Asher on Aspen: Wild Wild West

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen


A cowgirl competes in the roping portion of the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Our boots shuffled through the dirt in unison as we approached a rowdy, sold-out grandstand. Looking into a sea of cowboy hats, we searched for a place to stand. The air was thick with the stench of livestock and barbecue. A wildly zealous announcer boomed over the loudspeaker alerting the crowd that the Wild West Carbondale Rodeo was about to begin.

The bleachers were packed with patrons and every inch of the fence perimeter was accounted for. We settled behind the cattle chutes near the entrance. My line of vision barely rose above the junior cowboy kids lined up in front of us. They were positioned on the rails, with their boots dangling beneath. Like any given music concert, I had this innate, unnecessary desire to be front row. I knew we’d get there eventually, but I was anxious to have eyeballs on the chaos.

The night started off with the most dangerous event of the evening: bull riding. With only one hand hanging on to the bull rope, the rider attempts to stay on the 2,000-pound animal for at least eight seconds. If his free hand touches the bull before the eight seconds are up, the rider is disqualified. Both the cowboy and the bull are judged, and each is given a score from 0-50.

A bullrider hangs on with the hopes of making the eight seconds during the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it,” the announcer warned loudly before the rider was about to be released from the chute.

The thrill of what’s going to happen next always leaves me on the edge of my seat. Will the cowboy hold on for his complete eight second ride? Will he get whipped around and have only one leg attached to the horse? Or will he fall off right away and get injured as he tries to run away from the enormously powerful animal? There’s no predicting the outcome, and that’s what makes it so exhilarating.

In between events, we embraced the traditional western atmosphere and delighted in the people watching. I felt as if a character from the show “Yellowstone” would emerge at any moment. An episode could have absolutely been filmed here. It was a place for the authentic cowboy who was determined to keep the wild west spirit alive and well. With no tourists in sight, this venture downvalley proved to be a nice escape from Aspen’s busiest time of year.

The hilarious announcer kept the crowd entertained all night with his pun-filled one-liners while also educating patrons on the riders and the events. He informed us that rodeo-goers arrived as early as 6 a.m. with their trucks to secure their spots for the evening. Apparently, the tailgating scene before the rodeo begins is an event in and of itself.

Rodeo clown Joe Carr stretches behind the arena while kids jump on and play inside the barrel before the start of the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The bull riding was followed by events like team roping, hide race, bronc riding, steer riding, and barrel racing. If you know what any of those events mean and what they entail, you should without question be attending this authentic little western shindig. The kids’ activities included mutton bustin’ (trying to hold on to a sheep for eight seconds) and the calf scramble (a mad dash of kids ages 3-10 who race each other to snag a ribbon off a calf). Both events are equally as entertaining for the kids as they are for the adults.

The specialty event for this particular evening came as a bit of a surprise to us. “The One Arm Bandit,” thrilled fans with his halftime show where he rode a variety of horses and mules for a skillfully entertaining exhibition. Moving all these animals around the arena, the show reached its grand finale with all the animals (including a zebra) atop a custom stock trailer. It was an incredibly bizarre, but utterly entertaining spectacle.

While exiting the arena, we overheard avid rodeo-goers swap stories about the event winners while brushing off their boots. Kids lingered around in hopes of meeting the cowboys with the best scores. Everything seemed to be just a little bit simpler down at the Carbondale Rodeo. No one was in a hurry, and people seemed to like it that way. Colorado’s western spirit clearly still lives on at this weekly Thursday summer event.

Aspen Times Weekly

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