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Helldorado Days still going strong

The city of Las Vegas has only been around since 1905. When set against that framework, the Las Vegas Elks Helldorado Days seems downright remarkable.

Helldorado’s most prominent characteristic, in fact, is “probably the fact that it’s been around since the 1930s,” said Esther Carter, parade producer and rodeo co-producer. “That’s huge – for any city to have an event that long.”

Carter said Helldorado’s founding was on a practical note.

“Back in 1935, a group of Elks wanted to come up with something that would keep people in Las Vegas after the Hoover Dam,” Carter said. “Their idea was to do this kitschy tourism event. That evolved into the rodeo and the parade.”

But, as volunteer-driven things are prone to do, Helldorado truly went to hell, disappearing from Las Vegas tourism calendars in 1997.

When the city’s centennial celebration approached, Carter said, then-Mayor Oscar Goodman said one of the signature events should be something to do with the old Helldorado. Carter, a city employee, produced the parade in 2005 and every year since. The rodeo returned in 2009, and Helldorado was whole again.

This year’s rodeo runs from tonight through Sunday at the Downtown Rodeo Grounds, between Las Vegas Boulevard and Seventh Street and between Stewart Avenue and Mesquite Avenue. The arena, Carter said, seats about 5,000.

“We’re really hoping to fill the arena,” she said. Tonight’s event, which is the locals challenge, is a benefit for Susan G. Komen for the Cure of Southern Nevada.

“One hundred percent of ticket sales that night go to Susan Komen to help fight breast cancer,” Carter said. “It’s Cowboys for a Cure. Everybody come out and wear pink.”

The annual parade is Saturday. It kicks off at 5 p.m. at Gass Avenue and Fourth Street and proceeds up Fourth Street to Ogden Avenue. This year’s parade has 107 entries, Carter said, including six local high-school bands and “really great floats.”

“When I look at the lineup this year, it’s probably the best. It’s a combination of tons of horses, floats, bands and car clubs,” she said.

The parade will be followed by the Helldorado PRCA Professional Rodeo. The Helldorado rodeo attracts some of the same cowboys who compete in the National Finals Rodeo, held in Las Vegas in December.

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474.

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