Calgary Stampede: The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth
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We could save the best for last, but since everyone will find their own favorite activities I'll begin with mine.
Three events during the Stampede really grabbed my attention and appear to be the mainstay of activity for the Stampede.
The RodeoWith a total prize money package of $2,000,000 you shouldn't be surprised to learn that 20 of the world's top cowboys in saddle bronc, bareback, bull riding, steer racing and roping compete for the big dollars. And, not to be left out are the women barrel racers. This exciting event takes place at the Grandstand Arena every afternoon at 1:15 p.m. with cowboys& cowgirls either winning day money or going back to the stables with empty pockets.
The Chuckwagon RacesOfficially known as the GMC Rangeland Derby this is, at least in my opinion that is shared with thousands, the most exciting feature of the Stampede. It would be hard to capture the excitement of the chuckwagon races in words. The 36 competing drivers race in heats of 4 wagons at a time. It begins with a couple of the outriders having to toss the chuckwagon cook stove into the back of the wagon as it takes off from the starting line. As the wagon makes a quick 180 degree turn and heads onto the race track, the outriders then have to jump on their horses and try to catch up with their own wagon. If they don't catch up during the wild ride around the track points are subtracted so the winner may not be the first to cross the finish line as there are deductions given for several reasons. So the driver with the fastest 4 horse team and whose outriders are able to catch up and finish within the allotted distance wins the heat. The race is a wild one with four wagons being pulled by sixteen horses and outriders on horseback all racing down the track together to the finish line. And, all for a million dollars in prize money. How popular is this event? Some advertisers spend well over $100,000 to have their name and logo on the canopy of the chuck wagon. The good news for the racer is that 80% of the money goes to the team and the balance goes to the CS.
The Grand SpectacularFollowing the Chuckwagon Races, the TransAlta Grandstand show begins on a million dollar stage that is rolled into place on the racetrack. More than 200 performers put on an impressive show with great music and lighting and special effects. Some of the performers actually enter the stage from above the grandstand suspended on cables as they float down fearlessly from far above. The hour long spectacle is followed by an equally spectacular fireworks show.
The Calgary Stampede Rodeo is a televised event and, as a CS guest I was requested to wear specific rodeo attire. I had my Wrangler jeans, a great cowboy shirt designed by the renowned Native American artist Amado Pena and my Dan Post boots, but I didn't have a white cowboy hat so Calgary Stampede provided one for me. It seems that almost everyone in Calgary wears a white cowboy hat during the Stampede. When you arrive for your visit to Calgary you'll be impressed by the community participation in the event. It seems that everyone in town is somehow involved in the Stampede whether it be as a vendor, a participant, a volunteer, a hotel, a restaurant or almost anything you can imagine.
While the three events mentioned above appear to be the mainstay of the Stampede, even if you didn't attend any of them you could have an unbelievably terrific time in Calgary at Stampede Park.
Runner Up Events at the StampedeThe Indian Village has been moved from its past venue into a much larger area with significant improvement in facilities. It's a fun and educational place to visit with tepees open for visitors and interpreters present to answer many of your questions. Traditional dances, drums and music for your entertainment and tasty native foods will enhance your experience.
If you have ever been to a large state fair you'll have some idea of what you may find at the Stampede. There are dozens of great agricultural exhibits including more than 7,000 animals including not only the hundreds of thoroughbred chuckwagon horses and bucking stock for the rodeo, but sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, chicken, donkeys, horses and other animals.
Just a quick list of some of the agriculture events would include the Canadian National Miniature Horse Show, the Working Cow Horse Classic, the CS Blacksmith Classic, the Heavy Horse Pull Auction, the Heavy Horse Pull, the Junior Steer Classic, the Miniature Donkey Showcase, the World Stock Dog Championship, the North American Sheep Shearing Challenge and, one of my favorites, the Cowboy Up Challenge. And, that's only about half of the Ag list. There's even a Milk and Cookie shack where you can get a quick snack and know that the proceeds go the Calgary Food Bank.
Among the shows at CS was Ramp Up! a motorcycle thrill show that is worth more than the admission (free) that will make you wonder how they can fly off the ramp to the top of the building and land safely. They come within inches of the ceiling and perform amazing aerial stunts. The Peking Acrobats make you ask the question -- How do they do that? Contortionists, gymnasts & tumblers all with surprising gifts of balance, strength and flexibility.
I didn't have time to get to the Canine Stars which must have been one of the most popular shows at the Stampede. A couple of times when I barely got to the entrance before the show they were already filled. I can't say "Sold Out" because this was another of the free shows -- just like the ones listed above.
Do you watch America's Got Talent or The Voice? You'll probably have a great time at either the Annual Stampede Talent Search and/or the Nashville North Star (10 aspiring country music artists competing for the grand prize.)
If adventure is what you're seeking then don't miss the Adventure Park. There's a paintball arena, a climbing wall and even an axe-throwing competition.
I should mention the evening concerts which can include Lady Antellum, Zac Brown Band & ventriloquist Jeff Dunham in the ScotiaBank Saddledome. No room here to list all the headliners at Nashville North or the daily entertainers on the Coca-Cola stage. You'll just have to come and see it for yourself.
Not enough? How about shopping? Take a look at the daily schedule that you can pick up (free of course) as you enter Stampede Park and find your way to the BMO Centre. This is where you'll find the Stampede Market with over 200 retailers showcasing new products, tasty treats and interesting things you won't find anywhere else. The Stampede store has great souvenirs, including Calgary Stampede clothing. Check out the Calgary Co-op Kitchen Theatre for on stage demonstrations and delicious samples -- you'll enjoy the Dueling Chef's competition and the Police and Firefighters Cook-off. And, that's only the beginning. There is also a candy shop, an ice cream parlor, a hat shop for your cowboy hat needs, a fudge shop, a family fruit stand, hot dogs and more.
There is so much more to see and do at the Calgary Stampede one short article can't begin to give you the whole story. Let me close by reminding you that July is a perfect time to escape the lower 48, head north to cooler days at the red hot Stampede and . . . Keep on Traveling!
When You GoStampede tickets are on sale already for the coming year. Get your tickets at Calgary Stampede
Marriott in beautiful downtown Calgary was my host hotel. Learn more at Marriott Calgary
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Robert Painter is an adventure travel writer currently residing in Southern Utah. When not traveling around the globe his time is spent hiking and exploring the wonderful and beautiful red rock surroundings of his new home.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author