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  • MULE CROSSING: Mules of Molokai

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    By Meredith Hodges

    It is no secret that mules, due to their innate sensibility and incredible surefootedness, are the equine of choice for packing and riding into untamed wilderness areas. Dependable mules carry thousands of tourists down the steep trails of the Grand Canyon each year. This enables many to take in the splendor and beauty of an otherwise nearly inaccessible corner of the world.

    Not limited to Mainland activities, mules are also used on the island of Molokai in Hawaii to carry tourists on a memorable ride down the Kalaupapa Trail to the Makanalua Peninsula and the settlement of Kalaupapa. Years ago, before it was discovered that leprosy was not highly contagious, afflicted persons were taken to the Makanalua Peninsula by boat and left there. The sheer cliffs on the landside of the peninsula prevented them from leaving. Father Damien de Veuster of Belgium built the first church and brought hope to the old settlement of Kalawao.

    Today, people are allowed to come and go, and the settlement is permitted to delight in some of the modern-day conveniences. Though the settlement is only 12 square miles, there are cars and mini-buses to aid in transportation. After the mule ride down the cliff trail, mini-buses give personal tours around the settlement where you can learn about everyday life then and now. You’ll see their homes, general store, dock, medical facilities, lonely graveyards, the old settlement of Kalawao, and Father Damien’s church, St. Philomena.

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  • MULE CROSSING: Racing Mules

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    By Meredith Hodges

    Racing, the sport of kings has intrigued people for hundreds of years. Perhaps it’s the beauty of running horses, or maybe the way your heart swells with excitement as they come down the home stretch; or it could be the money. But whatever the reason, millions flock to the racetracks each year to enjoy this magnificent sport. Over the years, racing has expanded to include not only the Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, but Appaloosas, Arabians, and Quarter Horses as well. During the past three decades, mules have emerged onto the racetrack to take their place in making racing history.

    Although mule racing has just begun to take hold as a national sport, it had its beginnings in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains of California in 1851, when Captain Boling’s cavalry troop was forced to halt for two months in the Yosemite Valley. Horse racing was one of the major sports used to keep up the spirits of the men during this unexpected respite. Army mules were included in these races to add to the entertainment. Much to the chagrin of some of the horse owners, the mules could actually beat some of the cavalry’s favorite mounts. Captain Boling purchased one Maltese, Kentucky-blooded mule (known as the Vining mule) he was particularly impressed by for one thousand dollars in gold from Lee Vining. He then went on to make many more thousands in match races with this mule against horses. To quote from the official racing program: “The Indian war of 1851 was the catalyst that started the first running of mules in California.”

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