I towed into Pendleton, Oregon minutes before the Westward Ho! parade and faced nowhere to park; every empty slot and lot teemed with RVs and horse trailers and teepees. Somehow I squeezed into a miracle spot in the WalMart parking lot, stuffed to the curbs with motorhomes, tents, and rednecks camped in the beds of their pickups…like spring break for hillbillies. I followed the crowd and piles of manure on Court Street to the all non-motorized parade which showcased wild west wagons and buggies, all manner of cowboy, Indians, Mexicans, sheriffs, preachers, outlaws, firemen, Oregon Trail pioneers, weird timber equipment, every rodeo princess in the Northwest, longhorns, mules, donkeys, horses, miniature ponies, and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler. The sky was blue, the sun warm, the air acrid with smell of freshly-dropped dung. Life is good. “Let ‘er buck, hail yay-uh,” commented the spectator to my right about the inscription tooled on the chaps of a pretty cowgirl.
During Round-Up Pendleton swells by 50,000 people and becomes a spectacle. Tents with vendors hawking cowboy hats, brisket and tacos, rugs and horse blankets, cowgirl bling, and Native American crafts line the streets; at night, the town hosts a week-long party with five entertainment stages and assorted bacchanalia.
The rodeo itself is one of the ten largest in the world. The announcer (who is quite excellent) kicks off the competition by leading the crowd in the official catchphrase: “It’s a noun, it’s an adjective, it’s a verb…!” to which the crowd screams “Let ‘er buck!!” The concessions are reasonable (beer, $4) and the townfolk are friendly and polite. I was mildly surprised when the audience stood to enthusiastically cheer the area tribes in their ceremonial attire during the Indian Show portion of the rodeo; the community here warmly embraces and honors the Native American, a part of Round-Up week for 101 years. (It’s not like that in California. Just sayin’.)
I visited the “Let ‘Er Buck Room” during a break in the rodeo action to see if I could get groped. (No takers). Less of a bar and more of just a shadowy, enclosed space beneath the bleachers, the famous party den is packed wall to wall with drinkers generating a deafening noise; copious signage warns “Keep Your Clothes On – Indecent Exposure Will Not Be Tolerated”.
I drycamped for the weekend in the community park and enjoyed overeating and overdrinking as usual with the Oregon Unit of the WBCCI, who have been hosting Airstreamers at the Round-Up for 46 years.
Parade rankings by the author
(Criteria: Length, weather, relative lack of corporate sponsorship, high local kitsch factor)
- UFO Festival, McMinnville
- San Diego St. Patrick’s Day
- Pendleton Round-Up Westward Ho! Parade
- Detroit Lakes Water Carnival Parade of the Northwest
- Fred Meyer Children’s Holiday Parade (now, alas, Macy’s)
- Tournament of Roses, Pasadena
- Portland Pride
- Lompoc Flower Festival
- Grand Floral Parade, Portland
- Crazy Days Pet and Doll Parade, Audubon MN
- Vergas Looney Daze
- Jackson Center Community Days
Parade bucket list
- Portland Starlight Parade
- Doo Dah Parade
- Carnivale, Brazil
- Carnivale, Trinidad
- Mardi Gras
- Please comment your suggestions!