67th annual Gunlock Rodeo combines patriotism with spirit of the Old West

Donkeys likely to participate in the Watermelon Race at the Gunlock Rodeo because of their "photogenic" nature. | Photo courtesy of the Gunlock Rode Association.
Presentation of the Flag, Gunlock, Utah, July 5, 2012 | Photo by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News

GUNLOCK – The 67th annual Gunlock Rodeo kicked off Friday with an exhilarating display of riding, roping and wrangling skills by a myriad of competitors ranging from teenage girls to seasoned veterans.

Since its foundation, the rodeo has always been held on or within the week of July 4. This was done to honor the young men from Gunlock who were serving in the armed forces and to offer their families support while celebrating Independence Day. Today, original attendants and their descendants return faithfully to the rodeo grounds every July, in what has been nicknamed the “Gunlock family reunion.”

Aside from the competitions, which include calf roping in pairs, breakaway roping and barrel racing, there are plenty of attractions for all ages to enjoy. The Chicken Chase, a town tradition, invites children younger than 12 into the arena in hopes of catching a feathered friend, which they can either take home or sell back to rodeo officials. Also unique to Gunlock is the Watermelon Race, featuring dozens of donkeys who are a focal point of the event due to their affable nature and willingness to “pose” for pictures. The concession stand is largely touted, offering homemade chili burgers. The second night is usually steak‘n‘tater night.

“The most unique thing about (our event) is the range of ability and experience in the competitors,” said Judy Leavitt, secretary of the Gunlock Rodeo Association. “You will see young beginners, high school champions and 70-year-old veterans here. Whole families (often compete) together.”

The rodeo staff is entirely volunteer and anyone from the community who is willing to participate can join. All of the profits go to maintaining and improving the arena, cemetery, parks, town hall and other needs throughout Gunlock.

Teenage competitor calf roping, Gunlock Rodeo, Gunlock, Utah, July 5, 2012 | Photo by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News

“The rodeo is a reminder of the historic West, when ranchers and their families would get together and have a good time,” Leavitt said. “(If for no other reason,) you should attend so you can say, ‘I remember when I caught a chicken at the Gunlock Rodeo!’”

The event kicked off on Thursday, July 5 and will run until Saturday, July 7. Competitions begin at 8 p.m., thought it is recommended to arrive a bit early to find a parking place along Gunlock’s busy main street. A map and schedule can be found here.

Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 6-12 and younger children are free.

The rodeo was established in 1945 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Gunlock. With World War II ongoing and money scarce, church leaders wanted to create a fun, carefree outing for residents and their families. The first rodeo — and every one since — was held at the Gunlock Arena, formerly the town’s dump. Many improvements have been made to the property over the years, converting what was once a modest enclosure of wood posts and wire into a venue capable of housing 1,500 spectators.

Gunlock Rodeo, July 5, 2012 | Photo by Alexa Verdugo Morgan, St. George News

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Copyright 2012 St. George News. 

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