How to Keep a Mule Shod – or Not

Barefoot in Montana
Bell Tower Community, Montana

“How do you keep mule Polly shod?”

It’s one of the questions I get most.

On the road, with my faithful mule standing by my side, it’s just a matter of pointing at her feet and saying:
A) “I don’t.” (if she’s barefoot)
B) “Hoof boots.” (if she’s wearing her boots)

In reality, though, it’s way more complicated, part of a hoof-care system I developed on my last 3,500 mile journey with mule… Continue reading

Wagon Tire Repair ala Charlie Daniels

In the “Uneasy Rider”, Charlie Daniels sings,
“I was takin’ a trip out to LA
Toolin’ along in my Chevrolet
Tokin’ on a number and diggin’ on the radio…
Just as I crossed the Mississippi line
I heard that highway start to whine
And I knew that left rear tire was about to go”

Three lines later, Charlie’s tire has blown and he’s limping down the shoulder on his rim, headed for the Dew Drop Inn, where, eventually, he gets… Continue reading

Black Hills September Snow

The nation may be suffering from an early September heat wave, but just to throw a meteorological wrench into the equation, Ma Nature dusted the South Dakota Black Hills with snow. Then she threw in a tomato-killing frost.

Dakota Tomato-killer

Hard-pressed to believe that fall was so close at hand, I trudged into Hill City for a glimpse at the thermometer. Sure enough, the time-and-temperature display that had flashed 110 degrees only a month earlier now pulsed a way-lower number.… Continue reading

Fossil Skulls: From River Bed to Baby Bed

Out here on the Lost Sea, the long-extinct marine life resurfaces in unusual places.

On September 10, 1804, while Lewis and Clark where exploring the Louisiana Purchase, the party came across an enormous skeleton lying on the south side of the Missouri River in Gregory County, South Dakota. Clark noted in his journal, “below the island on the top of a ridge we found a back bone with the most of the entire (length) laying Connected for 45 feet.… Continue reading

Self Portrait Tips For Mule Travelers

You’re traveling alone, maybe with a mule.

Traveling alone
Outside Sundance, WY

It’s early morning. You’re sitting in your favorite blue folding chair in the lee of an abandoned homesteader’s shack, coffee cup in hand, and that irksome thought crawls into to your re-caffeinated mind. “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a picture of me sitting her enjoying this coffee?”

Sure it would – if you were Charles Kuralt. If you were Chuck, it’d be easy. You’d snap your fingers,… Continue reading

Mule Treat or Fossilized Baculite?

In keeping with the Lost Sea theme, I gather marine fossils as I journey along the floor of the vanished sea. I slip them into Polly’s wagon while she’s not looking, keenly aware the weight of one added to the next adds up to heavier pulling. Then, feeling guilty, I slide them into my pockets, as though lugging them around in corduroy significantly eases Polly’s burden.

It started with the carrot-shaped fossil Doug Smith gave me back in Dagmar, Montana.… Continue reading

Hiding My Purple Bouquet From 500,000 Bikers

This week I’m in Hill City, SD and I’m nervous. Call me a chicken for being afraid to walk among the projected 500,000-plus bikers that are expected to converge on the Black Hills during Sturgis Bike Week.

Hill City, SD


Because I’m the only dude out here dressed in a button-down blue oxford shirt, tan slacks and an off-brand backpack. Don’t think you’d be any braver. You’d be uptight too if you looked like a narc with a rucksack… Continue reading

Biker Reunion in the Shadow Of Devils Tower

Mornings, when the rain drops fall heavy on the mule wagon roof, I know Polly’s harness won’t come out from under the wagon. On wet days we stay in camp. Driving a wagon in the rain just isn’t worth it. Polly’s bare feet, softened by the rain, wear too quickly. Drivers that whoosh past the Lost Sea wagon have more than just cell phones, arguing kids and fast food to distract them. Now they’re navigating a gray world slashed by… Continue reading

Do you Call it Shark Tooth, Buffalo Horn or Devils Tower?

Traveling thoroughly as I do with a mule (it’s “thorough” as opposed to “slow”) I have the luxury of watching the landscape change as I roll across the Lost Sea seabed. Last week, when I saw Devils Tower rise between Polly’s ears, it looked like a shark fin cruising the Lost Sea off to the west.

Devils Tower from 11 miles away

As I got closer, my route drifted south. It looked more stump-like.

Devils Tower from 4 miles away… Continue reading

Dig a Dino Bone with Paleo Pete Larson

Remember how I rolled into Hulett, Wyoming last week all hot and bothered to see Devils Tower? It didn’t happen. Instead, Polly and I spent the week digging dinosaur bones with world-famous paleontologist Peter Larson of the Black Hills Institute in Hill City, South Dakota.

Peter Larson

Peter and his crew were in the Hulett area excavating dinosaurs that, eons ago, were washed into a a ravine or stream and then buried by soil. 150 million years later, he was… Continue reading

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