Escalante Days brings Dolores together as fire burns above town

Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018 7:28 PM
Bill Ragland saws his way to a 6.9-second victory in the chain saw competition at Escalante Days. Debbie Valerio keeps time.
The chain saw and arm-wrestling contests draw large crowds at Escalante Days in Dolores.
The Raglands and Debbie Valerio take top honors at the Escalante Days chain saw competition.
Terra Otterson competes with Kelsey Sanders in the arm-wrestling competition.
The men’s heavyweight arm-wrestling class had some tough competition.
Vic Sundquist, 98, is a crowd favorite in the chain saw competition.
A hula hoop event was new this year for the festival.
The Dolores Mountain Quilters showed off their artwork during the parade. The quilters’ 2018 biennial show runs Aug. 24-25 at the Dolores Community Center.

A festive parade kicked off Escalante Days in Dolores on Saturday, and was followed up by rowdy chain saw and arm-wrestling contests cheered on by an energetic crowd.

A refreshing rainstorm the night before dampened the nearby Plateau Fire, providing clear, blue skies for the downtown tradition.

The chain saw competition was again dominated by the Ragland clan, a proud Dolores logging family that still operates Stoner Top Lumber.

Bill Ragland, 87, won the event, needing just 6.9 seconds to rip through three cuts on a ponderosa pine log as the crowd roared its approval. His son Doug Ragland took second with 11.12 seconds, and his grandson Jake Ragland took third at 11.22 seconds.

“You got to know how to sharpen a chain; the rest is operator experience,” Bill Ragland said a victory circle composed of family and friends.

Debbie Valerio also has that knowledge. The general manager of The River, the event sponsor, frequently takes the gold medal, and did again this year with a time of 18.22 seconds. Kristen Richardson took second, and Irene King took third. “What people most get wrong is they try to muscle it, and it gets bound up,” Valerio said. “You have to let the saw do the work, and then it will cut like butter, unless there is a knot.”

Legendary Dolores elder Vic Sundquist, 98, showed up several competitors half his age with his smooth, steady cuts. He grew up at the historic McPhee lumber town now under the reservoir. Vic lives on his own and still cuts his own firewood, said his daughter Anita.

“He is so proud to represent five generations of timber workers in this area,” she said. “We have a family reunion every year for this event.”

After a short break for the crowd to dine at local food vendors selling Mexican street tacos, gyros, cheeseburgers, and Navajo tacos, it was time for the arm-wrestling contest.

About 20 lanky and muscled men and women competitors faced off. Nano Sanchez, of Dolores, signed up for the heavyweight class, and said technique is more important than power.

“You’ve got to get control at the first jump, and keep your shoulders square,” he says.

The Johnson family dominated this year. Jade Johnson won the women’s bracket, and has won first place the last three years. Her brother Jordan Johnson won the men’s heavyweight division. “She taught me how to arm-wrestle growing up,” Jordan says.

Next it was the water balloon toss, hula hoop demonstrations, the fire department water fight, and a 10-band music festival on two stages at the Dolores River Brewery.

Nothing will stop Dolores from its celebration traditions, said Chamber Director Rocky Moss, referring to the wildfire just 5 miles outside town.

Just days before the Escalante Days mountain bike race, organizers learned the Boggy Draw course had been closed because of the wildfire. But with barely a flinch, they worked with the San Juan National Forest and Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office to relocate it to nearby Sage Hen trail system. About 130 riders competed.

“Escalante Days is when the entire community comes together to have a good time, and this year they are showing that in spite of the fires, we are still ‘Dolores Strong,’” said Moss.