I came for the Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, but I stayed for the rodeo. There is not much to Bryce Canyon City: a general store, a laundromat, a car repair garage, a gas station, a couple of souvenir shops selling rocks and postcards, and a few nondescript motels. Like Moab, Hanksville, and the other small towns I’ve passed through while headed to Las Vegas, Bryce Canyon City poses one question to a city slicker: What the hell do you do here at night? In the case of Bryce Canyon, the answer was just 100 yards from my hotel door. You go to the rodeo. Next time one of the travelin’ rodeo shows is at the Chicago’s United Center, I’ll be there.
Tonight I spent 90 minutes at Ruby’s Inn Rodeo. Thirteen dollars gets you through the front gate. You have a choice of two stands for seating. One is wood, the other is metal. Together, they hold somewhere around 400 people. Last night, it was not a capacity crowd, but close.
Things apparently have changed since I used to see the rodeo on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, at least at Ruby’s Inn Rodeo. Riders in the bucking bronco and bull segments wore helmets and some sort of protective vest, which eliminated the “car crash” thrill. Despite the absence of danger, the riding was still pretty impressive, as were the cowboys and gals who competed for the honors.
Ruby’s Inn Rodeo was clearly a family business. The cowboy animal wranglers wore pink shirts and white chaps. The cowboys and gals looked the part, including the kids (as young as seven or eight) who took part in some of the tamer events, like calf and lamb riding, as well the three-barrel obstacle course.
The rodeo is strictly summer stock, aimed at the likes of Billy Crystal and Bruno Kirby. When the gravely-voiced master of ceremonies asked those in attendance whether this was their first rodeo, the response was a loud and unanimous “Yes.” He then asked who was from France, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, and several other European countries. At that point, I thought we were headed down the Trump road, but the man who could be a country singer never took that journey. He was strictly non-partisan. The stands roared when he asked who was from the United States. As I was soon to find out, not everyone was American. Turns out there were three guys from Eindhoven, Netherlands in attendance.
After the national anthem, the action began with the lamb ride. It was then on to to the calf ride. Both events featured the kids, many of whom appeared to be the children of the cowboys and gals. It was then on to the bucking broncos, the three-barrel obstacle course, the bull riders, and finally the calf roping. It was all over in just under 90 minutes. I could have sat there for another couple of hours, particularly with the soundtrack that played over the loudspeakers: ZZ Top, Queen, and various country singers.
Were the cowboys and gals professional riders who traveled the circuit? No one ever said. I was told by a park ranger that the rodeo was a nice way for some of the participants to make a few extra bucks during the summer, but that the riders worked other jobs full-time.
Three of the cowboys proved to be the exception. They were the three guys from The Netherlands. I saw them drinking beers after the event, so I asked whether they were some of the cowboys sans helmets. Turns out they were. The three had traveled to the States to do a western states tour. They had been to Zion, Bryce Canyon, and several other parks, flying into Las Vegas, where they would finish out their trip with three days of fun (no gambling according to one). In one sense, they were typical tourists that I encountered during my time in Utah—they weren’t American. I ran into hundreds of Chinese, Japanese, Russian, German, French, and other foreign tourists. In fact—and this is not an exaggeration—I encountered more foreigners than Americans.
These guys were not typical cowboys in another sense. None of them worked on a farm, nor had any of them every rode a bull. Tonight that changed. Why someone would go on vacation, and then decide to ride a bull for the first time in a rodeo is completely beyond me, but all three had donned a helmet and protective vest minutes before our conversation. I’ll say one thing, “They had balls.”
[Click on an image to enlarge it]
Ruby’s Inn Rodeo
Parading the Flag During the National Anthem
Round Them Up
The Cowboy Snack Bar
Riding Into the Sun
A Trusty Assistant Ready to Capture the Beast
Staying the Course
Down, But Not Out
Rounding the Barrel
Starting Them Young
In the Loop
Photographer’s Notes: As for the photography. I came expecting to photograph nature, so I did not pack a camera suitable for action. But as they say, the best camera is the one you have with you. So I used a medium format Fuji GFX50s, with a 120mm lens mounted. This camera does have autofocus, but it is meant for carefully crafted single shots. Nobody would shoot a sporting event with it. Wrong camera, wrong focal length, wrong SD cards (transfer rates to slow for action photography). Despite the occasional buffer lockup, I think the images came out pretty nice.