Yee-haw!: Rodeos keep Scottsdale’s Western spirit alive

Yee-haw!: Rodeos keep Scottsdale’s Western spirit alive

By Joan Fudala

As the popular saying goes, “this ain’t our first rodeo.” In fact, the Scottsdale/Parada del Sol Rodeo at WestWorld Thursday, March 9, to Sunday, March 12, will be the most recent in The West’s Most Western Town’s rodeo history that dates back at least 100 years.

Hold your horses for these local rodeo remembrances:

• According to blurbs in the 1920s Arizona Republican newspaper, the farming/ranching town of Scottsdale hosted rodeos as far back as the 1920s. From the February 19, 1921, edition: “There will be a rodeo in Scottsdale on the afternoon of Feb. 22. Mr. Bennett, who is superintendent of the Fort McDowell Indian reservation, has spent considerable time and effort in training the Indians for the event, which will be staged in the vacant lots directly behind the home of Vice President Marshall.” (on Indian School just west of Scottsdale Road, current location of Panera)

• An ad the Arizona Republican promoting the Sunday, August 18, 1929, event, 3 miles north of Scottsdale, promised calf and bronco tying, wild riding, cow milking, a maverick race and steer riding.

• After the World War II pilot training base at Thunderbird Airfield No. 2 (now the site of Scottsdale Airport and the Seventh Day Adventists’ Thunderbird Academy) closed in late 1944, the facilities were taken over by Arizona State College in 1947 for use as a technical trade school. The ASC Aggie Club built a rodeo arena there and hosted an Intercollegiate Rodeo in February 1950. Collegiate rodeo contestants from 14 Western states met for a two-day ASC Aggie Club-hosted rodeo, which, according to the February 16, 1950, Scottsdale Progress, ASC President Dr. Grady Gammage attended to dedicate the arena. Bill Schrader, a 20-year-old Arizona State student and Scottsdale High graduate, was trampled by a bull while participating in the rodeo, breaking his collarbone. Dusting himself off, Schrader went on to be Scottsdale’s third mayor (1962 to 1964) and long-time SRP president.

• Scottsdale grew as a popular tourist destination after World War II, and became a desirable place to raise a family or start a business. However, there were few events for residents and visitors to enjoy. The then-new Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce staged a horse rodeo during a February weekend in 1949 and 1950. Held at the old Loveland Polo Field on Camelback and Invergordon (just east of the Jokake Inn), it starred Scottsdale-based and nationally acclaimed rodeo trick rider Dick Griffin. News photos show Griffin jumping over a large convertible while astride two horses. The rodeo was proceeded by a parade and included a barbecue.

• Over Labor Day weekend, members of Native American communities throughout Arizona participated in an Indian Rodeo held at the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community rodeo arena. The September 1, 1953, Arizona Republic reported that the event would feature “attempts to ride the notorious Black Widow bucking horse. Other events will include team tying, calf roping, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and wild cow milking. In addition to the many rodeo events, the program will include dances by Hopi, Apache, Pima and Navajo tribesmen. Native food will be served by women of the reservation.” The rodeo benefitted a college scholarship fund for Native American children and helped provide recreational facilities.

• The Scottsdale Jaycees organized in 1953, and took over sponsorship of Scottsdale’s annual Sunshine Festival, renaming it the Parada del Sol. The group decided to add a rodeo to Parada events in 1956, combining it with the traditional parade, barbecue and street dance. Undaunted by his earlier rodeo mishap, Bill Schrader, a founding member of the Jaycees, helped organize the rodeo with his fellow Jaycees, who hand-built a rodeo arena for the first Parada del Sol Rodeo on the northwest corner of Scottsdale and Camelback roads. Property owner Harry Lenart leased his land to the Jaycees for $1 a year. The ASU Aggie Club held an Intercollegiate Rodeo at the Jaycees arena in mid-April 1956. By 1959, the Lenart site was pegged for construction of Scottsdale Fashion Square, so the Jaycees moved their rodeo to Osborn Road.

• The Scottsdale Jaycees got a long-term lease on land that was part of the city’s community center on 75th Street/Osborn Road, east of the Scottsdale Ballpark (built in 1955 for Orioles’ Spring Training) and north of the Boys Club. Again, the Jaycees hand-built a PRCA-competitive rodeo arena through dedication and sweat equity. Between 1959 and 1962, a cattle drive down Scottsdale Road was part of the Parada del Sol Rodeo, but it got too wild and wooly. A former Jaycee recalled that one year the bulls and cattle got loose in the neighborhood where City Hall and Civic Center now stand, enroute to the rodeo arena. Livestock horns pulled laundry off backyard lines and the near stampede frightened the residents.

• For many years, the Lazy J’s, the ladies and wives auxiliary of the Jaycees, organized Parada Rodeo street dance adjacent to the rodeo grounds on 75th Street, then in a larger space when the rodeo moved to Rawhide.

• During its 26-year run at the Old Town Scottsdale arena, the Parada del Sol rodeo featured appearances by the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales, chariot races, rodeo clowns and plenty of rodeo action by professional rodeo circuit riders and ropers. As Downtown Scottsdale grew, parking became scarce on rodeo days. Meanwhile, Jim Paul had opened Rawhide Western Town on the southeast corner of Scottsdale and Pinnacle Peak roads in the early 1970s, and Rawhide added a rodeo arena in the early 1980s. The Parada rodeo was once again on the move, to then far-north Scottsdale. This was disappointing to many K-12 students, who looked forward to having Friday afternoon off to attend the downtown Scottsdale rodeo.

• Rawhide hosted its first Parada Rodeo in 1985, with plenty of parking for attendees. It was a perfect location for The West’s Most Western Town’s historic rodeo, but things didn’t always go as planned. It rained so hard on one of the 1990 rodeo days that only 12 people sat in the stands, but they got a show nonetheless; the Jaycees dubbed another the “Snowdeo” for its unusual weather.

• When Rawhide moved from its Scottsdale location in October 2005 (by then surrounded by luxury homes and upscale shopping and golf courses), the Parada del Sol Rodeo moved to WestWorld’s Equidome in 2006, where it continues to be an annual signature event. The City of Scottsdale made substantial upgrades to the former open-sided Equidome Arena; spectators and participants enjoy rodeos in an enclosed facility with many “creature comforts.”

• The Scottsdale Jaycees disbanded in 2009, and a nonprofit group of volunteers, Parada del Sol Inc., formed to carry on the tradition. Following the lead established by the Scottsdale Jaycees, proceeds from the Parada rodeo benefit a range of charitable and community programs, especially for underserved Scottsdale-area residents.

• Celebrity sightings have also been common at the Parada del Sol rodeo — actor Walter Brennan (who partied hearty with the Jaycees at Lulu Belle’s), the reigning Queen-for-a-Day from the 1950s television show, actor James Caan, country singer Buck Owens and a whole host of roping and riding stars, including trick rider Dick Griffith, who lived in Scottsdale. Lex Connelly served as rodeo announcer for many years.

• In recent years, Scottsdale venues have hosted a variety of special rodeos: the Valley of the Sun All Women’s Rodeo at Horseman’s Park (now WestWorld); the Wrangler Jeans Rodeo Showdown in 1989 (at Horseworld, featuring a rodeo concert with Lee Greenwood and Tanya Tucker) and 1990 (at Rawhide, featuring Canadian and USA teams); a summer rodeo series at WestWorld, 1994-96; the Road Runner Regional Rodeo – one of the International Gay Rodeo Association’s premier events, held at Rawhide in January 2002; and the Arizona Black Rodeo, most recently held at WestWorld in August 2022.

• Can’t get enough of Parada del Sol nostalgia? Visit the Scottsdale Heritage Connection Messinger Family Research Room at Scottsdale Civic Center Library to find a collection of Parada programs (access by request only) and find dozens of Parada photos and videos in the library/historical society digital collection at

• Visit the Rodeo Museum at Brown and Second Street in Old Town (check for open hours).

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