GUNLOCK – The smell of grilling steak filled the air around the Gunlock Rodeo Arena as friends and families gathered together to watch and participate in the 71st annual Gunlock Rodeo Friday night.
It was “Steak ‘n’ Taters” night at the small town rodeo and though a lot has changed in the world since the first Gunlock Rodeo was held 70 years ago, the night had a sense of nostalgia that almost transported guests back in time.
Perhaps it was the family-friendly atmosphere and unique traditions that have been staples of the rodeo for generations that lent to the feeling that going to the Gunlock Rodeo is like going home.
At least that was the feeling Doug Hunt described as he told his story of the historic rodeo.
Hunt was at the very first Gunlock Rodeo when he was just a little boy, he said.
The year was 1945 and World War II was nearing its end. Hunt remembered listening to the fathers of the boys who were serving in the war as they discussed what they should do to welcome their sons home and provide goodwill and cheer for the residents of the town.
“Somebody said ‘well everybody likes rodeos, why don’t we build a rodeo arena and we’ll have a rodeo?'” Hunt said. “So some of those older guys who were too old to go to war built the first rodeo arena.”
Though the first arena has made way for a new, more modern arena, it has always been located in the same place, Hunt said.
Livestock for the first rodeo was provided by the Shivwits Band of Paiutes, he said.
“The Indians had cattle and it was really wild,” Hunt said. “We had a really, really good show that year because we had cattle that could hurt people a little and it made it a little more fun.”
From the first one in 1945 until today, the Gunlock Rodeo has been held on or around the 4th of July, Hunt said, adding that he has only missed three or four of the rodeo’s 71 years.
When asked what he loved about the rodeo an emotional Hunt said:
It’s like asking me what do I love about the mountains, or these beautiful trees or Gunlock itself. I can’t even hardly speak to you about Gunlock without tearing up so that gives you some idea of what it means to me. And it’s just like the same as forever; the same size of kids, the same color of horses going round … it’s part of me, it’s part of the landscape, part of Gunlock and part of Southern Utah.
In addition to being a fun event, the Gunlock Rodeo is the sole source of revenue for the unincorporated town, said Judy Leavitt, secretary of the Gunlock Rodeo Association.
Money raised from ticket sales and concessions goes toward taking care of the town hall, the cemetery, the park and other necessities, Leavitt said.
Friday night’s rodeo featured all the pageantry and several traditional rodeo competitions such as breakaway roping, calf roping, barrel racing and team roping as well as more quirky events such as a chicken chase and a donkey-watermelon race.
The family-friendly atmosphere of the Gunlock Rodeo was a delight for small children who were able to participate in the chicken chase as well as take a stab at riding a calf.
The 71st annual Gunlock Rodeo continues Saturday for its final night beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 for 6 and over; children under 5 are free. Concessions including hot dogs, nachos, cotton candy, assorted candy bars and drinks are available for purchase throughout the rodeo.
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- What: Gunlock Rodeo
- When: Final night, July 2, 8 p.m.
- Where: Gunlock Rodeo Arena, 77 N. Main St., Gunlock
- Cost: $5; children 5 and under, free
- Additional information: Concessions will be available
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