How the West Won My Heart
My love affair with cowboy country began in 1993, when I traveled to Cheyenne, Wyo., to attend Cheyenne Frontier Days. I had heard it was a rodeo and Western festival of epic proportions, and it did not disappoint. In fact, it was life changing.
For this New England girl, the rodeo scene was an enthralling new experience. I watched as cowboys exhibited grit and determination in their attempts to hang on to untamed bulls and wild-eyed broncos for eight seconds. (In rodeo, eight seconds can bring jubilation and a windfall of cash, or it can bring broken bones and heartbreak.) The cowboys and cowgirls I watched embodied the unadulterated spirit of America. No strangers to working hard and risking it all for a paycheck and glory, their rugged individualism captivated me. I wanted more.
I returned in 1996 for the 100th Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD), then again in 1997 and 1998, when a chance encounter with a kindhearted stranger opened the door to a whole new world. As a result of a casual conversation about my travels and love of photography, I found myself in possession of a press pass for CFD.
I went from spectator to participant as I spent the week working the rodeo as a freelance photographer. I was in heaven! I got to photograph the rodeo action from behind the chutes, side by side with the most legendary cowboys in the rodeo world. I also got to photograph from “the pit” in the center of the arena at eye level with the dirt. Even as I write this, there are few places I’d rather be.
I returned to CFD in 1999 and 2000, again working as a freelance photographer, and relishing every aspect of the experience. Although the focus of my time out West was CFD, everything about Wyoming took my breath away. The open plains and the big sky gave me a feeling of liberation that ran deep into my being. It was unlike anything I had experienced while growing up in New England, where buildings and tall trees dominate. In Wyoming, there was nothing to fence me in.
But years passed, and life in Massachusetts unfolded in wonderful ways. With time came the responsibilities of family, children, work and home ownership. I began to wonder if I’d ever return to Cheyenne.
Then two summers ago I got the chance. It had been 14 years since my dusty old boots had touched Wyoming soil, 14 years that had flown by like the antelope that race across the vast Wyoming plains.
Once back in Wyoming, I savored every moment. I attended rodeos, concerts, parades, free pancake breakfasts, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds air show, the Native American Village, the Old West Museum and art show, the carnival midway — as much as I could pack into my week. With my passion for photography still burning strong, I relished photographing the rodeo and many incredible entertainers, including Brad Paisley and Florida Georgia Line.
Cheyenne Frontier Days, which has been held annually since 1897, is an experience like none other. Known as “The Daddy of ’em All,” it is the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and Western festival. With so many festivities and such a wide variety of entertainment, it is nearly impossible to see it all, even if you spend all 10 days at the event. There is no better way to experience the thrill of a rodeo, old-fashioned family fun, and amazing entertainment than Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Visit CFDRodeo.com for more information.