On 130 acres in the shadow of the Eastern Sierra, over 200 rescued burros from Death Valley have found sanctuary.
I love all creatures big and small and a large part of that is due to the fact that I was always surrounded by them when I was growing up.
I rode our horses bareback…
…and was there to greet the newborns after witnessing their births. We had a wide variety of animals including cows, chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits, pigeons, and of course cats and dogs but it was our horses that I really felt the strongest connection with. So when I found out about a wild burro sanctuary located off of Hwy 395, I knew I had to go check it out.
I came across the Wild Burro Rescue and Preservation Project while performing my usual online search for possible places to visit on my way Mammoth. After speaking to founder & president Diana Chontos over the phone prior to my visit, I could tell it was going to be a fun trip. The rescue is located near Olancha, CA, west of Hwy 395 in the shadow of Olancha Peak. Fortunately my vehicle was small enough to fit through the narrow bridge opening that crosses over the LA Aqueduct.
Following the signs along the somewhat rocky graded dirt road…
…I made my way towards the base of the snow covered Eastern Sierra mountains…
…until I reached the gate. Visitors are welcome, but due to Diana’s busy schedule caring for the animals, you’ll need to call ahead in order to arrange a time for your arrival and get the combination to the lock that opens the gate.
The property sits on 130 acres of land with multiple large corrals…
…and an old ranch house sitting towards the back of the property shaded under a grove of cottonwoods.
Diana opened a 43-acre animal sanctuary in Onalaska, WA in 1991. She founded the Wild Burro Rescue and Preservation Project three years later after learning of the National Park Service’s “direct reduction” program of wild burros in Death Valley, despite a 1971 law passed by Congress mandating roaming land for them. From 1987 to 1994, the park service shot 400 burros in Death Valley alone.
When Death Valley’s status changed from national monument to national park in 1994, a policy calling for the removal of non-native species that have detrimental effects was adopted by the agency. Wild burros and horses — descendants of animals loosed by 19th century miners and ranchers — were now considered feral beasts by NPS and “must be removed.”
After Diana found out about the fate of the Death Valley burros, she approached NPS with a plan. After lengthy and difficult talks, she and NPS came to an agreement: The agency would not shoot burros if her organization, Wild Burro Rescue, would organize, pay for and remove the burros themselves.
The sanctuary is now home to over 200 wild burros (donkeys)…
…horses, dogs, cats…
…and one smiling desert tortoise.
Unlike the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Corrals in Ridgecrest, CA, that I visited back in November 2015, the animals at Diana’s sanctuary appeared to be happier and more willing to interact with me as I approached them in their corrals.
Don’t get me wrong, the animals at the BLM facility appeared to be well taken care of and there were some moments of interaction between us, but were these moments genuine or were they just coming over to me because I had a bag full of carrots? – BLM Wild Horse & Burro Corrals in Ridgecrest, CA
I had no treats to offer the animals while walking around the Wild Burro Rescue and Preservation Project grounds…
…and yet they were rushing up to me, sticking their heads through the corrals, and giving me that look of acceptance, trust, and love.
Sure, it’s true that wild burros are generally more friendly to humans than wild horses are…
…but even the horses here seemed less spooked by humans than the ones I met at the BLM corrals.
Charles Darwin is usually credited with being the first scientist to give serious attention to the study of animal emotions. In his books On the Origin of Species (1859), The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), Darwin argued that there is continuity between humans and other animals in their emotional (and cognitive) lives; that there are transitional stages among species, not large gaps; and that the differences among many animals are differences in degree rather than in kind. Perhaps this could explain the reason why the animals at the sanctuary were more willing to interact with me than the ones located at the BLM corrals in Ridgecrest. There’s no doubt in my mind that the animals living out their lives at the sanctuary receive far more love and attention than those being kept by the BLM and that they probably understand that they were brought here…
…because they were wanted here.
The animals being held at the BLM corrals have probably figured out that the same people who evicted them from the lands they’ve called home for the last 156 years are the same people who are now responsible for their welfare. – BLM Wild Horse & Burro Corrals in Ridgecrest, CA
Diana depends solely on donations to feed and care for her animals but unlike most charities that only allocate a small portion of their donations to the actual cause they are supposedly trying to help, the majority of the donations that the Wild Burro Rescue and Preservation Project receives goes directly to serving the animals.
Diana also relies on volunteers to come and help out on projects around the 130-acre off grid property. These cute tiny houses are sometimes made available to volunteers during their stay. I was only able to donate monetarily during my visit but I plan on going back and spending a couple of days helping out with the animals and bettering their environment.
As I was leaving the ranch I came across this memorial which reminded me of a story I had recently read. All burros (donkeys) have a narrow strip of hair that runs down their backs and each of their shoulders in a darker shade than the rest of their coat. This naturally makes the shape of a cross. Evolutionist theorize that the cross is what remains of a stripey coat which would have been camouflage in their natural homes on the edge of deserts. But there’s also another explanation that some people like to point to. The donkey is mentioned numerous times in the Old and New Testament and has a key role on Palm Sunday when a donkey was chosen by Jesus to be his route into Jerusalem. The fact that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem fulfilled a prophecy spoken 500 years before that the Messiah would ride a donkey into Jerusalem. From this came a legend of the donkey’s cross. The little donkey that had been Jesus’ mount on Palm Sunday, came to the hill of Calvary. Seeing the tragic event occurring there, he wished with all his heart he had been able to carry the cross for Jesus, as he was the proper one to carry heavy burdens. The donkey turned his back on the sight, but he could not leave because he wished to stay until all was over because of his love for Jesus. In reward for the loyal and humble love of the little donkey, the Lord caused the shadow of the cross to fall across his back and left it there for the donkey to carry forevermore as a sign that the love of God, no matter how humble, carries a reward for all to see.
If you would like to help out these humble creatures, please visit https://www.wildburrorescue.org/. Your love and donations would be greatly appreciated and are tax deductible.
Bunks & Burros and Camp Burro: Straynger Ranger Volunteer Events
When I first visited the rescue back in May of 2016, I instantly felt a connection to the land and the animals that have found sanctuary there. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time helping out at the Rescue and have grown quite close to Diana and her dedicated team of volunteers who do an incredible job of providing care and love to all the animals but are often forced to place other projects on the back burner due to insufficient funding and/or limited resources. While the rescue has always been open to volunteers, the volunteer program itself hasn’t always been able to reach its full potential.
I created Bunks & Burros and Camp Burro to build upon the volunteer program that already existed at the rescue. These unique one of a kind programs offer volunteers the opportunity to bunk or camp alongside some of the last wild burros to be rescued out of Death Valley National Park. While the main objective of these events is caring for the animals living at the sanctuary, volunteers are also given the opportunity to hike along some of the sacred trails that the Owens Valley Paiute once roamed, experience incredible sunrises and sunsets of both Death Valley and the Sierra Nevada Range, explore incredible waterfalls that most people never get to see, encounter wildlife such as Golden Eagles, coyotes and herds of healthy Mule Dear, photograph some of the most beautiful scenery in Southern Owens Valley (including all the animals at the Rescue of course), and view the Milky Way like you’ve never seen it before.
Whether you’re an animal lover, photographer, hiker, travel blogger, bird watcher, stargazer, urban runaway, off grid wannabe, dreamer, or someone who just loves being one with nature, the Wild Burro Rescue and Preservation Project is open to anyone willing to help make a difference in an animals life. If you would like to join us on one of our upcoming volunteer events, please follow/like Straynger Ranger on FB where information regarding future events will be posted.