It’s not immediately apparent when you drive through it on a summer weekend, but once upon a time the little town of Idaho City was a bustling hub of the Gem State. A quick fact search shows you that in its heyday, it was one of the largest cities in the Northwest, surpassing even Portland and other areas that currently top the charts. What brought them to the pine-dotted hills just above Boise? The same thing that still brings people in wide-brimmed hats: precious metals.
Okay, it’s a little different from the mid-1800’s now. These hat-wearing metal hunters aren’t searching for ore or nuggets in the nearby flowing waters, but looking for already-wearable shiny stuff in the form of gold and silver buckles earned on the hard, unforgiving dirt of the rodeo arena. It makes sense that Idaho City’s own Gold Dust Rodeo should be a desired location for the region’s cowboys and cowgirls, given the Jim Haswell Arena is a classically beautiful venue, settled in the heart of some of Idaho’s most beautiful mountain country. Everything about the weekend screams “classic Idaho.”
What isn’t much different from the mid-1800s is what happens inside the arena. Rodeo hasn’t changed much at all since its early days, so settling in for an evening of fun means you’re seeing essentially the same sort of fun early miners and foresters might have seen in their time. Riders and ropers from around the area flock to Idaho City, but now bringing slick, safe nylon ropes, life-saving helmets, and iPhones to record their best efforts. Still, the leather, denim, and steel that have made the rodeo happen for a hundred years are still the norm.
The stock pretty much won the rodeo in 2016. Superior Rodeo brought the finest local livestock, including a pen of bulls that dominated a determined crew of riders. Superior stock seems to get stronger every year, and the challenge gets more and more fun to watch. This year, ranch bronc competition was added to the list of events, bringing a new and different (but still classic and traditional) ride to spectators. For those unfamiliar, it’s essentially an “anything goes” bronc event, with a full saddle and tack, and the rider has a variety of grip options. The timers and judges have the same job as with any other roughstock, though: eight seconds, and stay on top!
The cowgirls put on a show Saturday and let everyone know how rodeo is done. The breakaway roping ended up being split by two young ladies with sizzling 2.6 second runs, and perennial champion Jordan Minor took the barrel racing at 16.245. The Idaho Cowboy’s Association has done a great job providing opportunities for cowgirls, and this year’s Gold Dust, they took full advantage of them!
One can’t help but feel a tie to the past when they experience a rodeo, and the Gold Dust rodeo only amplifies that feeling. From the joy of the little kids who get to meet a rodeo queen or pet a horse to the dogged intensity of a rider knowing he’s strapping onto one of the best bulls in the valley, There’s an enjoyment across the spectrum, and an authentic old-west town like Idaho City just amplifies it.
There’s still gold in Idaho City… and silver, too. It just takes a cowboy or cowgirl to find it.