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Welcome to the rodeo

It’s time for many Southern Nevadans to knock the dust off their boots and western derby, and make sure the Wranglers still fit.

The part of our society that dresses western year-round understands our roots in western culture, but that percentage of our population diminishes annually as more newcomers settle here.

That makes the annual National Finals Rodeo the opportune time to celebrate our history and culture.

The NFR is two weeks away. The 10-day rodeo opens on Dec. 4 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

This will be the 50th anniversary of the Finals and its 24th year at the T&M Corral.

The even has transformed a sleepy time in Las Vegas into one of its most alluring for visitors.

There had been a lull on the Strip between Thanksgiving and Christmas until the Finals moved here in 1985 from Oklahoma City, Okla. The early part of December was when casinos were painted and carpets were replaced without annoying customers. It was one of the slowest times of the year.

That was until the arrival of the Finals in 1985 turned the first part of December into one of the Strip’s most vigorous.

The Finals will draw about 175,000 during 10 days with several thousand more visiting town just to be part of it.

It’s the biggest and richest rodeo in the world paying out $5.6 million in prize money to the top 119 rodeo athletes. It’s also rich for Southern Nevada where the Finals generates an estimated $40 million in economic impact for the area, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The NFR couldn’t be coming at a better time to help our struggling tourist industry and economy.

Until the 1980s, Helldorado Days was the big rodeo in Las Vegas. Helldorado was time to salute our history. It began in 1934 and was produced by Las Vegas’ Protective Order of Elks Lodge No. 1468. The weeklong spring festival featured a rodeo, parades and various throwback “cowboy days” activities.

The NFR will take over town with everything from the Cowboy Christmas gift show and sale at the Las Vegas Convention Center, western concerts, opportunities to meet Finals contestants and nightly post-rodeo, talk-show format shows at the Gold Coast and South Point.

The Finals should become a greater focal point by getting public schools and local media to use it as a time to educate our community about our western culture and history.

We’re taking that step at LVRJ.com by adding this featured page to complement daily coverage of the Finals in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Here, you’ll find archived stories, including one from 2001 that detailed rodeo history in Southern Nevada.

As we get closer to opening night we’ll be adding blogs from some of the most popular rodeo athletes, outstanding photo slide shows, a live feed of the National Finals Tonight show from the Gold Coast and videos produced by Las Vegas Events that feature top Finals moments since the rodeo came to town.

We hope you enjoy and become part of the Finals by participating in on-line surveys and becoming part of the NFR by sharing your opinions.

It’s time to “cowboy up.”

Let’s ride and rope.

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