Today is the day for Tucson's annual Rodeo Parade which heralds the beginning of Rodeo Week in Tucson. The parade, which has been held annually since 1925, is the start of Tucson's week long rodeo which draws entrants from across the U.S. and Canadian west. As the first major outdoor rodeo on the Pro Rodeo circuit, the Tucson Rodeo is the start of the outdoor rodeo season. As such, the parade and rodeo are big events in Tucson and are celebrated accordingly.
Local schools close on Thursday (the day of the parade) and Friday of Rodeo Week each year. Each year the police and a local "vigilante" group identify one vehicle on Interstate -10 with out of state license plates and signal it to pull over. The anxious occupants are then surprised with a gift pack consisting of six days worth of free meals and lodging at a local resort along with free passes to local attractions.
The parade itself attracts about 200,000 spectators who line the route to view the two hour long parade with its numerous old horse drawn wagons, costumed riders and marching bands. Being Tucson, the weather usually cooperates with sunshine and balmy temperatures. As the parade starts at 9 a.m. the temperature is usually between 40 and 50 degrees and then proceeds to rise to the 60 to 70 degree range by parade's end.
The two hour long event consists of local bands, mounted horsemen and women, antique wagons and western theme floats. Parade rules and tradition forbid mechanized vehicles so all wagons and floats are horse drawn. People in the floats and wagons usually dress in either traditional western wear or traditional Mexican dress.
Many floats and marchers dress in historical costumes commemorating Tucson's rich historical past. Among the costumes are riders on beautiful Arabian horses dressed as Spanish Conquistadors with spears and shields embossed with Spanish style coats-of-arms. These were the mounted soldiers who accompanied Padre Kino and other Spanish missionaries as they pushed the borders of New Spain north from Mexico into what is now the southwestern U.S. and, in the process founded the settlement that is now Tucson. Others dress in traditional Mexican cowboy garb with their broad sombreros reminiscent of the cowboys who maintained the ranches during the period before the U.S. government purchased southern Arizona from Mexico and Tucson was a small Mexican town. Nineteenth century U.S. Army Calvary costumes are another reminder of our past and, thanks to old Hollywood movies, a staple of the Old West in people's minds. Included with the Calvary are units representing the black "Buffalo Soldiers" who played a significant, but often neglected, role in the settlement of the southwest. These former slaves, who found work as soldiers and moved west with the Army, made up an important part of the Army's troop strength in Arizona following the Civil War. And then there are representatives from the local Tohono O'odahm Nation and Pascua Yaqui Tribe Indians. But instead of Hollywood style indian garb they usually dress in the more traditional working cowboy garb common to this area's past and present.
The parade ends at the rodeo grounds and this afternoon the first of the week-long series of rodeo events will begin.