Next year the city will celebrate its hundredth National Western Stock Show, Rodeo and Horse Show, but Denver's annual cowboy extravaganza is already preparing for the future. In addition to the 23 standard rodeo performances, and the Mexican rodeos presented by Gerardo "Jerry" Diaz, and the dancing horses, and the antique-tractor display, and the free barn tours, and the Great American Wild West Show, and the equestrian events, and the sheep-shearing and junior sheep-shearing contests, and the Professional Bull Riders Denver Chute-Out, and the Catch-a-Calf contest, and the hundred acres of showgrounds -- the Stock Show is Colorado's largest trade show -- filled with fried-dough booths and saddle-makers and bull-semen sellers and ginzu-knife peddlers, this year's incarnation offers several updated features, including Super Dogs Internationale (two shows starring fifty canine cut-ups) and the Cowboy Experience.
Tucked into the heretofore little-used southwest corner of Stadium Hall II, up from the old arena, the Cowboy Experience will give city slickers and rural Rambos alike the chance to have their pictures taken on top of a fake bull, to rope a fake goat from a fake horse, to get a fake cowboy tattoo (airbrushed, and good for three to four days), or to enjoy genuine nachos and margaritas from a Las Delicias cantina. "You know the NFL Experience?" asks Darrin Mauser, who organizes concessions for National Western. "It's pretty much the same concept -- getting people to interact."
And how: The Cowboy Experience will also feature a virtual shooting gallery where actual cowboys as well as wannabes can hunt prairie dogs, pheasant and elk, and also shoot skeet. It's a little like the "full-blown shooting gallery that Elitch's used to have," Mauser explains, but with a few technological twists -- none of them politically correct, except that the animals aren't real. "I'm sure the PETAs are going to love it," he says of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Stock Show's longtime nemesis.
Mauser and a few other veterans were brainstorming possible additions for the 2005 show, thinking about what interests cowboys and other Stock Show regulars have in common, when they hit on hunting. ("Every cowboy hunts," Mauser says.) They then tracked down a computer-generated game that lets players use either a laser rifle or a 9mm pistol -- no six-shooters. Although Mauser says they also found a virtual-reality "Old West shoot-'em-up game with a quick draw," it's used for private parties only, and renting it for the sixteen-day show would have been too expensive. Instead, for $2 a turn (the length depends on how well you shoot and what you hit), you can take aim at all manner of modern varmints -- buffalo and vegetarians excepted.
Mauser tested the game at his office, and it proved so "awesome" and distracting that he finally boxed it up until the full Stock Show gets under way, on Saturday, January 8. "We had it here for about two weeks," he says. "We weren't getting much work done."
In addition to all of the events taking place at the National Western Complex, the Stock Show hits the road on January 11 for a mid-day parade that starts at Union Station and meanders down 17th Street, reminding Denver of its cowtown origins.
Avert your eyes, PETA: This is how the West was fun.