Athletes and performers from all over the Southwest transformed Parque de Vida in Cortez into a miniature Scottish Highland on Saturday.
The all-day Cortez Celtic Fair was a follow-up to the Celtic Day event at last year’s Montezuma County Fair. Former fair board member Randy McKnight, who organized that event, said he wanted to make it bigger and better this year by holding it in a large, central Cortez location.
Visitors to the fair, many of whom came in kilts and other traditional Scottish garb, participated in a morning race, a tug-of-war tournament, Celtic dances and Highland games, while several Four Corners bands played in the amphitheater.
Last year’s Celtic Day, which also included Highland game demonstrations and music, was held in the Indoor Arena at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds at the beginning of the County Fair, as part of an effort by the fair board to draw more people outside local 4-H clubs to the event.
McKnight said he was pleased with how it was received and wanted to keep it going, even after he left the board in January.
“It’s good for the city, and we’re able to keep it free of charge for the public, so they can bring their families,” he said.
This year, he invited more vendors, including local food trucks like The Wigglin’ Pig and Yia Yia’s Concession, as well as more Celtic-themed organizations, like the Dolores-based Rannoch Glen Ranch and Gifts, and MacFarlane’s Company living history troupe.
He also added a beer tent featuring several local breweries, which he said he hoped would draw more Cortez-area residents.
Half the proceeds from beer sales went to support the Piñon Project, which hosted a kids’ carnival near the Cortez Recreation Center. McKnight said local business sponsors covered the rest of the fair’s expenses.
Grant Oliver, who heads Highland games in New Mexico and Colorado, brought seven athletes to the fair to demonstrate Scottish games like the caber toss, sheaf toss and weight-over-the-bar. Next year, he said he hopes the city will host a full-fledged Highland games, which could bring as many as 40 athletes to town.
But this year, the focus was on laid-back fun, as the New Mexico athletes showed off their skills and helped adventurous visitors try their hands at balancing the giant poles used in the caber toss.
Oliver said he jumped at the chance to attend the fair in Cortez, as part of his ongoing efforts to promote Highland sports in the Four Corners. The games are a good way to stay in shape at any age, he said, and their roots in the ancient, agricultural society of the Scottish Highlands make them a bridge to many Westerners’ early heritage. Oliver said he also likes celebrating Celtic culture because he admires its inclusiveness.
“For the early Celts, a woman had actual legal worth,” he said. “There was more equality than most societies.”
His group brought game equipment designed to accommodate people of all sizes, and he said he’s working to create more opportunities for women and people with disabilities to compete in the Highland games.
Not all the Fair’s performers were human. Black Pony Farm, Weehaven Welsh Ponies and Gypsy Spirit Ranch brought Celtic-bred horses and ponies to meet the fair’s guests. Lisa de Kramer, owner of Gypsy Spirit, brought a Gypsy Vanner horse named Shane who was born in the United Kingdom. She regularly brings her horses to the Moab Celtic Festival, she said, so she was excited to attend an event closer to home.
“When I heard that we were going to have one, I said, ‘Oh, you’ve got to have a Gypsy Vanner,’” she said.
Although they didn’t give rides or performances, the horses were popular with the crowd. Both de Kramer and Vickie Paxton of Weehaven said they would like to return next year.
This year’s Montezuma County Fair won’t have a Celtic Day, but McKnight said he hopes the new fair will continue to grow.
“The park is very nice, and we’re more centrally located, so we can draw a lot of tourists,” he said.