This trip to DuPont was wonderful! I arrived on Thursday and found a parking space and a corral for my mules to stay in. Everyone got together for dinner and brought food to add to “The Man Pan” which Blue cooked for us.
“The Man Pan” is a huge pan with a long handle which the men were using to cook with. Joke was, you needed to be a man to lift it, too. We all bring something different to add to the pan and somehow everything works out. Beef, chicken, green and red peppers, potatoes, etc. all mixed together make a wonderful dinner! It is also great entertainment to sit around the fire and watch the dinner cook! The only drawback is that with a pan that big, sometimes dinner is not till late in the evening!
It started to get cool quickly as the sun went down, but we just stoked up the fire, moved in closer, and enjoyed eachother’s company. The next morning the mules that would be doing the pulling were harnessed and loaded into trailers and taken to the work location for the day. The riders later caught up on the trail. We were divided into groups and given a safety talk by Forest Ranger and Park Superintendant Brown. Then the work began. I followed the mules around and took photos of the guys hooking up the logs and then the mules dragging them out. Rascal and Angie’s team, Butch and Sundance, worked like an old logging team even though they have only done this one time before. Kenny’s team of Mary and Hollywood had a little trouble pulling together at first, but Kenny just kept right with them and they worked things out quickly! It was not long, and they had pulled out quite a few logs. The group in the parking lot would help unhook the Dog-Ears on the logs and roll the logs closely up to the other logs that had been brought in to keep things organized. Ranger Brown and Tony McMasters had gone down to another section of the trail and you could hear a lot more trees being taken down for the mules to pull out later. Soon it was time to break for lunch. The mules were sure glad for that. They all got several apples and apple cores for all their work.
The logs were quite impressively large, and a team of big mules was most definitely necessary to get them out. Each log is cut to 16 feet long and seemed to range between 25-35 inches wide. I have had several people tell me that that each log probably weighed at least 600-900 pounds. What impressed me the most was that the mules could get down into the woods and with a minimal trail pull those big logs out. Once done in one area, if you used your foot and raked the area with some leaves where they came out of the woods, you could not even tell that they had been through.
Logging with mules and horses has seen a resurgence in the last five years or so because they can get in and take out select cut trees with minimal impact. Otherwise, trees have to be clear-cut, or at least a large trail made which tears up the ground and is left behind. This type of logging can leave scars on the land for years to come.
After lunch we moved down to the second staging area to remove the logs that Ranger Brown and Tony had cut down. After the teams got into the swing of things in the new area, Kenny and Rascal started letting others take a turn at mule skinning! Ranger Brown got to drive Butch and Sundance. He did a great job. I was so glad he got that opportunity because he told me later he had never done that before. Ranger Brown has been in forestry his whole life and has served all over the county. I was glad I got some good photos for him! Then it was my turn to drive Butch and Sundance. I must say I was nervous because the last time I log skidded with Seven I fell, and Seven ran me over with a small log! This was a BIG log and two BIG mules! I had to remember Rascal’s commands for them, as they were a little different than the commands I used while driving. The mules worked perfectly for me, and we took the log all the way across the road to the drop spot! What FUN!!
When we finished we had pulled out over 40 logs! Ranger Brown will get the logs loaded onto a truck over the next week and sell them to the local mill. The money will go back to the maintenance of the forest. Some of the logs that we harvested on the last trip were sent to the mill and cut into boards that are now siding on a new maintenance building. It is fun to drive into the park and know that our mules pulled those logs out of the woods!
We headed home for another great dinner made by Blue in “The Man Pan.”
The fun was not over yet! On Saturday we took a long ride. Right before lunch the faster part of the group took a turn and the rest of us could not figure out which way they went. Apparently we took a wrong turn, as we never found them. They were sitting at lunch wondering where we could be! It split the group about in half so we just took off on our own adventure. We headed for the farthest and highest part of the park to Stone Mountain. It was quite a climb. It kept getting steeper and the trail kept getting smaller and smaller. This became a challenge as I did not have a rider for Sadie that day and so I was riding Seven and ponying Sadie. I went up what looked like a rabbit trail, and then I saw what I thought could be the top, so I pulled over to the side to find a spot to tie them both! The view was spectacular, and we took photos! All knowing that we had a very long descent ahead of us! The top of the mountain was over 3,400 feet, which is pretty high for not even being in the Smokies in North Carolina. We got back just before dark and after the speedy group. We had a great story to tell at camp that night!
Sunday was a lot more relaxed. We cleaned up camp and made sure everything was locked up. About half the group decided to take off for home so we had a group of about eight or nine for a shorter ride. The weather was nice and it warmed up by the time we rode out at 9am. Today I had a jockey for Sadie. New CMA Member Dee came in the night before to ride Sadie. She has not ridden in years and wants to maybe get into mules. We had a great ride; about three hours. We rode over to the old airport strip and took some photos with a great view behind us! We did run into several bikers that day and all where very polite about pulling over. A few of the mules were not too keen on passing the bikes, even standing still. Linda Morris came for the day to ride on her Belgian mule Shasta. She is such a character to be around! Always joking about something! It was no joke, though when we came to a large creek crossing and Shasta did not want to cross. I tried to lead her across, but Shasta said, “No way!” Even with all the other mules on the other side, she did not want to come. Blue and Rascal rode back across. Rascal took a hold of the halter rope and started to pull with his big mule. Then Blue got a big branch of rhododendron leaves. I told Linda to hang on, because I knew what was coming! WHACK! Shasta with Linda handing on for dear life was in the deep creek. Rascal pulled her the rest of the way across. I think Linda’s heart was beating a little fast and she said “Oh, did you bring the old lady along for entertainment?” Only a true mule rider can laugh at herself!
Needless to say, we did not have any more trouble crossing creeks the rest of the day.
I love coming to DuPont, and look forward to the next trip!