shot enough, there’s nothing more that you can do. How many pictures of mules pulling wagons can you possibly need or want!? No one needs more photographs of the Twenty Mule Team. I’ve got thousands. Plus tons of other people photograph it as well.
But then I see them at Mule Days in May and the same thing happens inside. It’s like a switch gets flipped and I see It – I feel It. And all I want to do is put that feeling in a photograph.
I think what it might be is…it’s a channel to the past. A portal. It’s unlike anything else for me and all I see are the shapes and shadows and dusty mules and it becomes a visual poem. But it’s not just the wagons and mules. It’s the also the people. The crew. The women and men hitching and unhitching the mules. It’s the mules when they’re walking straight, and also when they get tangled up in the chains and fall down for a few minutes, then get right back up again, brushing it off like it was nothing.
The Twenty Mule Team is a symbol of strength and fortitude, of hanging in there no matter what, for not backing down. Sticking with your vision and not wavering just because someone says that something cannot be done. It can be done with enough time and patience.
The old wagons hauled Borax over 160 miles across the desert. The new wagons took years of vision and patience to get built. Both stand for determination and will. And they’re beautiful.
Plus the whole thing is just cool.