On a central downtown corner, a vast shop in a bright red historic building reflects the heart of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Of course, a cowboy hat is de rigueur here in the boundless West, and you could get lost for hours in The Wrangler. Ultimately, you’ll leave happy after your fitting for the cowboy chapeau of your dreams, and having watched a skilled hat shaper mold it into just the style you prefer. Their boot selection is endless and so too is the supply of sartorial gear that you hadn’t known you needed for the city’s annual Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Last month, the 126th version of the CFD took over the city. Which means that you have plenty of time now to start planing ahead for next summer’s huge gathering of the world’s top bull and bronc riders. The countdown has literally already started on their webpage, right down to the (digital) second hand (July 19-28, 2024).
With so many activities around town to keep you busy, they don’t call the nine-day CFD the “Daddy of ’em All” for nothing. First, get to know some locals at one of several free pancake breakfasts put on in Depot Plaza downtown. You are in an region that hosts plenty of military personnel and serving 100,000 flapjacks is an operation of military precision.
Grab a spot on the curb on Capitol Avenue to catch one of the delightful Grand Parades. They won’t rival the Rose Parade in size, but with marching bands and gorgeous horses, it’s just as fun. Many of those horses are drawing restored 19th-century carriages, wagons and stagecoaches that carry costumed gunfighters, saloon denizens, preachers, school marms and all your favorite characters from the Old West. And then there’s the slow, looping choreography displayed by vintage tractors that your great-grandparents would have ridden.
And when it comes time for the big events at the city arena, you’ll find yourself surrounded by 19,000 spectators and a sea of cowboy hats—lots and lots of white Bangara straw—and with yours from The Wrangler you’ll fit right in.
First, a super basic tutorial might be in order: Basically, you’ll be witnessing the world’s top competitors in roughstock, timed, and racing events. Roughstock are the eight-second bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding events in which the bucking animal’s performance counts as well. Timed include team and tie down roping, steer wrestling and women’s barrel racing. And racing on the track is where teams of cowboys try to be the first to saddle and ride a wild horse around the track.
With $1 million in prize money, this is serious business indeed and with lots of the high-tech visual and narrative production values you see in any top sport. You can also sign up for a “behind-the-chutes” tour for a quick look at the backside of your favorite rodeo star as he prepares to mount.
As for the magnitude of stars to rodeo culture, just look on either side of Frontier Park for two monumental bronze statues of rodeo champions in action: a decades-old one made by Chris Navarro of Lane Frost who was killed very young; and a brand new one from sculptor D. Michael Thomas titled Just LeDoux It that honors Chris LeDoux, a popular star rider and country musician who also passed away prematurely in 2005.
Frontier Nights features music performances by top country stars; this past CFD featured Tim McGraw, Zach Bryan, Jon Pardi and Carly Pearce among others. Various premium tickets are available as well for top viewing spots. And don’t let the sashed and perfectly-coiffed look of the frontier beauty queens you see fool you either; they aren’t just comely representative winners of their home state, but full on rodeo champions themselves.
Lining one side of the arena, the Old Frontier Town is full of all kinds of foods, activities and crafts. You can even pick up gear, like the saddle and tack you know you’ll need now that you’ve gone full cowboy.
In a circle at the Indian Village, multigenerational troupes of Native American dancers and drummers from the Wind River Reservation put on several exciting performances a day in full dress pageantry. The village has food and crafts booths as well. Over at the Chuck Wagon Cookoff, crews produce foods on campfires from trail days, using authentic instruments and ingredients. And you, as the full cowboy you are now, can sample it should you wish.
The huge Carnival Midway at Frontier Park is where you can indulge in all the classic rich state fair type foods your doctor warns you against. And then try to hold them all down on the many twirling rides designed to jolt the life out of you.
During CFD, the onsite Old West Museum puts on a fundraising show of local artists’ work. During the year, it houses a collection of the old carriages and cars that are used in the Grand Parade. It also displays the history of the CFD, as well as Native American craftsmanship and clothing.
Finally, after experiencing the full range of intense Cheyenne Frontier Days activities, you can from now on and forever always say with truth and confidence: This ain’t my first rodeo.