Among the rich traditions surrounding The Dixie Lion's Roundup rodeo in St George, Utah, the Grand Entry is the most inclusive. Each night, for two hours before the rodeo starts, the Dixie Lion's Club opens the arena to all riders, who, add a festive air to the historic SunBowl while jealous fans guard their seats. From rough-riding Arizona Strip cowboys to bejeweled rodeo queens, from Dixie newcomers to native sons and daughters, the rodeo opener is an important social gathering where old friends catch up while riding side-by-side to the sounds and smells of Rodeo. Live country music competes with human chatter and the soft pounding of hooves in freshly tilled dirt. The savory smells of rodeo-hamburgers wafting over earthy-livestock, fill the arena. It is heady stuff, for riders and spectators alike--who come under the influence of anticipation . Moments before showtime, as if breaking a spell, the smooth voice of professional rodeo announcer, Reed Flake, takes control of the random gathering and empties the arena in preparation for the Grand Entry. After a pregnant pause filled with thoughts of welcome, patriotism and sponsors, his command brings the random gathering back into the arena behind billowing flags--running the traditional serpentine pattern that kicks off the beginning of the greatest show on Earth.
After leading a string of pack mules in the Saturday afternoon parade, I went directly into the Dixie Sunbowl to participate in the Grand Entry. Behind me, Calamity Jane carried a beautiful pack job, sporting a real canvas manty with a nice symmetrical double-diamond hitch tied over her load, while Minnie Pearl caboosed our train, packing two coolers full of ice and drinks slung over her sawbucks. Mule trains are not something one usually sees at the Dixie Roundup--in fact the only mules one would normally expect to see are the ones that professional-funnyman, Randy Munns, dresses up clown-style with coveralls and a bobbly cowboy hat riding on a spring between its long ears.
Last night, along the edge of the arena, throngs of children lined up to get autographs from celebritous beauties, dressed in sequined ribbons and tiara clad hats. Youngsters hoping to touch the soft nose of a real live horse stretched eager arms through the fences. Curious kids of all ages wondered about my train of longears and I began pulling the string along side of the cabled wall to let one small kid after another climb into the saddle in front of me for a lap around the arena--with the approval of parents who eagerly helped them over the fence. We would go into the arena's center and turn the train in a circle so tight that we were nose on tail for a couple of turns. I would sing out, "GIDDUP MULE TRAIN! HYAAAAAH!" Then we would pull up next to the stands and trade riders. Most of the kids giggled and talked happily--which I could barely hear over the din as I worked to keep the train moving in proper fashion. One 3 year old boy asked me with grown-up politeness, "Mr. What is your name?" Another 4 year old girl heard me yell at Calamity to, "Get back in line!" For the rest of the ride, she kept yelling back, "Get back in line! Get back in line!" doing her best to help me out. Even from the grandstands after her turn was over, I would hear her yell each time I pulled the train up to switch riders, "Get back in line!" It was a piece of magic that I will likely never forget, and I suspect most of those cute little kids won't either. One group of parents tried to thank me as the call came to empty the arena, and wondered aloud why I was willing to spend the entire time giving rides when it was obviously a bit of a handful. I just tipped my hat and rode out of the arena with a lump in my throat, and a lightness of heart that comes with the sweetness of childhood and mule trains.
|File photo from last year: Too many of my hands were full of rein, rope and kid to take pictures last night. If something turns up--I'll replace this one with the real thing. :)|