Mule Packer Paradise: Ranch Maintenance in Shawnee, Colorado

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13275A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Meet the mules of the Rocky Mountain Specialty Pack String
  • Enjoy daily access to hiking and fishing on the North Fork of the South Platte
  • Listen to barn talks by our host and local speakers


  • Airport and local transportation
  • Access to pool and showers
  • Fresh, hearty meals


DatesJun 22–29, 2013
StaffHoward Kellogg
Photo: Cindi Urie

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Come to the valley of the North Fork of the South Platte River, adjacent to the Lost Creek Wilderness, 50 miles southwest of Denver’s metropolis where there is a unique Forest Service facility. On the historic AG Ranch, once operated by Arthur Gould, the Rocky Mountain Specialty Pack String -- 11 mules and two saddle horses -- and lead packer Glenn Ryan have their home. The highly trained mules, horses, Glenn, and his seasonal assistant service the U.S Forest Service in Colorado, eastern Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota, providing low-impact heavy hauling into wilderness and limited-access areas, provide training in packing, and educate and entertain the public through outreach and parades.

One may think that pack strings are a throwback to a long lost age of mountain men and prospectors; however, in this modern era pack strings serve to preserve wilderness values in our public lands. Sierra Club Service Outings have a long history with pack strings, which have brought into our backcountry camps the heavy tools, materials, and, most importantly, our kitchens and foodstuffs to feed our hungry workers.

This is a wonderful opportunity to support your public agency and public lands working to improve the facilities that are the home to this unique operation of the Forest Service. 

The Project

Our priority project is to take down and remove wire from fallen or badly placed fencing and string new fencing. This will help with range management by improving how the stock are rotated through the pastures. When the fencing is accomplished we will remove slash piles that were left in the pastures. If all that gets done, there is new trail to be constructed.


Plan your arrival for June 22. We will provide a couple of van shuttles from the airport (times to be determined). The first meal we provide will be dinner that evening. We’d like to become acquainted with each other, meet Glenn and his staff, get oriented to our week’s work, and have a little fun.

We will work on the project for the next three days. Everyone will take a turn helping in the kitchen, but those not on duty will have time to relax, take a short walk, hitch a ride down to the river, or take advantage of a pool and showers, as they are available. Sun showers can be available for those remaining in camp. After dinner we’ll gather for talks, presentations, and stories.

On day four, we plan on taking an excursion. We can hike into the adjacent Lost Creek Wilderness to find bristlecone pine and experience mountain tundra. There are a couple of peaks in the offing. Fanatical fishers may want to spend the day on the river. Some folks may enjoy a quiet camp or Glenn may make use of a couple of folks wanting to help.

We’ll be back on service for the next two days.

June 29 will be departure day. We’d like to get folks down to the airport or some other Denver metro destination in a couple of shuttle runs. We’ll provide you with a hearty breakfast and a sack lunch as your final meal on the trip.



Getting There

The AG Ranch headquarters is located on Colorado Highway 285 in Shawnee, Colorado, near Bailey. If you fly into Denver International Airport, we will be providing a couple of shuttle runs on arrival and departure days. We will have a van for the duration of the trip and will provide our local transportation.

Accommodations and Food

We will set up a car camp in an open forested area. Participants need to bring a tent, sleeping bag, pad, and personal gear. A detailed list will be provided. We expect to have a nice kitchen area with tables and tarps. Camp water will be supplied by the Forest Service from a water tank brought to the site.

The menu is vegetarian friendly, mostly fresh as opposed to dehydrated, and we expect to offer some flavorful surprises. Our dedicated cook will survey for preferences and offer accommodations as possible.

Trip Difficulty

Our efforts will be easy to moderate -- pulling the staples that hold the wire, rolling the old wire, and pulling old posts. We may do some post hole digging and some brush may need to be grubbed from the new fence line. Cleaning up slash involves lifting various size tree limbs. If we get to the trail work, we'll use grubbing tools and various forms of hoes to clear vegetation and establish the trail tread.

Equipment and Clothing

Participants need to bring a tent, sleeping bag, pads, and other personal gear. For Service Outings and U.S. National Forest work, sturdy work shoes or boots, sturdy gloves, long pants, and protective eyewear are required.


  • Pike National Forest Map
  • Stegner, Wallace, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the West.
  • Stegner, Wallace, Marking the Sparrow’s Fall.
  • Elser, Smoke and Bill Brown, Packin’ In on Mules and Horses.
  • Back, Joe, Horses, Hitches and Rocky Trails.


A significant function of the Rocky Mountain Specialty Pack String is to preserve wilderness values by providing heavy hauling without the need for mechanization, which is prohibited in the wilderness. The National Wilderness Protection System was established by the 1964 Wilderness Act, when 9.1 million acres were designated as wilderness. Today, as reported by, 109.5 million acres, (684,000 sq. miles) are designated wilderness within the United States. This accounts for 5% of the land area of the country; however, just 2.7% is located in the lower 48 states. Wilderness designations are scattered throughout the country, similar to urban open spaces, and together represent the land area of Minnesota. There are those who challenge the restriction from the resources on that amount of land. Others, such as Wallace Stegner, relate that there is a value other than that of natural resources in wilderness. Wilderness has a place in the human psyche such that one may never enter wilderness, but knowing it is there, still has a relationship with it.

Despite protections for the land, wilderness is still exposed to harmful effects of poor air quality, impaired water quality, and the human component of climate change. These are issues that Sierra Club fights and that we'll provide overviews for. Perhaps some trip participants will have been involved in actions near their homes.

We will also have the opportunity to hear about rangeland practices and beef production from the perspective of the rider in the saddle. In addition, we will try to provide a local perspective on wildlife management and land use in the adjacent National Forest and wildernesses.



Howard Kellogg grew up with outdoor sportsmen and scouting, the combination of which forged his enthusiasm for wilderness adventure with an ethic of giving back. Howard is a veteran leader of Service, Rocky Mountain and Alaska outings. Most recently, Howard has embraced horseback riding, one, as a common ground with his family, and two, as another wilderness adventure. The AG Ranch project is a perfect blend of the mountains and an affinity for the animals and folks that serve our wilderness areas.


Anne Larson is a premier backcountry cook, serving up tasty and nutritious fare along with a dose of her vibrant personality. Among other talents, she is a botanist, a birder and an expert on pine bark beetles.

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