Western heritage to shine at Helldorado Days

Residents prepare to saddle up and take part in one of the longest traditions in the valley this weekend.

Helldorado Days, which dates to 1934, features a parade, rodeo and various other activities slated for Thursday to Sunday downtown. It's a festival rooted in Western heritage and tradition, from the opening rodeo night to the evening parade.

Duane LaDuke, Helldorado Days executive director, said the event holds something special for everyone, from military personnel to children.

"I'm pleased we're able to bring (Helldorado Days) back, especially for children now," LaDuke said. "I grew up with it, and it was always a lot of fun for me."

Weekend activities are set to begin with the Cowboys for a Cure - Wear Pink Night, scheduled from 5 p.m. to midnight Thursday at the downtown rodeo grounds near Las Vegas Boulevard and Stewart Avenue. Rodeos are also scheduled at 8 p.m. Friday , Saturday and Sunday . Proceeds from tickets, which range from $10 to $15, benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure and other charities.

LaDuke said Saturday, which is dubbed Armed Forces Day, presents a special opportunity for attendees. Military personnel are encouraged to bring their families for Operation Free Ride, in which they will be given the opportunity to ride a horse free from 1 to 4 p.m.

"We always want to make our military night more special," LaDuke said. "We really want to reach out to military personnel and their families."

The parade is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. on Fourth Street between Gass and Ogden avenues.

Esther Carter, city of Las Vegas special events coordinator, heads the parade. She said the float entries and various groups involved with the parade make for one of the most unique community events in the valley.

"The thing with Helldorado is because it's been around a long time, a lot of people connect with it," Carter said. "We get a lot of really great community involvement. There are a lot of local businesses, car clubs and motorcycle groups involved. It's one of the only community events that brings them all together."

Carter said the parade typically features high school marching bands, drill teams, political officials and organizations from throughout the region. This year features new additions, such as a Mob Museum float and the Hill Country Plungettes from Texas, who perform dance routines using toilet plungers as props.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned rodeos, LaDuke said, are ideal family events. He said most people prefer to attend Saturday's rodeos, but he hopes for similar attendance during events on the remaining days.

"Attendance has been growing each and every year," LaDuke said. "Saturdays are always selling out, but we're hoping Friday and Sunday rodeos are also full."

In addition to the rodeo, carnival rides and various exhibits are planned to be featured throughout the weekend. LaDuke said one of Helldorado Days' most popular events is Friday's Whiskerino Contest, in which men are judged on their beards and mustaches in various categories. Helldorado rodeo queens judge the competition, which is planned for 6 p.m. at the rodeo grounds.

Carter said no matter which events families choose to attend during Helldorado Days, each one supports community involvement and local organizations.

"It's fun to see people come out and support (Helldorado Days)," Carter said. "The more people who come out and support it, the more it will go back to its glory days."

General admission tickets for Helldorado Days are $15 each or $20 for the first four rows at the rodeos. For more information on the festival, call 870-1221 or visit elkshelldorado.com.

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Lisa Carter at lcarter@viewnews.com or 383-4686.