The AFP ‘cowboy up’ at The Lost Dutchman Days rodeo

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Andrew and I are standing in a bucket crane eighty feet above the Arizona desert.  In front of us is the towering Superstition Mountain, glistening in the orange glow of a western sunset.  At a dizzying distance below, the colorful electric lights burn from a small carnival as faint screams and yelps from teenagers echo in the valley.  Apart from the carnival and beautiful desert setting, the AFP has found themselves in Apache Junction, Arizona, at the site of The Lost Dutchman Days Rodeo.  We are just outside of Phoenix, but we feel like we’re in the true Arizona–far away enough to see sand and sagebrush instead of suburbs and Starbucks.

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About 100 years ago, Apache Junction was a small but thriving gold mining town.  Legend has it, a certain Dutchman moved into the area and took up residence in Superstition Mountain.  People rarely saw him and nobody knew where he lived.  But ever so often, the Dutchman would come into town carrying Spanish gold, live it up for a few nights, and buy everything he needed before returning mysteriously back to his home.   His presence caused quite a stir among the locals whenever he appeared but it all ended one evening after a scuffle in a bar turned into  gunfire and the Dutchman shot dead on the ground.  It wasn’t long before people headed into the red, sandy hills of Superstition Mountain looking for the remainder of the Dutchman’s Spanish gold.  The treasure, however, was never found and to this day there are people still searching for the Lost Dutchman treasure.

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The AFP, however, did not go searching for this treasure.  But you could still say we struck it rich.  Instead of Spanish gold we found cowboys, cowgirls, rodeo clowns, and bucking broncos!  America is the home of rodeos, and what would the American Festivals Project be without a true western event like the Lost Dutchman Days?  Being newbies to the world of calf-roping, barrel-racing, bull-riding, and saddle broncs, we searched for an experienced rodeo man that could show us the ropes.  We were fortunate enough to start up a conversation with Timber Tuckness, a rodeo of clown 25+ years, and a true expert on the ins and outs of rodeo.
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It was clear from speaking with Timber that the world of rodeo is rich with tradition, heritage, and family lineage.  Timber grew up in a family of rodeo clowns and now his son works as a bull fighter (not the kind of Spanish bull fighting you might be thinking of).  Also throughout the day, we noticed that many of the riders and performers in the rodeo were announced as the son or daughters of famous cowboys.   As we wandered the grounds of the rodeo, we continued to meet a cast of characters, including The Cowgirl Historical Foundation.  Behind the stadium, and in hidden behind a row of trailers, we came across a unique scene.  About ten women were running in formation through a dusty dirt parking lot.  But clearly these were no ordinary women.  No, they were graceful, slender, and obviously trained in the art of ‘something’.  What we failed to put together, but later discovered, was that these beautiful women were missing 50% of their grandeur…their horses.  Yes, this fine cast of women travel around the Southwest riding horses and exhibiting the styles and skills of a true cowgirl.  Some might say there is nothing like a woman in cowboy boots, but imagine a woman in cowboy boots, mounted on a horse, and wearing hot pink.  Owww!

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As we left the warm-up area and headed towards the cowboy arena, the scenery turned from pink feathers and hairspray to chewin’ tobacci’ and testosterone.  It was here that Andrew and I both went from feeling like men to feeling like boys.  As we photographed the remainder of the day, we watched men from ages seventeen to forty jump on wild beasts and risk injury and death for fame and fortune.  It was truly gripping.  It bewildered us as to why anyone would do something so dangerous as mount a 2 ton angry bull, but as we started talking to a few cowboys, we learned that it was the temptation of cold, hard cash that kept these guys ‘roped in’.

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Clayton Hill, 17, was one of the young cowboys that we interviewed.  He’s still in high school, but competes almost every weekend out of the year at rodeos. He travels all around the state of Arizona, often times with other cowboys his age, and parties in the evenings in campers and tents.  And what kind of money is he making?  Well, since the 2009 season, meaning only two months ago, he’s already raked in $10,000.  On Sunday, we watched him come in second place and walk away with $800.  Not bad for a Junior in high school.

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As the afternoon sun fell behind the grandstand, the last of the bulls and broncos tossed their brave riders onto the dirt.  Timber Tuckness, the rodeo clown, performed his last jokes and wished the crowd a good evening.  The cowboys, some with pockets full of cash, tucked in their stirrups, packed up their saddles, dusted off their jeans, and drove the long stretches of Arizona desert to their ranches, farms, and hometowns.  We did the photographer’s equivalent: we dusted off our lenses, packed up our camera bodies, stowed away our memory cards, and went in search of a well-earned cold beer.


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Posted by Ross, posted on 03/10/2009 at 10:39pm. Bookmark this post.

16 Comments

  1. Posted 03/11/2009 at 7:31am
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    Craig Volpe:

    Congratulations guys on another fascinating look at American subculture. Favorites were the intro shot, bird flying by the guy bailing hay, and of course the spraying poop shot.

  2. Posted 03/11/2009 at 9:28am
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    Sean McDermott:

    I agree with Craig for some of the best photos. Andrew, the spraying poop shot is just amazing. Great job getting that in it time. Did it get one you? Hope the drive today goes well, stay safe and post some pics of the Canyon soon! Great job.

  3. Posted 03/11/2009 at 1:06pm
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    Julie:

    I think it’s nice you guys tried to fit in by wearing plaid shirts.

  4. Posted 03/11/2009 at 1:14pm
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    Ross:

    It was a tactical move, really. Fitting in is the most important part of photography!

  5. Posted 03/11/2009 at 2:33pm
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    nitsyrk:

    I personally am not a huge fan of poop spray… I am a fan of these pictures though! Also, I’ve been really enjoying the stories and commentary. I’m not sure if I’m just reading it more carefully these days or if it truly has grown more in depth, but I feel like I am really able to travel vicariously with you guys to these obscure parts of our country!

  6. Posted 03/12/2009 at 1:12pm
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    Ryan McD:

    Ah. I hadn’t realized that was poop. Nice.

  7. Posted 03/13/2009 at 2:00pm
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    Mark P:

    That picture with the bird flying over the bulls, and the cowboy baling hay next the saguaro is wonderful.

    The poop spray is unreal!

  8. Posted 03/17/2009 at 10:14pm
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    Felicia Havins:

    Thanks for the photos and video of LDD. They are really amazing.
    -Felicia Havins
    2009 L.D.D. Rodeo Queen

  9. Posted 03/18/2009 at 10:07am
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    Michelle Siverly:

    Thank you so much for coming out to Lost Dutchman Days. I used to work the rodeo with all the other SMPC crew but now I’m on the side lines watching as I am a mom now. We all look forward to Lost Dutchman Days Every Year. It’s All Volunteer and It’s for the kids. But we all love the rodeo and live for it. Great pictures you all did an exceptioal job.

  10. Posted 03/20/2009 at 8:39pm
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    Cory:

    Thank you so much for coming out to LDD. I have worked this rodeo on and off for the last 11 years and it’s great to be able to share it with people from all walks of life. When Gary sent me the link and I saw Clayton I just had to send him the link. Thank you guys so very much for coming out.

  11. Posted 08/11/2009 at 2:12pm
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    Taryn Brady:

    I am so glad I stumbled upon this finished project. It was wonderful to have you out to the LDD rodeo. You did a wonderful job capturing the spirit of the whole celebration.
    Incredible photography. Thanks for mentioning the Cowgirls Historical Foundation as well (I am the one in the photographs of the group without the hat).

    -2009 Miss Rodeo Arizona and member of the Cowgirls Historical Foundation

  12. Posted 08/07/2013 at 5:17pm
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    crocodilebagsforwoman:

    I do not know if it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else encountering problems with your blog. It appears as though some of the text within your content are running off the screen. Can someone else please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening to them as well? This might be a problem with my browser because I’ve had this happen previously.
    Kudos

  13. Posted 02/10/2014 at 4:43pm
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    Rob Vrolijk:

    It looks like “the Royal Dutch National Toboggan team” found a new event for the summer! This looks great and another reason to visit the US!

    We’ll start training for next year! (is there a best costume award?)

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