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Western Roots

Jan 24, 2019 07:40PM ● By Stephanie Wilson
To get where you’re going, don’t forget where you came from. The annual National Western Stock Show reminds us that Denver’s Wild Western origin got us to where we are today, at the crossroads of commerce and culture.

In 1858, a small group of prospectors from Georgia crossed the great plains of the Colorado Territory and made what’s been called a “region-changing” discovery at the base of the Rocky Mountains: Gold.

Not a whole lot of it, but that news isn’t what spread faster than a wild fire. The mere mention of the precious metal caused a stampede of get-rich-quick folks to descend on the region, hoping Colorado would be the base for the same kind of Gold Rush that had brought untold riches to some lucky folks in California less than a decade earlier.

In the early days, Denver was a bleak version of a Wild West settlement, according to Tom Noel, a former chair at the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission and a professor of history at the University of Colorado Denver. He told Visit Denver that early on, the settlement was filled with a lot of shacks, shanties, and log cabins and teepees, too, where the Arapaho tribe, led by Chief Little Raven, lived.

Less than 50 years after that precious metal discovery, the premiere livestock show in the historic “yards” was held in town. Fast forward to today, and the National Western Stock Show considered the Super Bowl of livestock shows is still held each January for 16 days. The nationally recognized heritage and entertainment event hosts nearly 20 breeds of cattle and includes one of the world’s richest regular season professional rodeos, world-class equestrian shows, and Colorado’s largest agricultural trade show.

Last year, that lineup brought in more than 705,000 visitors during its two-week-plus run (the largest stock show attendance was in 2006 for its 100th anniversary, which brought in 726,972 guests.) Denverites can celebrate the city’s rich western history and enjoy the lively entertainment that comes in all sorts of forms: more than 15,000 animals, rodeos featuring top-notch bull riders, horse shows, livestock competitions, auctions and acres of shopping at the state’s largest Western trade show.

It all takes place at the National Western Complex where there’s more than 600,000 square feet of event space dedicated to the show. You won’t be able to see it all, but what you do see will be highly entertaining no matter when you attend. (A tip: Weekdays are the least crowded and easiest to navigate.)

Don’t miss the Hall of Education, located next to the Expo Hall. On the third level, you’ll find the Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale, a fine exhibition of contemporary realism of the Western United States. This particular addition to the stock show lineup dates to 1993, a joint inspiration of Coors Brewing Company and the National Western Stock Show.

The historic and nonprofit event is designed to strengthen American agriculture through enrichment programs and youth education in livestock, equestrian farming, ranching, animal awareness, and appreciation. “We celebrate western lifestyles, our communities, provide life-long memories and family traditions,” states the official literature.

The fun this year begins on Thursday, January 10, with the 2019 Stock Show Kick-Off Parade, led by Grand Marshall Dana Crawford, a Denver urban developer and preservationist. Weather permitting (it didn’t permit in 2017, as icy streets and hooves don’t mix, leading to its cancellation) she’ll lead the traditional drive of Longhorn cattle, horses, and western wagons through the streets of downtown Denver. The parade begins at noon outside of Ms. Crawford’s namesake hotel, The Crawford at Union Station, and marches 15 blocks down 17th Street to Tremont. The day will be officially declared as “Dress Western Day” by a City of Denver proclamation, so get your cowboy boots and hats ready to roll. It’s a modern spectacle of an age-old tradition an instagram-worthy experience at the very least.

Attending the stock show is a rite of passage for Denverites a way to show your civic pride while honoring the city’s history and its future. With so many different events and happenings going down during the 16-day run, no matter where your interests lay, you’ll find something to deem worthy of your time and attention. From the Llama Arrival at Murdoch’s Jr. Barn on January 11 at 9 a.m. to the Colorado Rocky Mountain Fiddle Championships at Beef Palace Auction Arena on January 12 at 9 a.m. to the Colorado vs. The World Rodeo at the Coliseum on January 12 at 11 a.m., there’s a nonstop lineup of events worthy of your calendar alerts.

Here are some of the bigger highlights:

FOR FOODIES:
5th Annual BBQ Throwdown
SATURDAY, JANUARY 12, 10 A.M. – 4 P.M.;
FREE WITH GROUNDS ADMISSION
Forty teams compete for the coveted Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion titles in a wide range of categories, including pork, ribs, chicken, and brisket. The throwdown includes competitor viewing, live music, culinary demos, grill giveaways, free samples, and even a free beer power hour.

FOR MOTOR HEADS:
CINCH Equicross
THURSDAY, JANUARY 17, 2:30 P.M.
A gymkhana-style rodeo that’s a type of motorsport where speed is the focus consisting of four events: Rescue Race, Key Hole Racing, Ring Race/Musical Ropes, and Flag Racing. Contestants are between 14 and 18 years old, competing for $5,000 in scholarship prizes.

FOR FANS OF THE RODEO:
Colorado vs. The World Rodeo
MULTIPLE DAYS AND TIMES
The semi-final event takes place on Saturday, January 12 @3:30 p.m. and includes the coronation of Miss Rodeo Colorado. 

FOR WHOLESOME FUN:
Stadium Arena Mutton Bustin’
JANUARY 22, 6 P.M.
One of the most popular events, Mutton Bustin’ features children ages 5–7 and under 55 pounds riding sheep out of a chute and into the arena, trying to hold on for as long as they can.

FOR DOG LOVERS:
Stock Dog Trials
VARIOUS DATES & TIMES
From backyard pets to a rancher’s top assistant, dog’s are man’s best friend. These trials let you witness the furry herders in all their trained glory and there’s even the 10th annual Stock Dog Sale if you’re in the market for a new companion.

For the full schedule, which is packed with nonstop activities in all sorts of categories, head to NATIONALWESTERN.COM/SCHEDULE. Many of the happenings are free with a general admission to the grounds, which runs for $22 per person. You can ride a mechanical bull, catch livestock auctions, 4H shows, and rodeos of all kinds. You can indulge in fair fare, from funnel cakes to turkey legs. Your kids can hop on some free pony rides. You can browse Western-themed jewelry, arts, and crafts proffered by nearly 1,000 vendors. Catch some sheep shearing, swine shows, dancing horses, bison judging, yak seminars, top hogs of the wild west competitions. And so much more. You just have to see it for yourself think of it as an act of support and civic pride.

Altogether, the event has an economic impact of around $115 million per year, with 60 percent of that being from non-local sources, generating $6 million in local and state tax revenues. Those funds are expected to increase once the reimagined National Western Center campus is complete a hefty undertaking launched five years ago and funded through Colorado State University, the Western Stock Show Association, the City & County of Denver, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and History Colorado plus a capital campaign hoping to raise $100 million. The new campus to be built in phases over roughly 10 years is designed to be an international center of excellence in agricultural innovation, education, research, and technology, serving the interests of farmers, ranchers, tourists, researchers, students, and educators from around the world.