February 21, 2022
The week started out cold and windy with a very blustery day that kept knocking over the solar panels we put out on the ground followed by a snowy day…that’s right…it snowed in AZ. Just days before the snow I was outside in a sleeveless T-shirt and flip flops as it was in the mid 70’s. We kept it low key most of the week working on various indoor projects punctuated by some trips into town to get provisions or eat out and hikes with the dogs. One day while hiking with the dogs I found a woman’s ID very close to what looked like it might be a shallow grave. There was an approximate 4 foot long mound of fresh dirt with a couple of stones carefully placed on top. When I got home I told Luke about it and asked him to go dig it up to check, but he emphatically refused. I’ll drop the woman’s ID in the mail tomorrow and hopefully she is alright and someone just buried their trash up here. I probably have just watched and listened to too many true crime specials as many Americans have over the past few years. On a positive note we discovered a water fill station in town that only 30 cents to fill a gallon or $1.25 to fill a five gallon jug. I’ll be a little bummed to leave this area now that we have gotten to know some people and tricks along with great camping spots. There is always wonder in discovering new places, but comfort in knowing the place you are in. I haven’t missed the daily hustle to research and get to know a new area every week or so just to meet our basic amenities. The location we are camped in now is on top of a hill with beautiful views all around and scenic cliffs and valleys to look at just by hiking a 1/2 mile. Sometimes we can see cattle out grazing in the prairie. The only downfall is that on windy days, it get especially windy up here. That’s OK though. It’s worth it for the views and the peacefulness of this wide open country scenery where you see the occasional 4 wheel drive vehicle or mountain biker pass by. Here are photos of a typical view during sunset and the snowy day. I also finished my second cross stitch of our national sights. This one is the Taos Pueblos of New Mexico, considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the U.S.
With the extra time indoors this week I got a little creative with my cooking and came up with some winners. We decided that the best creations in the kitchen this week were the coconut fried shrimp made with the instant pot air fryer lid and the beef barbacoa. The beef was extra special as the meat came from the ranch in Sonoita who has agreed to have me over one day this week for my day in the life at a ranch photo project I want to do. Thanks for the great beef Vera Earl Ranch! On Thursday we stopped by the feed store to fill up our propane and a new young fella came out to do the fill for us. I noticed his rodeo belt buckle and asked if he was a genuine cowboy. He was very pleased and said he has been riding bucking broncos since he was 8 years old and always rides on the rodeo circuit. I asked him if he had broken any bones doing this and he said, “plenty”. So of course I asked why he continues to do it and his answer was very simple. He said, “the money”. I learned he is only 24 years old so he probably does not have many years left in the rodeo. It seems to mostly be a young man’s sport. As we get older injuries seem to be harder on our bodies and more difficult to heal from. This brings us to the real meat of my story this week and that is the rodeo.
On Saturday we went to my first rodeo. Luke had some memories of attending one when he was a kid, but neither of us grew up or were exposed to this aspect of American culture much while growing up. It had the intrigue of being a new experience and we were not disappointed. The events went from about 12pm-4pm. It was hot in the direct sun on metal bleacher seats, but the day was action packed and went by fast so these minor discomforts didn’t bother us much as we rapidly snapped photos of the action and cheered with the crowd. We saw bareback riding on bucking broncos, steer wrestling, tie down roping, team roping, bull riding, steer roping, saddle bronc riding, and barrel racing. Each event did not last long and then there would be very short interludes where a rodeo clown would entertain and ladies in sequins and fringe would ride the ring with a flag showing off the sponsors of the event. We did miss the starting event of the day called mutton busting where little kids ride on sheep. We took some amazing photos and did not witness any significant injuries as far as we could tell. Of course I had to learn more about this fascinating and risky sport. Before we delve into that though, enjoy some photos of the day.
So what is rodeo all about in America? Is it a beloved American tradition and fun sporting event or is it an archaic cultural practice that excludes women and is cruel to animals? You will find equal arguments for both sides I’m afraid so I cannot answer this for you. What I can tell you is that this sport leads to more serious injuries than any other sport and those who compete only get paid when they compete and often only if they win a place in the competition. As far as money goes, the average amount made per year is under 25K, but the top riders can make about 155K. Each event has its own risks from broken bones and concussions to amputated fingers for those doing the roping events. Rodeo clowns don’t seem to fair much better as it is their job to distract the bull to allow the fallen rider to get to safety. The fiercer the bull of bronco bucks, the more points the rider can potentially earn if he stays on. Because of this, rodeo bulls and broncs are bred to be fiercer and the sport becomes riskier. These events are all timed with the fastest time earning the most points so there is high risk when moving fast with animals that weigh this much. The women compete in barrel racing which is dominated by only women, but you won’t see them in any of the other events that are offered at most rodeos. It seems to be a largely male sport. We did see one contestant who was 63 years old out there which was very unusual and the announcer pointed this out so everyone could give him a hearty cheer. Many rodeo riders plan to retire in their 30’s and undergo any needed surgeries they have put off the correct the injuries they sustain. With many pro sports, athletes are still paid their salary when they are out for an injury, but this is not the case with rodeo riding.
Aside from the money, many rodeo riders have grown up in the tradition and come from a long line of relatives who also rode rodeo. They talk about the intense adrenaline rush they get for being on that bucking animal for 8 seconds and how they just don’t want to stop getting that rush. It is easy to believe that these cowboys and cowgirls who have grown up raising and caring for livestock love their animals. One cowboy talked about how he takes his horse to the vet every three months for a check up to make sure he is in peak condition as these horses are very athletic. He also talked about the care he gives to the type of feed and supplements his gives his horse to keep him healthy. However, animal rights activists provide the unquestionable argument that anytime animals are used in a business for profit, it is going to be bad for the animal. Articles by these groups state that livestock are often injured or killed in rodeo events and at best the events are very stressful for these animals. The more I read about this, the more I noted pain and suffering over glory and fun. There have been laws passed for the protection of animals and some rodeo events have been banned in the U.S. while certain states and cities have banned rodeos altogether. I am not sorry that I went. It was an exciting thing to witness once and it led me down a curious path of learning about the rodeo. However, I think that this may be a dying sport in the U.S. You wouldn’t know it out here in the West though so perhaps I’m wrong. These athletic animals really are beautiful when running at full speed and using all of their muscles and power to get that rider off of them. They are also beautiful in the wild and I hope to see some wild horses when we head north in a week or two. I will give the rodeo one thing though. The fashion at the rodeo is on fleek.
Jennifer MacNeil is currently traveling the US with her husband and two dogs. She loves to have adventures, explore, meet fascinating people, and see amazing places. She strives to learn every day and spread kindness to others. She documents her journey through her photography and blog to share with others.