The 89th annual Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo offers a chance for wranglers, bull riders and even young mutton busters to prove their mettle.
But it’s also a celebration of community, of time-honored tradition and agricultural heritage.
“It’s really evolved into quite an event,” said Marti Spitzer with the Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo Committee. She has supported the event in some way since she was about 12 years old.
She estimated that the rodeo saw a total of 5,000 attendees visit the Montezuma County Fairgrounds from Thursday through Saturday.
The event draws rodeo enthusiasts, but for those seeking different sorts of thrills or perhaps just some funnel cakes and French fries, there was another annual favorite: the Frazier Carnival. The carnival took over the other half of the fairgrounds, with rides, food, and plenty of games for locals to enjoy over the course of three balmy nights.
The rodeo kickoffThe first night of the annual Ute Mountain Roundup was filled with contests for all ages, plenty of clown banter and a memorable tribute to fallen heroes.
This year, the first night on Thursday also happened to fall on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, making it a fitting evening to celebrate Military Appreciation Night.
Announcer Jody Carpenter included military personnel in his opening prayer, in addition to asking for the safety of riders and livestock alike.
“All those men and women that are fighting for our freedom, in countries abroad, we ask that you put them all in your loving hands and bring them home safe to us,” he said.
The first night saw a sizable turnout, with cars backed up down U.S. Highway 160 to get into the fairgrounds for the rodeo and carnival. According to informal surveys conducted by the night’s master of ceremonies, the rodeogoers filling the stands included a smattering of foreigners, many repeat attendees and even a few Californians.
The night kicked off with stick horse races, as youngsters gearing up for the big leagues “rode” around Miss Rodeo Colorado standing in the center of the arena.
After the stick horse races, announcers recognized Military Appreciation Night with the sounding of taps, a rendition of the national anthem, a color guard presentation, and a special ceremony honoring Sgt. 1st Class Will Lindsay, the 33-year-old Green Beret from Cortez who died in combat in Afghanistan in March.
Lindsay’s family rode into the arena on a horse-drawn carriage, and a riderless horse signified a fallen soldier.
“Tonight, we use the riderless horse to pay tribute to a great soldier,” Carpenter said.
The competitions all took place at the fairgrounds’ main arena and drew competitors of all ages – from tykes clinging to sheep during the mutton bustin’ event to professional riders on broncs and bulls. Most of the participants heralded from the Four Corners states, but a handful came from Wyoming, Washington, Montana and Texas.
The event’s emcees – rodeo announcer Carpenter and daredevil clown Troy Lerwill – guided the crowd through the night with banter, filling the gaps between contests with jokes about moonshine and Lerwill’s many marriages.
Banter evolved into a skit involving Lerwill and a series of motorcycle escapades around the arena, and their commentary grew more colorful with the final bullfighting and riding contests.
“That one lasted as long as Kim Kardashian’s first marriage,” Carpenter said of one bull ride. A bull was described as “hotter than a jalapeño pepper.”
The night wrapped up a little before 10 p.m. – or 21½ hours before the next series of competitions, in the words of Carpenter.
The rodeo continued Friday and Saturday nights, with Friday’s theme being a “Salute to First Responders” and Saturday’s “Rodeo Heritage Night.” Each night, the rodeo featured bareback bronc riding, team roping, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, breakaway roping and bull riding.
Frazier Shows carnival
At the Frazier Shows carnival Friday night, friends and family had fun socializing and taking thrill rides with names like Cliff Hanger, Freak Out, Starship and Vertigo.
This is the 24th year Frazier has been set up with the Ute Mountain Roundup in Cortez, said Frazier owner and President Steve Broetsky.
“To hear the kids screaming on the rides, and see everyone having a good time outdoors, that’s why we do it,” he said. “What sets us apart is our staff, we are a hardworking bunch and are like an extended family.”
Some of the larger rides cost $1 million a piece, he said, and are made in Italy, the Netherlands and France. Maintenance and safety are paramount and include regular inspections and upkeep by certified engineers.
From March to December, a staff of 75 tours New Mexico, Texas, the Navajo Nation and Colorado, putting on 40 to 50 shows per year.
On Friday evening, teenagers and families with kids enjoyed the carnival scene at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds.
The Salyer family from Mancos has come the past 10 years, and their daughter smiled broadly as she hugged stuffed animals won from a game. Chris Neuwirth of Lewis came with his wife and son Jonathan.
“It’s the first time we have taken rides together, so it is a special day,” Neuwirth said. “He’s having a great time.”
Hannah and Amelia of Kentucky were on a road trip passing through when they saw the giant Ferris wheels, food vendors and lights.
“We had to come check it out,” they said.
Olive Littlewhiteman of Towaoc came out with her family and kids, an annual tradition.
“They know when it is every year, and just love it as you can see,” she said, pointing to their gleeful expressions on a nearby ride. “For us adults, we love running into people and socializing. The weather is really nice, and the corn dogs are good, too.”
Over a five-day run, the carnival will see 15,000 attendees, Broetsky said. They operate on an annual budget of $300,000 to $500,000 per year with a home base in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The dozens of rides, equipment and staff are hauled from place to place with a fleet of 40 vehicles including eight box trucks and 25 semitrailers.
“For me, it’s like a working vacation,” Broetsky said. “Carnivals continue to be popular. We compete with indoor video games, but those are nothing compared to these thrill rides and just the atmosphere of coming out to the carnival on a summer night!”
Parade launches final dayThe final day of the rodeo was marked by another longtime tradition: Early Saturday afternoon, Cortez residents lined Montezuma Avenue to watch the Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo Parade.
The parade included floats and marchers alike. Businesses and local agencies such as fire and police departments slowly paraded down the street, cheered by onlookers on the median and along the sidewalk.
“It’s a community event,” said Celeste Watson, who came to watch her husband taking part in the event.
The parade was hosted by the Cortez Rotary Club, and is a part of the 89th annual rodeo going on at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds from Thursday through Saturday.
Some of the parade participants included the Valley Inn Nursing Home, Ute Mountain Casino, and Southwest Memorial Hospital. The Montezuma-Cortez High School marching band made an appearance too, playing tunes down the street.
“It’s tradition,” said Denice Ledesma, “since I was little and now that I have little ones of my own.”