The Curious Traveler Goes To Calgary

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Heavy Horse Demonstration
Broc Rider


It’s roundup time in Calgary. The annual Calgary Stampede, billed as the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” happens every July in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It’s more than just a rodeo — it’s a 10-day happening.

I used my credit card-styled U.S. Passport to cross the Canadian border in 2013 and shout my own “Yee-Haw!”

Everything starts out with a Friday parade downtown that attracts an estimated 250,000 spectators. Local businesses close for the day so employees can participate.

Everybody “cowboys up” — and I mean everybody — you have never seen so many cowboy hats.

The parade lasts for about three hours and features some pretty unique entries. My favorite was a special Canadian Freightways truck. It was pulling eight trailers — each with special graphics to represent a decade in the company’s history. Sorry, but 2013 was the only year it was entered.

You can view this behemoth 264-foot-long, 17-axle monster navigating a corner in this short video:

Every business tries to best their competition by sponsoring the most spectacular parade entry or giving away the best souvenirs or breakfast. Yes, there are free pancake breakfasts in Rope Square at the downtown plaza.

The portions are sort of skimpy, usually three pancakes per person, but hungry eaters will fill up by eating from several stations — each one trying to offer something a little unique — such as special syrup, a side of bacon or juice.

Even though the whole town is busy playing cowboys, most of the action takes place in Stampede Park at the edge of town. More than 100,000 people attend every day.

Light rail trains all connect to Stampede Park and I would suggest you park far away from town and take the train.

The park is similar to a state fairground and includes the stereotypical midway booths, food concessions, games and demonstrations.

Like any fair, there are huge barn-styled buildings for viewing animals and watching demonstrations. One of my favorite shows was a “horse whisperer” who rode his horse into a ring without a saddle or bridle.

He mostly used hand signals and the horse did everything he wanted it to do.

At the end of his little demonstration, I asked, “Will he obey commands from anyone — or just you?”

He invited me into the ring to find out. I’ll be darned if the horse didn’t do everything I signaled for it to do.

The main grandstand overlooks the traditional rodeo events. The arena features all of the competitions you would expect to see, like calf roping, barrel racing and bronco riding. The Stampede’s signature event however, is Chuck Wagon Races.

The rules are a little crazy, the chuck wagons are a little “hokey” and it’s obvious the wagons never carry any “chuck.” They are built for speed, not carrying cowboy cuisine. Still, the spectators loved the show.

Other attractions include dare-devil motorcycle riders, vintage tractor pulls and heavy horse pulling competitions, a Native Canadian tribal village supplemented by Royal Canadian Mounted Police who gladly pose for “selfies” with tourists.

Throughout the week there are several musical performances. The headliner act for us was American hard-rock band “Kiss” in a spectacular closing performance complete with fireworks.

There are actually several musical venues around the park. This year’s acts included country stars Miranda Lambert and Alan Jackson and the main grandstand headliner was Stevie Wonder.

Does this sound like fun? Next year’s extravaganza — the 104th annual — is July 8-17, 2016.

Better saddle up!

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