The rope 'em and ride 'em Rose Bowl of Rodeo brings together each summer probably the most exclusive collection of college athletes in the nation. Like the flailing, spread-eagled bronc rider at right, campus cowboys are a highly specialized breed, carrying on an old frontier tradition without benefit of scholarships, high-pressure recruiting or staffs of assistant coaches. Last year's national championships were held in the red rock, rugged cliff country of Southern Utah, with Dixie College of St. George as host. The men competed in bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding, calf and ribbon roping and steer wrestling (following pages); the women in goat tying and barrel racing. They paid their own way across wide dusty deserts in buses and pickup trucks, carrying their sleeping bags, packs and airtight rope containers, and in St. George they did and died and ate dirt for dear old Sam Houston State and Olds Agricultural & Vocational. Around them, in addition to some of the most magnificent, unspoiled landscapes in the world, were relics of an industry that gave the area its name. When the Civil War cut off supplies of cotton to the burgeoning Mormon settlements around Salt Lake City, Brigham Young sent 300 families south to produce the essential crop. They founded St. George, fulfilled their mission and dubbed their home Utah's Dixie.
Violently vibrating the bright colors of the rodeo parade, the intense white light of the Western sun floods the hot, wide Main Street in St. George (left). With cool evening, action turns to the arena. A lean, mean, hungry Flying U cayuse streaks across the Sun Bowl grass, giving his flailing rider a series of flank-flapping twists between bucks. When you have only a little handle to hang onto one-handed, it's a long eight seconds. Clenching in his teeth the "piggin' string" used to wrap the kicking calf's legs, roper Ronnie Williams, wearing the red vest of Sam Houston State, struggles to throw an oversize beast. Champion All-Around Cowboy A. C. Ekker, who runs his family's ranch near Green River, Utah and attended the university in Salt Lake City, has what the laconic world of rodeo would describe as a little dab of trouble with a tough-necked steer. So far, only Ekker is on the ground.
Rodeo is a scary explosion of animal energy. His thrashing hooves splintering the chute boards, a whinnying bronc notifies his rider that he is going to score a lot of high-bucking points. The bulldogger making the jump from steed to steer slams into sudden brute power. Yet when quiet descends on this arena, it brings the peace of green and airy places.