Damian Padilla competes in steer wrestling
Published January/February 2014

A Cowboy Tradition

La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, Tucson’s annual rodeo, rides into town

BYLorraine A. Darconte
Every February in sunny Tucson, cowboys gather in droves to show off their ranch-bred skills. Competition is fierce at La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, as cowboys compete for more than a quarter-million dollars in prize money.
 
Dating back to 1925, this event was created in the midst of Prohibition in an effort to lure more visitors to the city during the winter months. Cowboys battled for such prizes as 100 pounds of potatoes and a big slab of ham. Yes, times were tough. 
 
Ride ‘em, Cowboy
La Fiesta de los Vaqueros is one of the top 25 professional rodeos in North America. The rodeo, from the Spanish rodear, which means to surround, has tens of thousands of diehard fans itching to see bull riding, bareback and saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, team roping, and women’s barrel racing.
 
The crowd is brimming with cowboys, cowboy wannabes, and cowboy groupies all sporting dark blue, tight-fitting Wranglers, gigantic championship belt buckles (some acquired in the ring, some purchased in a store), boots, and cowboy hats — in black, white, leather, felt, you name it.
 
Sequin-bedecked rodeo queens with gold paper crowns attached to their hats proudly parade on horseback around the arena while waving to the crowd. Rodeo clowns with brightly painted faces and baggy pants stretch their limbs behind horse trailers, waiting for their moment to shine. Even the advertisements plastered about the arena — for guns, trucks, whiskey, and chewing tobacco — tell a story of a unique way of life. The smell of roasted corn, fry bread, and horse manure permeates the dust-filled air, while country music hits blast from static-y speakers.
 
A voice booms out over the loud speaker and instructs the crowd to stand for the national anthem. Everyone rises. A rodeo queen on horseback carrying an oversize American flag takes several laps around the ring as a local celebrity belts out “The Star Spangled Banner.” The crowd howls its approval and the first chute opens. Bam! Out flies a bucking bronc with a cowboy hanging on for dear life, legs flying straight up over his head. He bounces, jerks, and jolts before he’s sent flying through the air — then to the ground — all within seconds.
 
The crowd roars. Let the games begin!
LORRAINE A. DARCONTE enjoys photographing and writing about Tucson’s most interesting, entertaining, and quirky people, places, and events.
 
For More Information
Call your local AAA Travel professional at 1-888-870-9392 or visit AAA.com.
Fallon Taylor rides in a rodeo event
Fallon Taylor rides in a rodeo event
If You Go
The 89th annual La Fiesta de los Vaqueros takes place February 15 – 23, 2014. Ticket prices range from $12 for general admission seating to $60 for the Vaquero Club.
 
4823 S. Sixth Ave.
520-741-2233
 
Billed as the world’s longest nonmotorized parade, the parade’s grandstands are located at East Irvington Road and South Sixth Avenue. Tickets for grandstand seating are $5 for kids under 13; $7 for adults. 
 
Feb. 20, 2014, at 9 a.m. 
520-294-1280 
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