Feburary 11, 2010

A few days ago we joined some friends from the Park and drove to Mesa for dinner at Organ Stop Pizza. That’s an unusual name for an unusual place, but it turns out to be an accurate name. They serve pizza, and they have the world’s largest pipe organ. It’s a beautiful ebony organ with gold leaf decorations, at least four keyboards, and around 6,000 pipes. It rises up from below the floor on a platform in the center of the stage. There are several organists who work there and the night we went, the best one was playing. He was really excellent! He played everything from Phantom of the Opera to the TV Star Trek theme. There are a couple dozen other instruments (drums, bells, chimes, etc) around the stage that are keyed to organ pedals, so the organist can bring them into the music as needed. The many pipes are all around the room, and most of them are behind slender glass panels that open and close to help control the volume. The pizza was good, the company was great, and the entertainment was fun.

Today we went to a more traditional event – the 43th O’Odham Tash Casa Grande rodeo. The O’Odham Tash are a local tribe, possible descended from the original inhabitants who build the ancient structure preserved as the Casa Grande National Monument, which gave the town of Casa Grande (“big house”) its name (see our October 28th blog). This event is billed as the largest all-Indian rodeo. Since it’s the first rodeo I attended, I have nothing to compare it to, but I really enjoyed it! The rodeo started with O'Odham veterans parading the US, Arizona and O'dham Tash flags, and then an Indian lady in beautiful blue and white dress with gorgeous long fringes did the Lord’s Prayer in Indian sign language.

Next another Indian lady sang the National anthem in Indian language. Then the rodeo events started, including calf roping and barrel racing. Apparently there is a relatively new event called team roping – one person ropes the calf’s horns as usual, and the other person ropes the calf’s two back feet . . . while it is running and jumping and trying to escape. That second roping is a really difficult throw! Some of the participants were pretty young – one guy who was able to rope the calf’s feet was only 12 years old!

There was only one bronco ride – apparently most of those are scheduled for the next day. What they did have was a lot of bull riding! Most of the bulls where huge and none of them were in a good mood. Very few guys were able to stay on the full eight seconds, but nobody got seriously hurt.

The last event was something I’d never even heard of before – a wild horse race. Several teams of 3 guys competed in this event. To start, a wild horse has a head rope put on it and is put into a shute. The team members take hold of the head rope and the shute is opened. The first thing I learned is that one angry horse can easily drag 3 guys off their feet! The most successful teams had someone who was able to throw their arm over the horses’ eyes, which made the horse stand still for a few moments and allowed them to try the next step – putting a saddle on the horse. Then one of the guys needed to mount it and ride to the other end of the arena to complete the event. All along this process all sorts of things can – and did – go wrong. Getting close enough to blindfold a wild horse is really difficult, even with a head rope, and if that works, getting the saddle on is whole new battle. Some horses refused to let anyone get close enough to blindfold or saddle them. Several horses broke free enough to try to run away. Since chasing down a wild horse on foot almost impossible, the cowboys will do almost anything to avoid letting the horse get completely away. So several hung on to that head rope and went for a ride called "cowboy mud skiing" – getting dragged face down across the arena through dirt, mud and whatever else the horses, cows and bulls had deposited on the ground. Eventually a few cowboys were able to saddle up and when the horses took off across the arena, they went bucking all the way and were able to drop a few riders down to hard ground. Out of 18 teams, only about 4 or 5 were able to complete it. It looked pretty hard on the cowboys, but it was a tremendous amount of fun to watch!

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