77th Fiesta Days recalls customs of days gone by

Saddles are being shined, horses groomed and fed, lassos carefully coiled and pies baked ahead of the 77th Durango Fiesta Days, the annual weeklong celebration of Southwest Colorado’s ranching heritage.

Festivities will run Saturday through July 29, with the main spectacle – rodeo competitions – spanning the final three days.

Fiesta Days has been a summer fixture at the La Plata County Fairgrounds since 1935, when business owners decided a little rodeo and horse racing could be the antidote to Depression-era blues.

They were correct.

Three years later, New Deal construction crews built a 7,000-seat grandstand overlooking the racetrack. It quadrupled crowd capacity and made Fiesta Days, then called Spanish Trails Fiesta, a high-profile regional showcase.

The event has experienced its share of setbacks. For one, the grandstand and track are gone, demolished in 1999-2000 to create space for the Durango Community Recreation Center and baseball fields. And the organizing committee has worked hard, with mixed results, to maintain enthusiasm amid the county’s shifting ethos.

“We used to be more rural-minded than we are now,” said committee chairwoman Cindi Brevik. “Families are so busy today. Life is faster paced.”

Even so, Brevik is optimistic.

Most registration lists for roping and riding events are full to capacity, with others “very close”. International travelers still plan their itineraries around Fiesta Days to catch a glimpse of the old “Wild West.” And, Brevik said, local attention has been somewhat rekindled.

“We’re trying to instill in the young people an understanding, a love and a passion for our sport,” she said.

All traditional rodeo events will be featured: team roping; tie-down and breakaway calf roping; barrel racing; steer wrestling; saddle and bareback bronco riding; and bull riding.

Mutton-busting, when children channel their inner cowboy or cowgirl and try to stay atop a bucking sheep, is a proven crowd pleaser.

On a more solemn note, the memory of Cody Buffalo will be honored during July 26 events. A prolific roper from Salida, Ariz., Buffalo died of non-Hodgkins’s lymphoma just before Fiesta Days 2011 at age 26. His father lives in Bayfield.

A new Main Avenue parade tradition is starting this year, as well. In lieu of a grand marshal, the Herrera family will be recognized for its cross-generational, decades-long involvement with Fiesta Days.

“When I was young, we would come from Marvel on a wagon. It took two days,” said Tony Herrera, now 82.

Organizers will acknowledge a different “founding family” in 2013.

Brevik said you don’t need to grow up baling hay or driving cattle to appreciate the skill on display at the rodeo.

“It’s very much a spectator sport,” she said. “Come by and remember the things we’ve always done in our corner of the world.”

lgroskopf@durangoherald.com

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