archival and resource material for human powered recumbent tricycles

2017: Twenty Mule Team of Death Valley

130 pages / 18 photographs / the entire story of these famous freighters


by steve greene

Acquire this 130 page historic account on Amazon: Paperback

The twenty mule team is an iconic legend of the Death Valley territory and Mojave Desert. Its operation was short-lived, but during that time, this team of animals, humans, and wagons became forever etched into the romantic psyche of all who learned about it. Common citizens who had no association with the desert used products that had their beginnings in the mystique of Death Valley and the team. Even today, most every supermarket in the United States carries products with the well known twenty mule team silhouette on them. These borax related cleaning products are likely found worldwide. Rarely has such an obscure operation gained such fame as the impressive twenty mule team. This book tells the story behind the legend, revealing also what it was like to have worked as a laborer to extract the borax for transport to market. It is a time forever lost to the shroud of history, but the spirit lives on, and is celebrated regularly by enthusiasts who relive the glory of those days at planned desert events.


Twenty Mule Team Preface … 7

Introduction to the Death Valley Realm … 9

The Story of the Twenty Mule Team … 23

Twenty Mule Team Glossary … 77

The Story of Death Valley (John Spears) … 89

Meet the Author … 125

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Steve Greene first ventured into the rugged Death Valley territory in 1955, at the naive age of four, with his parents Bob and Joan, and his little sister Willow, who was only two. Prior to Steve’s birth, his father and mother first visited Death Valley in 1947 on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, staying the first night in Death Valley Junction, where they were issued a candle at the motel due to an electrical outage in the tiny community.

A lasting attraction for this strangely alluring land grew in Steve through many fun years of continued family visits, where camping outdoors at hot Furnace Creek was common. As happens with many who travel into the mysterious Death Valley region, Steve has repeatedly returned throughout his life, to a landscape that forever sings to his spirit. When in elementary school, Steve did reports about the mining and geology of the area, and built a plastic scale model of the twenty mule team. In high school, his parents bought him a large framed painting of the twenty mule team for his bedroom wall.

Steve is noted for his countless backcountry expeditions into the remote hinterlands of Death Valley National Monument and Park, beginning on his own back in 1975 when he purchased a CJ-5 Jeep and would lead friends into the wild country. His groups would probe the most secret corners, always seeking out the areas rarely visited by the big crowds, and hiking when the roads stopped. In more recent times, Steve has been found on Death Valley’s dirt backroads in a couple of other SUVs, blissfully roaming solo through the land that has become an inseparable part of his spirit. He always takes to foot travel whenever the opportunity presents itself, being a devoted long-distance hiker since his earliest years.

Ever continuing to define his environmental sustainability paradigm, Steve maintains a commitment to lessen his carbon footprint on the planet he loves to explore. A naturalist at heart, his current vehicle ownership is of a human-powered recumbent tricycle, built to tackle the same dirt roads he formerly drove in his Jeep. The trike emits no pollutants and increases driver physical fitness levels, while allowing the practical mobility to move freely among the wild places. He has not owned a petroleum-powered vehicle since 2008, but exploring the backcountry remains high on his “to do” list of activities.

Originally from southern California, on the cusp of the mighty Mojave Desert, he spent the first thirty-one years of his life in close proximity to the remote Death Valley territory. Later, he moved up to the towering San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado, living in small rural towns hidden in deep forests 9,000 feet above sea level. There, he continued his explorations on the historic mining roads and trails of majestic Rocky Mountain peaks. Currently, Steve finds his peace at home in the rural Pacific Northwest woods. His regular visits to his mother and sister’s house near Death Valley National Park keep him in touch with his past.


Visit Steve’s Death Valley Journal for more about the realm.

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