Val­ley of the sun

Team rop­ing va­ca­tions in Ari­zona are seem­ingly im­per­vi­ous to Mother Na­ture, Fa­ther Time and the Amer­i­can econ­omy, so this could eas­ily be the per­fect win­ter to head to the desert and see what all the fuss is about.

Spin to Win Rodeo - - Competitive Edge - By Julie Mankin

At the Jour­nal, we’ve at­tempted to cor­ral all of the fuss on these pages. That’s an im­pos­si­bil­ity, but we’re hop­ing this pack­age is an en­ter­tain­ing and re­source­ful glance at snow­bird par­adise, whether you’ve al­ready nabbed a sec­ond home in the Val­ley of the Sun or are tak­ing your first trip.

There’s a say­ing among trans­planted team rop­ers around Phoenix: You go there the first time on a two-week va­ca­tion. The fol­low­ing year, you stay for six weeks. And the year af­ter that, you buy a place there. Mon­tana’s Bill Davis didn’t even wait that long to buy his plot west of Wick­en­burg. Out in the tiny com­mu­nity of Forepaugh, there are 22 rop­ing are­nas within three miles of his house.

“We spend six months there,” said Davis, 70. “Do it while you can be­cause they’ll out­law it soon, see­ing as how it should be against the law to have that much fun.”

Some rop­ers ar­rive in the desert as early as Oc­to­ber, but tem­per­a­tures don’t fall out of the 90s un­til Novem­ber. De­cem­ber through March of­fers that sweet spot—a daily high of around 70 de­grees. Those months also boast sev­eral big USTRC and WSTR rop­ings at Ari­zona’s best venues, sand­wiched among a stun­ning ar­ray of lo­cal jack­pots ev­ery sin­gle day of the week.

Davis, a re­tired rancher, is the quin­tes­sen­tial snow­bird as a 4-Elite heeler, and is fa­mil­iar with the en­tire at­mos­phere. He’s kick­ing off his sixth straight win­ter in rop­ing par­adise.

“The beauty of the whole thing in Ari­zona is the dif­fer­ent num­bered rop­ings and dif­fer­ent age lim­its,” Davis said. “It’s pretty hard to drive by one. I think there were 22 rop­ings each week last year in Wick­en­burg. You can pick and choose where you want to go based on for­mat. Each day, we make the de­ci­sion on where to go based on the best chance we have to beat ’em.”

Lest you think rop­ings only cater to the low-num­bered, high-mileage snow­bird crowd, many pro­duc­ers of­fer at least one day for high num­bers with no age caps, as well.

“I prob­a­bly jack­pot one or two days a week, at least,” said Jor­dan Ol­son, an 8-Elite heeler who’s lived in the Val­ley 15 years. “I can go to two or three ev­ery week from Buck­eye to Wick­en­burg to Cave Creek with­out try­ing very hard. And if you want to drive a lit­tle more, you can go down to Coolidge where they have high num­bers ev­ery Wed­nes­day.”

He also sur­mises that rop­ers un­der 40 and in that 4–7 clas­si­fi­ca­tion range can jack­pot four days a week, since most pots on the week­ends have no age caps. Rhett Nichols, 18, has grown up jack­pot­ting in the Val­ley and is now turn­ing steers at Rube Woolsey’s Walk­ing N Arena in Casa Grande while at­tend­ing Cen­tral Ari­zona Col­lege. But he still prefers ru­ral Wick­en­burg for jack­pot­ting.

“I could go to some­thing there ev­ery day when I was in high school,” said Nichols, whose mom and dad and two sis­ters all team rope. “There has never been any short­age of rop­ings for me, even once I got my 6 card last year.”

De­ci­sions, de­ci­sions

When Davis hauled his liv­ing-quar­ters trailer to Ari­zona the first time six years ago, he spent about two weeks tour­ing the dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties, camp­ing for three days each in Cave Creek, Wick­en­burg, Forepaugh, Aguila and Wittmann. He al­ready had friends in many of those places.

“I have two jobs,” he said. “One is team rop­ing, be­cause it’s some­thing my wife and I can do to­gether, and I also do a lit­tle real es­tate. Plus I’m still in­volved in reg­is­tered An­gus bulls.”

Davis ranched for years in Sid­ney, Mont., be­fore sell­ing the ranch, but said thank­fully the prop­erty wasn’t burned by sev­eral fires that came close this sum­mer. He was look­ing for­ward to his an­nual mi­gra­tion from Bel­grade, Mont., to Forepaugh, Ariz., at the end of Oc­to­ber.

Davis and many oth­ers say their all-time fa­vorite week of rop­ing in Ari­zona is the first week of De­cem­ber. That’s when lo­cal pro­duc­ers host dozens of warm-up jack­pots for all of you on your way to the World Se­ries of Team Rop­ing Fi­nale XII.

In fact, Ran­cho Rio in Wick­en­burg—the town di­rectly on U.S. Route 60 to Ve­gas—even named its eight solid days of jack­pots (Dec. 4–12) “Las Ve­gas in Wick­en­burg.” For­mats are $150 a man, en­ter up to three times, and you can hit ev­ery rop­ing from a #8 to an Open, plus a Cen­tury, and some high-stakes events for dou­ble the fees.

“That week, or 10 days be­tween Thanks­giv­ing and the World Se­ries Fi­nale in Las Ve­gas, that’s the best 10 days of jack­pot­ting any­where in the coun­try,” said Ol­son. “If you’re in Wick­en­burg that week as a high num­ber, you can hit a #13, #15 or Open, and have a chance to win $2,500 to $25,000 ev­ery sin­gle day.”

Ol­son lives in Sur­prise, an­other hot spot where sev­eral team rop­ers have bought homes in the past decade—many from South Dakota. The west-Phoenix sub­urb is much closer to big-city shop­ping and re­cre­ation than the Wick­en­burg area, and isn’t far from two of the three big­gest in­door/out­door rop­ing venues in Phoenix— Dunn’s Arena and South Buck­eye Eques­trian Cen­tre.

An­other nice rea­son to camp in Ari­zona is the hand­ful of big-time week­end rop­ings in the Phoenix metro area. On the USTRC side, one of the big­gest and best in the coun­try for decades has been Lasso del Sol in De­cem­ber at West­World in Scotts­dale, along with the Mike Cervi Jr. Memo­rial in Casa Grande in late Fe­bru­ary. The World Se­ries lands in Queen Creek around New Year’s Eve and in Casa Grande in mid-Jan­uary. Then roper-mania hits Buck­eye the first week of Fe­bru­ary, fol­lowed by Dy­na­mite’s Ti­tle Fights a cou­ple of weeks later and back to Buck­eye the first week of March.

“Queen Creek is prob­a­bly one of the big­gest rop­ings in Ari­zona all year,” Ol­son said. “Those three World Se­ries rop­ings (in Queen Creek and Buck­eye) are three of the best win­ter rop­ings you can go to in the coun­try.”

Read on for all the goods we can gather on where to stay, where to rope, and how to live while in Ari­zona this win­ter.

The North Phoenix area

Ar­guably, no com­mer­cial rop­ing arena in the West has more her­itage than Cave Creek’s Dy­na­mite Arena. It be­gan host­ing twice-weekly jack­pots in the 1970s when it was one of just two such fa­cil­i­ties in the Phoenix area. It was where many of to­day’s WNFR qual­i­fiers from Ari­zona cut their teeth as kids and to­day, it’s the only re­main­ing lo­cal arena with that legacy.

“We would come to Dy­na­mite on Sun­days when we were in Ari­zona to rope in the late 1970s and early ’80s,” Bob Feist re­called. “In those days, there was no hand­i­cap sys­tem in place, so you never knew who you might see there—Jake, Clay, Al Bach and many oth­ers lived in Ari­zona then.”

Af­ter three decades, Dy­na­mite Arena—now sur­rounded by res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment—is still go­ing strong and its friendly back­yard at­mos­phere make it a fa­vorite gath­er­ing place twice a week for Se­nior Wed­nes­days and Dy­na­mite Sun­days. It was op­er­ated by Ron Treat in the 1990s, then spent a six-year run with Levi Schofield at the helm, dur­ing which it be­gan host­ing the World Se­ries sanc­tioned The Ti­tle Fights each Fe­bru­ary. Man­age­ment still knows ev­ery roper by his or her first name. Dy­na­mite of­fers 15 full RV hookups and 50 stalls for the win­ter.

“The Ti­tle Fights have be­come a can’t-miss event in Phoenix each Fe­bru­ary,” said Daren Peter­son, who bought the arena with Bryan Beaver three years ago. “It has spe­cial fees and lim­ited en­tries, so you don’t have to rope against 600 teams to win a lot of money. At last year’s Ti­tle Fights, rop­ers pock­eted $410,500 over four days.”

Old-school horse­man Travis Eric­s­son of Rio Verde has been a fan of Dy­na­mite since he paid his first en­try fees there in 1997. Now a 6/7, he can still be seen at the tree-lined arena weekly. In fact, he was busy break­ing in the Dy­na­mite steers back in Septem­ber.

“It’s al­ways been my fa­vorite place to rope be­cause I’ve al­ways en­joyed the peo­ple who’ve owned the arena and I’ve al­ways been very lucky there,” he said.

Many a tall tale has been told around Dy­na­mite’s in­fa­mous

Snack Shack, and Eric­s­son says the shack’s green chili cheese­burg­ers are so good, he would go there to eat even if he wasn’t rop­ing. And he never misses Dy­na­mite’s Ti­tle Fights in Fe­bru­ary.

“I won the #12 and #13 there one year,” he said. “Highlight of my rop­ing ca­reer.”

Eric­s­son also ap­pre­ci­ates spon­sor­ship at Dy­na­mite rop­ings by Yeti, the com­pany that fea­tures him in an ad for its Ram­bler Bot­tles. When he isn’t break­ing in steers, Eric­s­son does some “wild cow catch­ing”—which is how Yeti dis­cov­ered him—but he also gives rop­ing lessons and tunes up rope horses ( Eric­ssonEquine. com).

Best known for its weekly fun, Dy­na­mite hosts Over-40 jack­pots on Wed­nes­days and has no age min­i­mum on Sun­days. Then on Fri­days, the pots are strictly for Over-50 rop­ers, with an Over-60 rop­ing, as well. The Dy­na­mite crew also spe­cial­izes in per­sonal-type rop­ings that in­clude a Hal­loween cos­tume rop­ing; Ugly Sweater Rop­ing on Christ­mas Eve; YETI Clas­sic rop­ing, where they bring in Bill’s Beer & Bait Truck with free mar­gar­i­tas for the rop­ers; and a Saint Patty’s Day 10-steer called Rope for the Green and Gold, in which the win­ner gets an ac­tual bar of gold.

Dy­na­mite is “a dif­fer­ent ball game” than it was in the late 1960s, says one lo­cal who’s been turn­ing steers there twice as long as Eric­s­son. Two-time PRCA world cham­pion header John Miller is a long­time res­i­dent of Cave Creek.

“Dy­na­mite is still such a draw,” said Miller. “It gets all the week­enders—women, kids, old-timers, ev­ery­body. Dy­na­mite is kind of a tra­di­tion, re­ally.”

The Pro Rodeo Hall-of-Famer won world cham­pi­onships head­ing in 1970 and 1971, won the NFR av­er­age ti­tle with Ace Berry in 1973 and was the PRCA’s re­serve world cham­pion steer roper in 1972 and 1973. Now 75, he’s still earn­ing money at both ends.

“I’ve got a head horse but I heel on him,” he said, laugh­ing. “I just love to go com­pete.”

Last year, Dy­na­mite hosted more than 18,000 teams and in­tro­duced a new Wran­gler warm-up area, BEX wait­ing area for heel­ers, larger boxes and re­vamped Preifert lead-up chutes.

“They have good ground, they cut and man­age their cat­tle there, and they get big num­bers so you can rope at some money,” Miller said. “But hon­estly, you go there to visit. Ev­ery­body that ropes comes there. Dy­na­mite’s al­ways been so­cial hour.”

No­body in the Val­ley has logged more jack­pot time around Phoenix than Miller, who also en­joys go­ing to Ran­cho Rio and Down­town Arena in Wick­en­burg. He en­joys the con­di­tions at both and likes that Down­town Arena be­cause it’s “cus­tomer-con­scious.”

This win­ter, Miller may even host some weekly rop­ings of his own at his pic­turesque home in the Cave Creek foothills, so ask around and stay tuned for up­dates.

An­other nice out­door venue in north Phoenix is Ari­zona Horse Lover’s Park, where the long­est-run­ning pro­ducer in the Val­ley to­day, Chad Will­son, first be­gan pro­duc­ing rop­ings 17 years ago. Dif­fer­ent man­age­ment has made it tough for pro­duc­ers there now, so you’re not likely to see jack­pots at this handy north Phoenix lo­ca­tion this win­ter, but it re­mains a great place to ride or bar­rel race.

In the past, there have also been jack­pots in the town of Cave Creek at the Memo­rial Arena Rodeo Grounds and up the road at a saloon down­town near the in­fa­mous Harold’s Cor­ral. Fi­nally, Dou­ble C Pro­duc­tions has been known to host team rop­ings at Larkyn Memo­rial Arena in New River, just north­west of Cave Creek.

Any­thing you need in Cave Creek, from a jar of Fu­ra­zone to a rope to a sad­dle, can be pur­chased a few blocks from Dy­na­mite Arena at Dy­na­mite Horse­man Sup­ply ( Dy­na­miteHorse­manSup­ply.com), where the team-rop­ing Irion fam­ily has been tak­ing good care of rop­ers for 20 years. Ad­di­tion­ally in north Phoenix, 6 header and 16-time NFR sad­dle bronc rider Mel Cole­man owns Black Moun­tain Feed, An­der­son’s Feed & Tack and

Long­time rodeo and jack­pot vet­eran Mike Fuller from the Pa­cific North­west will of­fer weekly rop­ings at the Down­town Arena, and even some higher-num­bered jack­pots for over-40 rop­ers (an un­der­served niche). Like its nick­name denotes, the arena is lo­cated very near down­town and is of­ten men­tioned as a fa­vorite venue in Wick­en­burg.

“I re­ally like the Down­town Arena,” said Nichols, a 6/5-Elite col­lege fresh­man who grew up liv­ing and rop­ing in Wick­en­burg. “It’s just a friendly setup. You’re not in a race to go catch the steers. It has a friendly score and friendly peo­ple.”

Ol­son also likes Mike and Karen Fuller and says they are “for the roper.”

“They have a great arena and great ground, and it’s very close to Ran­cho Rio,” said Ol­son. “Within a mile are the two best are­nas, I think, in the whole Val­ley.”

In the nearby foothills lies the Wick­en­burg Rodeo Grounds, which hosts a plethora of ac­tiv­i­ties each win­ter, from Na­tional Se­nior Pro Rodeos to ranch rodeos and oc­ca­sional team rop­ing jack­pots, which usu­ally in­clude the an­nual Sil­ver Bit Clas­sic in Jan­uary, pro­duced by Scott Whit­worth. This year, look for three­time NFR heeler B.J. Camp­bell of Aguila to pro­duce weekly rop­ings at the Rodeo Grounds ( BJCamp­bel­lTeamRop­ing.com).

Simp­son Ranch Arena is far­ther south down the Has­sayampa, also sit­u­ated in a beau­ti­ful riverbed close to town. The tree­lined venue holds nu­mer­ous sad­dle rop­ings, ben­e­fit rop­ings and weekly jack­pots. This year, they’re all be­ing pro­duced by Kyle Chris­man of Wy­oming ( Face­book.com/Simp­sonRanchArena).

And out west of Wick­en­burg to­ward Forepaugh is McFar­land Arena, which has also seen some re­volv­ing pro­duc­ers over the past hand­ful of years. It’s likely to host a few jack­pots cour­tesy of Yost events again this year.

For feed, tack and West­ern ap­parel, head to Dou­ble D West­ern World in Wick­en­burg. And for a mouth-wa­ter­ing steak af­ter the jack­pot, rop­ers rec­om­mend Charley’s Steak House. An old­school place for drinks and din­ner is the Ran­cho Bar 7. Young Nichols prefers Anita’s Cocina for Mex­i­can grub and The Mecca Sports Bar & Grill, along with Bar 7.

Fi­nally, an out-of-the-way eatery you don’t want to miss if you camp near Wick­en­burg is Nichols West in Congress, Ariz. The op­er­a­tors are Bri­tish and launched the orig­i­nal Nichols is in East Hamp­ton on Long Is­land. The food is scrump­tious, so it’s worth the drive. And Bill Davis says they have “awe­some oysters.”

The West Phoenix area

Half­way be­tween Wick­en­burg and Phoenix, di­rectly off High­way 60, is the West­ern Trails Arena— unique in the area. Smack in the mid­dle of a 14-acre Old West set­ting com­plete with two sa­loons and a steak­house/ grill, the venue of­ten boasts live mu­sic and bou­tique shops, giv­ing spec­ta­tors more en­ter­tain­ment than rop­ing alone.

Pro­duc­ers have been play­ing mu­si­cal chairs to gain res­i­dence at West­ern Trails for a hand­ful of years. This win­ter, it looks as though High Call Pro­duc­tions, run by Jim Nichols, will be at

“The other are­nas are pretty se­ri­ous, but at West­ern Trails, peo­ple are in va­ca­tion PRGH OLNH ¶/HW·V JR KDYH D EHHU ·μ —Jor­dan Ol­son

the helm of weekly jack­pots there. Fri­days will fea­ture a #11 and a #9 Over 40, and each Satur­day start­ing in mid-Novem­ber the arena will host an #8, #10 and #13 over/un­der. While West­ern Trails’ arena fence it­self is a bit more tem­po­rary than some and the rop­ing chute has a bit of age, the venue is a draw for its unique at­mos­phere.

“It’s dif­fer­ent than every­where else,” said Ol­son. “The other are­nas are pretty se­ri­ous, but at West­ern Trails, peo­ple are in va­ca­tion mode, like, ‘Let’s go have a beer.’”

Case in point: Last fall at West­ern Trails, Whip and Tammi Lewis were host­ing their Best Ever Goat Rop­ing two Fri­days per month for $5 per roper, with a 60-per­cent jack­pot. The arena is open noon to 5:00 for rid­ing ($5 fee for the en­tire fam­ily), and the sa­loons of­ten have karaoke night be­tween Sun­day Night Foot­ball par­ties.

The largest west-Phoenix venue boast­ing mul­ti­ple are­nas is the South Buck­eye Eques­trian and Events Cen­ter. Along with four are­nas (in­door and out­door), it also boasts The Tack Room, a tiny en­clave be­low the crow’s nest with barstools and a full bar for bored spec­ta­tors or dis­grun­tled rop­ers.

In ad­di­tion to host­ing two huge World Se­ries rop­ings, “Buck­eye” is the home of sev­eral large bar­rel races each win­ter, in­clud­ing the Clas­sic Equine Fu­tu­rity and Derby each Jan­uary. Man­age­ment pro­duces weekly bar­rel races and team rop­ings, along with oc­ca­sional rodeos and other events. Buck­eye of­fers a full RV Park with 100 full hookups and wifi (nightly or monthly), plus 16x16 stalls.

Fi­nally, you can set up camp at the sto­ried Dunn’s Arena, owned by the Tan­ner fam­ily in Litch­field Park. Full hookups aren’t avail­able ex­cept a few by reser­va­tion. How­ever, the fa­cil­ity has show­ers, three are­nas, the Rusty Spur Grill, and lots of 20x20 out­door stalls and 16x16 in­doors. Litch­field Park is handy to just about any­where via High­way 303, and the fa­cil­ity hosts weekly bar­rel races and team rop­ings.

The bonus to be­ing so close to Amer­ica’s first re­tire­ment planned com­mu­nity, Sun City, is that you can find any one of hun­dreds of chain restau­rants af­ter the rop­ing—from the Out­back Steak­house to Texas Road­house.

The South Phoenix area

South Phoenix boasts a first-class fa­cil­ity for ma­jor events, in­clud­ing cut­ting, rein­ing and rodeos, in Queen Creek’s Horse­shoe Park and Eques­trian Cen­tre. The 38-acre venue with sev­eral stall barns opened in 2009 and hosts a ma­jor World Se­ries team rop­ing in late De­cem­ber.

Quiet and se­cluded, yet lo­cated very close to Phoenix-Mesa Gate­way Air­port (and con­ve­nient to Sky Har­bor In­ter­na­tional Air­port), it’s also eas­ily ac­cessed from two ma­jor free­ways ( Face­book.com/Horse­shoePark).

Rat­tlesnake Arena in Queen Creek of­fers team rop­ing and bar­rel rac­ing prac­tice, while the P&M Arena in Mesa will be host­ing rop­ings pro­duced by Will­son’s Dou­ble C Pro­duc­tions ( Dou­bleC-Rop­ings.com).

Over in Gil­bert, Dou­ble C will pro­duce var­i­ous jack­pots and sad­dle rop­ings at the Wel­come Home Ranch. This big eques­trian prop­erty is owned by a non-profit foun­da­tion and also op­er­ates a life-skills academy on the prop­erty. With the San Tan Moun­tains as the back­drop, horse board­ers can choose in­door or out­door stalls, and have ac­cess to three spa­cious are­nas, mul­ti­ple turnouts weekly, and a round pen. The Vista Feed & Mar­ket on-site of­fers hay and grain with pro­ceeds ben­e­fit­ting the foun­da­tion, which sup­ports African or­phan­ages.

In nearby Coolidge, Shelley Pro­duc­tions of­fers sev­eral rop­ings this win­ter, both weekly and spe­cial­ized, at the Gal­lopin’ Goose arena, com­plete with food, cock­tails and live mu­sic. Events in­clude World Se­ries qual­i­fiers and weekly pots, in­clud­ing #11 and #12 rop­ings on Mon­days, and an Open, #15 and #13 ev­ery Wed­nes­day. The prop­erty is home to the Gal­lopin’ Goose Saloon and Grill, an his­toric honky-tonk where Way­lon Jen­nings started his solo ca­reer.

Far­ther down I-10 in Casa Grande, a fa­vorite rop­ing des­ti­na­tion is the Casa Grande Rodeo Grounds. It’s where the Mike Cervi Jr. Memo­rial is held each Fe­bru­ary, while all the Open rop­ers are com­pet­ing at the Tuc­son Rodeo, and it’s the site of sev­eral team rop­ings. Also, four-time NFR header Rube Woolsey of­fers lessons and train­ing tune-ups at his Walk­ing N Arena in Casa Grande ( Rube-Woolsey.com). A bit far­ther south down I-10, pro­ducer and four-time NFR team roper Ge­orge Aros of­fers team rop­ing prac­tice, board­ing and rope-horse train­ing in Pi­ca­cho ( ArosRop­ing.com).

There you have it. Twenty-two are­nas in and around Phoenix where you can chase steers in the sun­shine un­til you just can’t stand any more fun and pros­per­ity.

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