Scottsdale still a cowboy town at heart

Dave Alford, curator and general manager of the Scottsdale Old Town Rodeo Museum with photos of himself from the early 1970s. Photo, Michele Jarvie Calgary

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If there’s one thing Albertans know how to do, it’s rodeoing. But a PRCA-sanctioned event in Scottsdale could give us a run for our Stampede money.

Rodeo Scottsdale attracts competitors from across North America — including some of the big names who travel the circuit up to Canada. The latest event was March 5-8.

But the annual rodeo isn’t the only chance to soak up the city’s western vibe. Scottsdale’s Western Week, which was just held Feb. 1-9, hosts western and Native American festivals, art walks, the Hashknife Pony Express, the Arizona Indian Festival and perhaps the grandest of all, the Parada del Sol Parade.

The legendary procession has been moseying through Old Town streets since 1953. With upwards of 150 floats and horse troupes, it is billed as the world’s largest horse-drawn parade. Participants march down Scottsdale Road before amassing into a big after-party called Trail’s End, with old-style Western gunfights, trick roping, kids’ games, and just a bit of celebrating.

Dave Alford had a prime seat for this year’s parade on Feb. 8 from his corner perch at the Old Town Scottsdale Rodeo Museum. The museum’s owner-curator-manager-and tour-guide swung open the gates, put out some hay bales for seats and tended the bar for all comers. Late into the evening, a firepit added to the mood of an old-fashioned hoedown.

“Ten years ago they started calling it Old Town. It’s just downtown to us old-timers,” said Alford who remembers a simpler time, when ranching and rodeoing were mainstays. He notes the Scottsdale seal depicts a bronc rider based on Gerbacio ‘Harvey’ Noriega, a Mexican immigrant cowboy who lived in the building that now houses the museum. Alford went to school with his children.

“They were a good heritage family who helped settle Scottsdale. You know, Scottsdale is not a made up town. There’s too many of us old-timers around to tell you the stories and show you the pictures. Scottsdale’s a big city but it’s still a small community.”

The museum helps tell the story of a small town which, in 1951, adopted the motto “The West’s Most Western Town.” It boasts rodeo artifacts and memorabilia going back to at least 1953, including saddles ridden by famous rodeo champions such as Jake Barns. There are newspaper clippings, bull ropes, saddles, and original Parada Del Sol posters with artwork done by well-known western artists like Kenneth M. Freeman, deemed the “Rembrandt of the Rodeo.” There’s even a couple of 1970s-era photos of Alford himself in his younger bull riding and bareback days.

Commanding the centre of the museum is El Diablo, a fearsome bucking Brahma bull taxidermied after his demise. Visitors can climb a ladder to mount him, giving a eye-opening perspective on just how large and fearsome rodeo bulls can be.

“The rodeo committee runs the museum, but it’s my vision I guess. A lot of this stuff sat in my barn and garage for years. It’s a labour of love thing. I keep finding cool stuff to put up.”

The museum is open in early November through the end of May.