What makes Durango’s annual Cowboy Parade along Main Avenue the largest motorless parade in Colorado?
Is it the hundreds of neighbors, residents and tourists who line the sidewalks watching the 20-minute march?
Could it be the dozens of horse riders, children and people dressed in Old West garb who dodged piles of horse droppings – poop promptly scooped with flat shovels and thrown into a cart – as they walked?
Maybe it’s the hundreds of hotel rooms booked in Durango or the dozens of local events performed by artists from all over the western United States?
Ask Bill Lambert, vice chairman of Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and the answer is easy: “Prove it otherwise,” he said.
The 31st annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering hosted events this week all around La Plata County, including 18 performances at local senior centers, elementary and middle schools, a Poet Train with eight musicians and poets with a crowd pulled by Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad engine and music events scheduled at venues around Durango all Saturday afternoon.
Cheerful shouts, folk music and neighborly “good mornings” interrupted the patter of hooves and the casual conversations of spectators along Main Avenue on Saturday morning at the parade.
Easton Makhani, 4, moved to Southwest Colorado earlier this year from Los Angeles. He knows about horses and other pack animals – but now, thanks to his grandparents Becky and Thomas King, he can say he’s seen his fair share.
Becky King, who moved with Thomas to Southwest Colorado from southern Texas about four years ago, said she and her husband come to Durango for almost any event. “It’s something to do,” she said. But bringing her grandson “makes it special,” she said.
Fred “Flip” Robyns, who grew up in northern California and moved to Southwest Colorado about 40 years ago, said the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering is a good place “to visit with friends we don’t get to see.” Some of his friends have died and the parade is a good place to cherish their memories, he said.
But it’s also an opportunity to ponder the changes from the 20th to the 21st century that mesh to form the communities in Southwest Colorado, he said – and all over the world, for that matter. The ranching lifestyle in the Southwest during the 1900s is often lauded and cherished, but the allure to young people is not what it once was, Robyns said.
Everything changes, and progress comes at an expense, but events like the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering are a good way to bring people of different generations and cultures together to appreciate what they have in common, Robyns said.
“What we’re seeing here is the remnants of the last century, and it’s fading,” he said. “A young person may not know what could be lost, simply because they weren’t around to see it.”
Lambert, who grew up in Michigan and moved to Southwest Colorado from Washington, D.C., 12 years ago, said the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering is a place for “celebrating our Western heritage.”
“We want the Western lifestyle to continue because its so rich,” he said. “Rural living, it’s just a different culture (than urban life).
“We’re celebrating the past and preserving it for the future,” Lambert said.