Les Lavenstein at the reins of his draft mule team in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in 1986. The Forest Service hired Lavenstein and Frank Thatcher (right) to help rebuild the Yellowstone Trail in the mid-1980s. (Photo courtesy of Savannah Lavenstein. Originally published in the Dubois Frontier, the photographer’s name — Gary W… — was partially obscured in archive copies.)

I don’t think I understood the ways in which a Wyoming upbringing is unique until I explored living elsewhere.

The proximity to life of all kinds, and access to the open spaces seemed normal. I am lucky to have parents who encouraged respect for all animals, and for land. My brother and I toddled around horses and other large livestock as well as wildlife. Moose gave birth in our barn, putting all hay feeding on hold. I witnessed a sow and three bear cubs tranquilized for relocation from our neighbor’s barn. One cub didn’t make it. It tipped into snow melt and drowned while unconscious. No truth was hidden, in the awe of it all. I watched horse autopsies and learned about bones we found on hikes.

Encounters with animals became teachable moments. We were taught that, in most cases, this was their zone, first. Learning how to exit situations in a non-threatening way and to observe animals for their strengths was something my dad encouraged. Concepts like these, and their patient transfer from generation to generation is one reason we still have all that we do in Wyoming.

I see my dad’s respectful efforts to become closer to nature in these photos I found, last year.

My dad was invited by the Forest Service to help rebuild the Yellowstone Trail through the Bridger-Teton National Forest with his two draft mules Kate and Dolly and his friend Frank Thatcher, from Crowheart. Kate and Dolly were wagon-trained, but not plow-trained. He said this made for a learning experience for him and his mules. They used an antique Fresno plow.

My dad is a ‘mule guy,’ and believes the things that separate the creatures from horses are what make them special. Their hooves are different, the way they move is different. It’s apparent that he spent a lot of time observing and listening to his mules.

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These images are so special to me, because I know he is proud of his animals, and is working to leverage their strengths on this project. I love that the effort of doing things the old way is written across my dad’s face. Some might see a man and some plow animals — but I see someone celebrating the connection with what’s bigger, and a student of his mules.

Les Lavenstein drives his Clydesdale mules Kate and Dolly through a meadow in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in 1986. The team was working to rebuild the Yellowstone Trail, the varied demands of which created a steep learning curve for man and beasts alike. Prior to the project the mules had been wagon-trained, but not plow-trained. (Photo courtesy of Savannah Lavenstein. Originally published in the Dubois Frontier, the photographer’s name — Gary W… — was partially obscured in archive copies.)

Savannah Lavenstein is from Hoback Junction and incorporates compassion for mammalian instincts into her work with food-psychology at Evergreen Healing. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, where she...

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  1. I love these pictures too and they bring back memories of growing up in Dubois with so much freedom. I knew your father slightly and always thought he was very cool.

  2. Which trail are you referring to. I have ridden hundreds of miles and counties hours in The Bridger Teton wilderness and am not familiar with the Yellowstone trail. Unless you are referring to the trail over Two ocean Pass?