I’ve always loved rodeos, and the in Alberta, Canada was on my bucket list for years. I finally dusted off my cowboy boots and joined daredevils, horse enthusiasts, music lovers, families, and wannabe cowboys, at the western extravaganza. Spanning ten days in July, the Stampede draws over a million visitors from around the world.
Rodeo Fever One of the best thrills was being part of a crowd ramped up on adrenaline watching bronco busters, bull riders, steer wrestlers, women’s barrel racing, tie-down roping, horse relays and the world’s top chuckwagon races.
The 10-day event offers a combined $2 million in prize money. Looking over a sea of cowboy hats, I watched a Texan stay on his bucking horse for eight seconds to win $100,000 in the bareback riding. The crowd went wild with whistles and applause. The rodeo is capped off with the nightly Grandstand Show and fireworks finale that light up the sky.
The entire city of Calgary gets into the Stampede mood with free pancake breakfasts, parades, barbecues and endless parties. Many visitors, (like me), don our western duds to look the part with denim jeans, plaid shirts, fancy boots and cowboy hats. But the locals are the true fashion stars. Their full western regalia include leather vests, native jewelry, big belt buckles, bolo ties, red bandana neckerchiefs and white Stetson hats.
Crazy, Creative Food
On the Stampede grounds visitors can choose from more than 100 food vendors selling everything from festival favorites like mini doughnuts and corn dogs to mouth-watering BBQ. For lunch I sampled numerous crazy combos like The Big Pickle Tornado, a jumbo dill pickle stuffed with a hotdog, wrapped in cheese and bacon and rolled in a tortilla, then deep-fried to a crispy perfection.
Other crowd pleasers included deep-fried Bacon-Wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (surprisingly delicious), and the smoking charcoal soft ice cream in a cup (comprised of ice cream infused with black, activated charcoal, served over a chunk of dried ice) so yes, the entire creation smokes. I passed up the Prairie Oyster Balls. Yes, they are real bull testicles served on mini doughnuts and topped with blueberry jam, whipped cream and, get this, crushed nuts (pun intended).
Not all food at the Stampede is fast food or fried. For fine dining and the best seats in the house, head to The Lazy S, an exclusive glass-enclosed lounge and restaurant on the fourth level of the Grandstand. Succulent fish, meat, or fowl entrees, creative cocktails, and outstanding wines are served directly to your seat in the loge.
In Search of the Perfect Steak
The Official Jack Daniel’s Stampede Dinner was served at , an elegant restaurant with a warm and modern décor. Stephen Deere, owner of Modern Steak, partnered with an Alberta ranch to buy an award-winning bull several years ago. His goal was to breed better beef and engineer the best-marbled steak. Stephen told me, “Our beef is hormone and antibiotic free and pasture raised. Happy cattle make for better steaks.” The results speak for themselves: In 2016, the restaurant won the award for the best “marbled” Angus in Canada.
The three thick slices of mouth-watering Alberta beef we devoured were aged 50, 150 and 200 days respectively, and cured with Jack Daniel’s whisky. Only the 200-day cured beef had the fragrance of whisky, No worry, a creative Jack Daniel’s cocktail accompanied each coarse.
The Music Scene
The Calgary Stampede is one of Canada’s largest music festivals with five stages and over 300 performers. One warm evening I joined a packed crowd at the outdoor stage to hear nine-time Grammy Award, . Shoulder to shoulder with other fans, we clapped or sang along to my favorite Cheryl Crow song All I Wanna Do (is have fun). Nashville North gives everyone a chance to kick up their heels dancing to live country music every night of the festival.
The Indian Village
A short walk from the rodeo stadium, I followed the sound of drums and singing to an Indian Powwow where youngsters and grandparents, decked out in the finest beaded regalia, danced and chanted. At the Indian Village members of five nations live in 26-hand-designed tipis during the rodeo. I was welcomed into a tipi by a grandma who sewed beads into an elaborate ceremonial costume. Interpreters provide free-guided tours daily to explain their rich heritage and culture. From the first Calgary Stampede 106 years ago, the First Nation has played a major role.
Kids Take the Stage at The Grandstand Show.
The includes 113 performers, 7-19 years old who sing and dance, adding raw energy, fantasy and talent to the nightly show. They train all year in preparation for the 10 days of performances. This year was the 50th anniversary of the Young Canadians participating in the Grandstand Show.
Panda Breakfast at an Amazing Zoo
A trip to is a must for visitors of any age. At the “Panda Breakfast” I chowed-down on a delicious buffet while learning panda facts, and then entered the zoo before opening hours, avoiding the lines, to watch the four pandas when they were alert, active and eating their own breakfasts. In addition to the pandas, standouts were the superb botanical garden, active butterfly house, grizzly bears and Madagascan lemurs.
For Art Lovers and History Buffs
The in downtown Calgary is a “must visit” for a history buffs and art aficionados. One of the largest museums in Western Canada, it boasts over a million objects, artworks and photographs. The thoughtful displays about the First Nation people across Canada is outstanding.
The Calgary Stampede is billed as the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, and who am I to argue? I’ve packed away my cowboy hat and boots for now, but rodeo fever is infectious and this cowgirl cannot wait for next year’s roundup.
NEXT YEAR: July 5-14, 2019.