June 6, 2007
Although it’s been quite a spell now, there was a time when, due to proximity and an often ajar upstairs bedroom window, what happened at the Heber Rodeo Grounds seldom stayed at the Heber Rodeo Grounds. Vegas, it was not. Also, a bad thing, it was not.
Rather, the attendant noises spilling over from the various rodeos, powwows, and demolition derbies not to mention the Heber Creeper steam locomotives across the street — served as a most interesting soundtrack to small town Americana. They also served as a siren’s call. Customarily, when there is that much fun going on next door, one is wont to partake.
Not that everything that wafted past the curtains proved to be an acceptable intrusion. It has yet to become entirely clear as to how rodeo announcers come to be. Where do they find these guys? How do they evolve? It’s as if the powers-that-be somehow harnessed time travel and extracted them from medieval "talk radio." That wasn’t redundant, was it?
At least those nitrogen-rich aromas that come with the sporadic arrivals of "rough stock" in the neighborhood have a "clean" odor about them. It would be hard to say the same concerning the Cro-Magnon hogwash usually spewing from the public address speakers between the pole-bendin’ and the ropin’ and the buckin’. They just don’t seem to get the fact that, these days, patriotism isn’t always cloaked in primary colors.
Be that as it may, taking in a rodeo at the Wasatch County Fairgrounds with a Mt. Timpanogos sunset as backdrop is just about as good as it gets. And this week, with the Utah High School Rodeo State Finals in town, there are opportunities aplenty to lean on a rail and soak-in some gritty competitions between high-caliber athletes from around the state.
The atmosphere of the annual High School Finals covers the gamut from families showin’ up early with their multi-generational support groups and horse trailers that probably didn’t go for much more than a decent-sized Deer Valley lot, to the teen who had to scurry to a second job after linebacker or wrestling practice in order to afford resin for his riggin’. It truly is a special sport.
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As a fan, the way to do it is to show-up early and stay late. They get goin’ not long after sun-up and, what with Rodeo Queen contestants and sleepy livestock on property, there’s a lot of milling-about going on. There are also quiet reflections over cups of "joe" not to mention the younger set with their appropriated "lassos" tossin’ loops at hay bales with horns.
Scufflin’ through the yet-to-be-watered-down dirt with an old pair of Justin Ropers on your feet and properly-worn elk-hide gloves stuffed in your back pocket helps put you in a mind-set befitting the landscape at hand. Lord knows, you’ve learned to talk-the-talk over the years and as long as no one suggests you walk-the-walk, all is well. It’s not unlike rugby in that sense.
For the most part it’s the support structure that greets the dawn vendors of western wear and foodstuffs with trucks and trailers to back-up and unload. Then there are the rodeo organizers and judges gathering to compare clipboard agendas and boot shines. And, of course, parents checking brands on the yearlings and rounding-up their own herds for the daily stampede to "Chick’s" or "The Hub" while there are still booths available.
The stock, even those who do this sort of thing often, seem somewhat nervous. The steers and calves, suspecting that things could get rather dicey before the day is through, begin praying "in tongues." Soon the domino effect takes hold as Brahma bulls begin snortin’ and, not wanting to be left out, the buckin’ bronco bunch joins in.
There’s also a mess of putterin’ going on, what with the chutes and bleachers not being quite perfectly aligned. One bearing witness to the constant tweaking of alignments and such would think that, by comparison, keeping a guitar in tune would be a piece of cake.
But all that is nothing compared to process of getting the public address system up and running. Although it’s somewhat obvious that it’s not their first rodeo, they are doin’ their absolute best to mask the fact. Cracks and sputters and squeals soon displace any residual serenity left over from those golden hours of daybreak. But, then again, this is the Wasatch County Rodeo Grounds and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
You are reminded that there is a practicality associated with most all the events that will take place over the rest of the week. Back in the day the gringos learned the finer points of workin’ cattle from the vaqueros who had been developing it as an art form out in what’s now "the west" since back in the 1700s.
The American cowboy would appropriate the "lingo" and the attire and the equipment and traditions and through modifications over the years make it his own. They learned to rope and ride and break horses and herd and brand and tell tall tales all of which came to influence the modern sport of rodeo. In fact the word "buckaroo" is nothing more than a corruption of vaquero which translates to "cowboy."
So, once again, it’s time for Utah’s best to gather and strut their ropin’ and ridin’ and steer wrestlin’ shtick with all the event winners qualifying for the National High School Finals Rodeo in Springdale, Illinois in July. They know all about our rodeo traditions back there. Last year Utah nabbed the national team title and also took home the Queen trophy. There are times when it’s truly hard to be humble.
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