Monday, May 27, 2019

~ Cowboy Legends ~

Anniversaries are special and the 50th Bishop Mule Days are no different.

Jim Harvey, 83 years young

My good friend Jim Harvey surprised me when he said, “I’ve attended 49 of the 50 Annual Bishop Mule Days, and this one will be special.” His words immediately grabbed my attention. Without a lot of fanfare, he continues “It will be my 83rd birthday.” In his younger days, Jim was considered the "best all-around cowboy" in the Sierra.

Jim worked at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for many years leading pack trips into the backcountry. A real working cowboy. Later in his career, his experience and hard work put him in charge of the stock at the Ash Mountain Corrals.

Jim taught me everything I know about horses and mules. I loved going into the backcountry with him and hearing his stories about the “good old days.” Before I knew it, we were living those days. Jim is part of the security team at the Bishop Mule Days and being a good friend, he gets me into the arena where the action happens.

Today, we are both retired and getting ready to watch the only “non-motorized” parade in Bishop. There are thousands of people lining both sides of the street, many wearing cowboy and cowgirl hats. 

Happy 83rd birthday Jim Harvey (aka number one cowboy Sequoia/Kings ever knew)

This lawman from Tombstone, Arizona intends to keep the piece

The parade eventually leads us to the Fairgrounds for the competitions among the packers who spent most of their days working in the backcountry of the Eastern Sierra alongside Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and Yosemite National Park.

There is a new generation of packers. One, in particular, is carrying on the Sequoia packers’ traditions. Like Jim, he continued to teach me more about horses and mules. Twenty-some years ago, he was a young cowboy working as a packer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. 

Today, Nick Knutson is the lead packer for the parks and one of the top competitors at the Annual Bishop Mule Days.

Nick Knutson, the number "one cowboy" at the 2019 Bishop Mule Days

I think I’ve made the last 14 years at the Annual Bishop Mule Days. I’m here to support the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Packers.

I’m honored this year when Nick said, “Bob, here’s your Official Approved Attendee ticket. This wrist band will allow you to hang out with the packers where the action happens.” Sitting in the stands is great, but being behind the scenes with all the horses, mules, cowboys, and cowgirls is awesome, dust and all. “Thanks, Nick.”

Thanks, Nick, I'm now official

Bishop Mule Days 2019

Well, right off the bat at the individual competitions, Nick places first.  A cowboy in his element. This event is considered difficult, requiring considerable skill to load mules, tie appropriate rope knots, and race around the track without losing the load. I’m so proud of him.

Then, a short time later the team competitions are next. Team Sequoia/Kings Canyon takes second place. Back-to-back wins!

Nick Knutson wins first place for the individual competition at the 2019 Bishop Mule Days

Team Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks places 2nd at the 2019 Bishop Mule Days

Here are a few pictures from the parade, competitions, and a few along the way on my iron horse.

In a few days, I’ll join another team for the first ever Four Corners Tour by Blue Rim Tours. I hope to keep the warm feeling I experienced at the Bishop Mule Days while touring through New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona on our iron ponies.

This Cowboy proudly leads his string into the arena

USFS Cowgirl

Clowning around

The Rock Creek Packers are always ready for action

Camped last night at Taboose Creek, snow is falling in the distance

My view from Taboose Creek Camp

Team Sequoia/Kings Canyon are ready for the next event

Teamwork pays off

Monday, May 6, 2019

~ A Tribute to Johnny Cash ~

"You have to be what you are.  Whatever you are, you gotta be it."  Johnny Cash

James Garner begins his tribute to the late Johnny Cash.

Immediately, the rhythm of the Cash music caught my attention.

It was real, personal, and full of energy.

I snapped this picture of James Garner as he sang an opening Johnny Cash song.  I was hoping to capture the moment, and for me, this picture set the stage.  The Cash music was alive.

I had never heard of James Garner, yet he once lived in Hanford, just 48 miles away from me in Three Rivers. 

The Visalia Times-Delta, our local newspaper, ran the headlines: “Johnny Cash Tribute Show comes to the Visalia Fox.  The headlines read, “Back in Black.”  This was to be a tribute show featuring native James Garner a day before Cinco de Mayo.

Being a huge fan of Johnny Cash, I was curious what James Garner had to say in his interview.  James Ward of the Visalia Times-Delta asked, “What should people expect when they come out to the show?”

“Folks can expect to hear the songs they know and love by Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues, and Ring of Fire as well as others that Cash recorded over a nearly 50-year career.  They will also hear the stories behind those songs and about the life of the 'Man in Black.'  That's what makes our show unique  –  Never once in 12 years have I said: ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash’ or presented the show from a first-person perspective.  The energy is in the music and we work very hard, and take very seriously, presenting his music the way he and The Tennessee Three performed it, especially during their live performances.  My hope is that people leave feeling love for Johnny Cash and his music.”

His answer impressed me. 

So when my wife asked if I wanted to go see James Garner's tribute to Johnny Cash, it was an easy decision.

In the distance corners of my mind, two iconic country-western stars have always resided – Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash. 

In fact, the first two albums that I ever bought in 1969 were Marty Robbin’s – El Paso and Johnny Cash’s – At San Quentin.   I was attending San Jose State and I did not even own a record player at the time.  I knew that I had to own these two albums by two of the greatest country-western music stars.

James Garner in his opening remarks said that the last time he saw Johnny Cash perform was in 1991 at the Tower Theater in Fresno.  After the performance, he ran around back just as Cash was boarding his bus and shook his hand, letting him know that he was a big fan.  Although I never met Johnny Cash, I did come close that same year.

In March of 1991, I was the acting superintendent at Joshua Tree National Monument when I heard the news that Johnny Cash had been in the monument.  I could not believe the Foreman explaining that he just pulled Johnny Cash's Cadillac out of the soft sand.

So, I’m fully engaged.  Every word, every cord carries me back to my own memories of Johnny Cash.  You can read about my own tribute to Johnny Cash in my article: In Pursuit of Wildness: Joshua Tree National Park and Johnny Cash a Fading Sunset.

James Garner is remarkable.  He not only sang Cash's songs, but he told the stories behind his songs.  I learned a great deal.  James Garner and his band are well worth seeing in person.  Their music is real and I left the performance with a continual love for the Man in Black.

Johnny Cash was there singing his songs personally for me, if only in the far corners of my mind.