Rodeo events start Feb. 15 and transform Tucson through Feb. 23
Not much can outshine this Old Pueblo extravaganza, with its thunder of wranglers and cattle cars that charge into the city to turn Tucson into what it has historically been – the city of the cowboy, comfortable when hooves pound and dust billows.
Whether you’re a greenhorn or a career cowpoke, the amazing combination of athleticism, authenticity, showmanship and history corrals us all for La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, the 89th annual Tucson Rodeo and Parade.
This wild-west rumble draws an estimated 60,000 spectators for the sportsmanship, with 200,000 more turning out for the parade – all spiffed in polished boots and cinched jeans, with trailers of livestock filling our stables, generating more than $15 million for the city and our businesses. Beyond the dollars, top-notch horsemanship is underway: Tucson is the largest outdoor winter rodeo in the world and a key stop in the international pro rodeo circuit. This year’s purse – approximately $360,000 – will attract more than 700 contestants and 1,000 horses, including the biggest names in the business. A custom gold and silver buckle, inlaid with diamonds, will be awarded to the Tucson Rodeo’s top all-around athlete.
Rodeo is a serious sport, confirms Tucson Rodeo General Manager Gary Williams, himself a bull rider on the professional circuit with over 500 rodeos to his credit. Within the historic Tucson Rodeo Grounds on South Sixth Avenue and East Irvington Road, a complete western heritage experience awaits attendees, featuring six rodeos, including the culminating Sun., Feb. 23 finals, which will bring together the world’s top cowboys and cowgirls from the week’s events.
As Williams explains, the arena size dictates the momentum that livestock get coming out of the chute, and as Tucson is one of the largest arenas on the circuit, the Tucson Rodeo delivers world-renowned excitement. Competition all week will include bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, tie down roping, team roping and bull riding, all sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) with the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) sanctioning the barrel racing. World famous rodeo clown Justin Rumford will be there to wow the crowds, as will the Casa Grande women’s precision riding team called the Quadrille de Mujeres, which will lead off the rodeo in their 35th consecutive performance.
Rodeo mornings will be for the kids, with 6- to 14-year-olds competing in the Justin Boots Junior Rodeo and 4- to 6-year-olds riding sheep in Dodge Mutton Bustin’ events. The afternoons will be for the pro Rodeo activities.
You may not know it, but Tucson is home to a world champion cowgirl – Sherry Cervi of Marana, who set the all-time record in barrel racing just this past December. She’ll compete as will as other rodeo champs including the great local team steer roper Cesar de la Cruz, a multi-time national finalist.
In addition to all the daring saddle bronc and rough stock arena action, the rodeo puts on world-class western shopping, entertainment and culinary experiences. While mainstays like the Silver Saddle Steak House on Benson Highway at Interstate 10 will be overflowing, fans also can rub shoulders with famous cowboys and girls in the Coors Barn Dance tent, the stop for rodeo evening food and live entertainment. Western Marketplace vendors will offer novelties, apparel and goods reflecting working ranch life as well as frontier glam.
“It’s a combination of enjoyment, western pride, arts and the community,” says Williams, who also notes that this year’s collectible objet d’art poster features Arizona artist and cattle rancher JaNeil Anderson. Businesses including Wandering Cowboy and Kalil Bottling are among the local sponsors involved in this Tucson event, with national sponsors including Justin Boots, Coors and Ram Trucks (Dodge).
But the essence of this western experience may be best personified in the parade, the largest spectator event in Arizona. On Thursday, Feb. 20, as is tradition, businesses and schools close and families camp out to cheer on the Rodeo Parade that this year will include over 900 horses, mules and miniatures, 90 buggies and wagons, nine marching bands and more than 2,100 participants.
KOLD Anchor Dan Marries is 2014 Grand Marshal of this massive western Americana celebration, which will process a 2.45 mile route, winding along Park Avenue to Irvington Road and finally collecting at the parade grounds. More than 300 volunteers are expected to support a hardy core of 36 who comprise the all-volunteer Rodeo Committee, and more than 38,000 households are expected to watch it live on the KOLD feed.
Parade entrants come from across the country (we’ve had camels, too), and the El Paso Sheriff Posse will be there with its historic wagon that rode the Butterfield trail, as will Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and City Council representatives.
“It’s our connection to the past and future of ranching, our way of celebrating our region’s tradition,” says Rodeo Committee Chair Bob Stewart, who has been with the Parade Committee more than 11 years. He and other volunteers also manage and staff the Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum, a hidden gem on the Tucson Rodeo Grounds which includes a 1930s sheriff’s adobe livery stable as well as a hangar that retains the original steel frame of the 1919 Tucson Airport, the site of the first municipal airport in the United States. Buckboards used in old movies, exhibits and even an 1863 carriage built for Mexican royalty are all part of this historic hideaway.
La Fiesta de los Vaqueros and all its Tucson Rodeo accouterments are profoundly larger than life. Giddy-up, and dig your spurs into this primo cowboy event.
La Fiesta de los Vaqueros begins Sat., Feb. 15, at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds, 4823 S. 6th Ave. near Irvington Road. Gates open at 11 a.m. The Tucson Rodeo Parade begins 9 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 20. Parking is available at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds. Call 741-2233 or email info@TucsonRodeo.com for fees, tickets and details. Learn more at TucsonRodeo.com or TucsonRodeoParade.org.