Rodeo Days is a nine-day celebration of ranching history, started in 1925, that unites families and spans centuries through a parade, a museum, and professional competitive rodeo events. What does this have to with Marana? Well, Marana is still home to many family ranches, rodeo arenas, and rodeo champions, such as barrel racer Sherry Cervi, who rank nationally among the sport’s best. Marana is home to the White Stallion Ranch (top-ranked dude ranch in the U.S.), Mira Vista Resort (a vintage dude ranch, turned luxury clothing optional resort), and Li'l Abner's Steakhouse, the oldest and most storied cowboy steakhouse in the region. Marana's history spans the actual cowboy Western era through the Hollywood Western movie era. And these cultures are still quite active.
Arizona's unique culture incorporates influences from the Spanish Colonial Period (1528-1821), Mexican Period (1821-1848), Territorial Period/early Anglo settlement (1848-1912), and cowboy Western movie filming (1900s-present) periods. Horses and horse-pulled vehicles are central to all of these eras, and why horses and horsemanship are still the heart of Rodeo Days.
History of Rodeo Days
The rodeo is a perfect event for winter visitors, by design. According to tucsonrodeo.com, “Leighton Kramer conceived the idea of La Fiesta De Los Vaqueros to draw visitors to Tucson during the mid-winter season. Kramer was a winter visitor himself, and president of the Arizona Polo Association.”
A second reason why the Rodeo Days was established in 1925 was because Tucson was rapidly growing and modernizing and the rodeo would be a great way to remember Tucson’s ranching roots. The irony? Many Tucsonans did not like the idea of the rodeo or rodeo parade because they saw “the staging of a rodeo and parade as too pretentious.”
Now, some 93 years later, he Tucson Rodeo is one of the top 25 professional rodeo events in North America, with prize monies exceeding $320,000. Because of Southern Arizona’s great weather, it is the only one of those top-25 rodeos to be held outside between the months of September and May.
Rodeo Events & Parade
Originally a three-day event, the rodeo now stretches over a nine-day period. Preliminary events begin on Saturday, February 15, and the final events of the pro competition conclude on Sunday, February 23. In between there will be junior rodeos, barn dances, a women’s rodeo clinic, kids’ events, and more. Over the course of the nine days there will be 600 human contestants, 1,000 equine participants, 2,000 cowboy hats sold, and over 40 hours of rodeo action. You can find the schedule here.
The Tucson Rodeo Parade takes place on Thursday, February 20. The parade is billed as the “World’s Longest Non-Motorized Parade” and draws more than 200,000 people each year. The parade features western-themed floats and buggies, historic horse-drawn coaches, festive Mexican folk dancers, marching bands, and outfitted riders. The route begins south of downtown Tucson at Park Avenue and Ajo Way, continues south to Irvington Road, then heads west on Irvington Road to South 6th Avenue.
Grandstands for viewing are located on Irvington at South 6th Avenue. Viewing along both sides of the route, which stretches just over a mile, is available at no charge.
The Rodeo Parade Musuem
If you can't make it to the parade or the rodeo, don't miss the Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum. It is a huge museum (four airplane hangars) of Tucson history and carriages, with a different and bigger mission than simply representing the Rodeo Parade. Located on the northeast corner of S. Sixth Ave. and Irvington Road, the large building was originally the nation's first municipal airport hangar, established in 1918. The group that formed to present both the Parade and Rodeo began acquiring horse-drawn vehicles for the parade, as local ranching families gave up their carriages for cars, and many of these went into the museum. Since 1925, the Parade Committee has acquired over 125 vehicles, many of which are more fancy than rustic.
You will find everything from stagecoaches, mud wagons, buggies, Santa's sled, a circus wagon, a Paris-made coronation coach for an emperor (no kidding), and many vehicles used in Western films, such as the Surreys with fringe on top that were used in the film Oklahoma! and a buckboard used as a prop in High Chaparral. Because the Rodeo Parade Museum has a national reputation for its impeccable care and restoration of horse-drawn vehicles, many of the vehicles in the collection were shipped to the Museum from Eastern families to preserve their heritage. You will recognize famous family names on some carriages, such as Ronstadt and Carnegie, that these beautiful vehicles once belonged to.
In addition to the buggies and wagons, there is a growing collection of downtown Tucson artifacts, including lifesize recreations of shops that were in downtown Tucson, and the grand El Conquistador Hotel, and miniature models of downtown, and all kinds of equestrian implements.
Where to Stay
The White Stallion Ranch – The top-rated dude ranch in Arizona, a classic high-end dude ranch centered on horse riding situated in majestic scenery and offering experiences to be long-remembered.
9251 W. Twin Peaks Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743
The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain
15000 North Secret Springs Drive, Marana, AZ 85658 United States
Where to Dine
Cayton’s Burger Bistro – Family-friendly with gorgeous views, unmatched food, upscale resort casual
The Golf Club at Dove Mountain (at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain)
Lunch: 11 a.m.–4 p.m., 7 days a week; Dinner: 5 p.m.–8:30 p.m., Wed-Sat
Li’l Abner’s Steakhouse – Authentic rustic cowboy steakhouse and Old Hollywood hangout, full bar.
8501 N Silverbell Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743
Tue-Sun: 5–10 p.m.
Cattleman’s Café at Marana Stockyards – Cattle auctions Wednesdays. Cowboy diner.
14901 W Kirby Hughes Rd, Marana, AZ 85653
Mon-Sat: 6 a.m.–2 p.m.; Sun: 7 a.m.–2 p.m.
Now get along little doggies, and discover Marana’s roots!