Rodeo Days are not about just one thing. The huge celebration is a slice of ranching history that unites families and spans centuries. Marana is home to 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 Arizona), Mira Vista Resort (a vintage dude ranch, turned luxury clothing optional resort), and Li'l Abner's Steakhouse, the oldest cowboy steakhouse in the region.
These people, places, and landmarks are just a few of the many facets of Western culture that contain elements of the region's Spanish Colonial, Mexican Era, early Anglo settlement, and Cowboy movie filming periods.
The annual February Fiesta De Los Vaqueros (Rodeo Days) is a unique event in the area that started in 1925. It is so ingrained in the community that school children get two days off from school to celebrate. In fact, this is the only metro area that closes its schools for two days so locals can enjoy a parade and rodeo.
History of Rodeo Days
The rodeo is not only a perfect event for winter visitors, it is why it was established in the first place. 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 behind establishing the rodeo was as Tucson was rapidly growing, 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 Event Schedule
Originally a three-day event, the rodeo now stretches over a nine-day period. Preliminary events begin on Saturday, February 16th and the final events of the pro competition conclude on Sunday, February 24th. 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.
As popular as the rodeo is, the Tucson Rodeo Parade may have just as many fans. 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 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, don't miss the Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum. 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 was formed to present both the Parade and Rodeo began acquiring horse-drawn vehicles for the parade and many of those later went into the museum. Since 1925, the Parade Committee has acquired over 125 vehicles.
You will find everything from wagons, stagecoaches, mud wagons, buggies, Santa's sled, a circus wagon, a French-made coronation coach for an emperor (no kidding), and vehicles used in Western films, such as the Surreys with fringe on top that were actually 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 families, 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 Old West artifacts and Tucson public history, including lifesize recreations of a general store, shops that were in downtown Tucson, and the grand El Conquistador Hotel, and miniature models of downtown, and all kinds of historical memorabilia of Tucson.
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!