If you’re into buckin’ broncos, ripsnortin’ bull rides, and some darn good horsemanship, then the Mesquite Championship Rodeo is a great place to visit if you ever find yourself in the Metroplex during the spring and summer months (April through September). Even if you’re not into all that, the MCR will give you get a real eye-opener about what rodeo’s really like, right down to the smell of the sawdust and the snorting of the bulls. The MCR, which bills itself as “north Texas’ premier western family attraction,” is located just 15 miles east of Dallas, not surprisingly in the town of Mesquite, on the west side of Interstate Highway 30. It’s fairly easy to get to, and hard to miss if you’re keeping your eyes open.
If you can’t make out the Mesquite Rodeo sign from the highway, just keep looking for “Resistol Arena” signs on the side of the road and follow ’em until you get there.
Now, we Texans take our rodeo seriously, which should come as no surprise if you’ve done your research — or, heck, even if you’ve just listened to a few country songs or seen a few TV shows or movies. The MCR is celebrating its 50th season this year, which makes it one of the longest-running full-time rodeos in the country, and it’s usually got something going on most weekends during the season.
The rodeo’s been around continuously since 1958, and since 1986 it’s been housed in the lovely Resistol Arena. For those of you not in the know, Resistol is one of the biggest manufacturers of cowboy hats in existence. They make hats (and other equipment) used not just by all those urban cowboys who wouldn’t know a heifer from a bull, but also the real working cowboys who know what it’s really like to have to herd cattle, and for whom chaps and hats are something more than just a fashion accessory.
The interior of the Arena is pretty nifty, though unfortunately I don’t have any photos to show you; it was closed when I visited last. I have, however, been there before. Aside from the actual rodeo arena space, there’s a nice arcade of shops inside the Arena building where you can buy all kinds of rodeo, western, Texas, and Dallas-based memorabilia. Western wear is available, too, including Resistol hats. Be prepared to pay a small fortune for them, though — even the most utilitarian high-quality cowboy hats are going to cost upward of a hundred bucks. They’re worth it, though; I’ve got a good straw cowboy hat that I’ve had for over 20 years. Of course I don’t wear it every day, but that lifespan’s still pretty impressive.
Back to the Rodeo itself. It’s a good choice for family entertainment, as the prices are minimal ($7-$30 per ticket), and you always get reserved seating. If I remember correctly (and if they haven’t changed things in the past few years), it’s bleacher-type seating, so don’t expect anything fancy. You’ll get the same concessions you’d get at most sporting events, and of course the cost of those varies (but it tends to be high). Be aware, however, that the events themselves can be intense, especially when it comes to the daredevil stuff like the bronc and bullriding. People get hurt. Last time I was there, a cowboy was bucked off and got stomped on the chest by a ton of enraged bull, and they took him off the field on a stretcher. So this might not be the best place for little kids, though they do try to make things lively and amusing for the young ‘uns. For example, I can recall a funny skit involving a monkey on a collie dog herding sheep. And of course, there are the rodeo clowns, who try to keep things funny while risking their lives to protect the cowboys from mad bulls and horses. Man, I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys. Their job’s hardly an easy one.
So there you are: an inexpensive family event that’s about as Texas as you can get. Like the Fort Worth stockyards (which I hope to write about soon), it’s a good example of the western part of our heritage. But don’t forget that, given our location in the U.S. and our history, there are plenty of other portions of our heritage to be enjoyed, from our deep Hispanic roots and the German flavor of the Hill Country, to the Creole of the deep southeast and the purely Southern charms of East Texas. In the future, I’ll be picking out some great examples of those for you to enjoy, too — so fear not!