Cowboy Christmas – A Rodeo Road Trip

December 15th, 2014  |  Published in Behind the Scenes, Front Page, Noteworthy, Rodeo, Stories & Projects, Travels

“I got some gatorade, coffee, and a kolache. I’m good.”

These are not necessarily the words you want to hear upon waking up from a two-hour nap at six in the morning in the back of a six-passenger van as the guy who just slid into the driver’s seat informs you that he’s ready to take over for about five hours behind the wheel, where he’ll be guiding you and the rest of your traveling party–a writer and three other road- (and saddle)-weary bronc riders, down a desolate stretch of Interstate 25 from Colorado City to Albuquerque.

But hey, we left Greeley, Colorado at 2 a.m., and if we’re going to make it to Prescott, Arizona in time for a 7 o’clock rodeo later tonight, this van needs to keep moving.

Little did any of us know at that point that our next stop–at an Applebee’s in Albuquerque for lunch–would be the last time the six of us would ever have a chance to do something other than sit in a van, pump gas, or work at our respective professions at a rodeo over the next four days.

Anyway, enough of that–you get the idea. What this is all about is really a story of one of the most amazing assignments I have ever been sent on: A week-long odyssey to photograph a bunch of bronc riders during what is affectionately known in rodeo circles as “Cowboy Christmas”–a stretch of time in early July in which there are so many rodeos, and so much money to be won, that every cowboy worth his salt endeavors to get to as many, and win as much, as he can.

And that explains how I found myself in a 1997 Dodge Explorer van with Jacobs and Sterling Crawley, and their traveling companions and fellow riders Jeremy Melancon and Dean Wadsworth, driving 3,981 miles in 82 hours, stopping only for gas and the occasional convenience store soda (and yes, a Starbucks once or twice). We went from Greeley, Colorado to Prescott Arizona, then from Prescott to Molalla and St. Paul, Oregon, and from St. Paul to Cody, Wyoming, before finally driving north to our finish line at the Calgary Stampede. All over the course of 4 days and nights.

Although the story centered primarily around the travelers, I couldn’t help but shoot things away from them as well. So I’ve put up two galleries here: Above, one dedicated exclusively to the story as it played out, with the main focus on Crawley brothers and the trip. Below, you’ll find a more loosely-organized gallery from the periphery of the story. As always, down below are individual static shots of some of the slide show images with a little more information about each.

There’s not much technical data I can give you about these, other than to say that the bulk of this was shot on a Leica M240 with various lenses (to think, I bought a used Voigtlander 15mm 2 days before I left, telling myself it might come in handy. That’s what’s called understatement), with a Canon 1DX providing some heavy lifting when things like a 400 2.8 or a 70-200 and a bit of autofocus were called for. I would be remiss not to mention the great guys at Mid-State Camera in Warwick, Rhode Island here, as they were responsible for fixing the aforementioned 18-year-old 400, which CPS won’t touch, when it suffered a bout of Rapid Deceleration Trauma (by far my absolute favorite camera repair term of art) after meeting a slab of concrete about 8 feet below the platform it had been sitting on before I knocked it over during the bull riding one afternoon.

Finally, a huge thanks to Sports Illustrated Director of Photography Brad Smith and Managing Editor Chris Stone for thinking of me, and having the confidence in me to send me out on this, and for writer Sam Eifling for pitching the idea in the first place. If you’d like to read Sam’s story, you can do so here: http://www.si.com/longform/rodeo/

En route, Prescott, AZ, July 1, 2014. Photograph © 2014 Darren Carroll (Darren Carroll)Jacobs Crawley guides the van through southern Colorado early in the morning on the way from Greeley to Albuquerque. (Leica M240, Summilux 35mm)

Prescott, AZ, July 1, 2014. Photograph © 2014 Darren Carroll (Darren Carroll)Taking a minute to tend to some personal details at a truck stop outside of Missoula, Montana. (Leica M240, Summilux 35mm)

Prescott, AZ, July 1, 2014. Photograph © 2014 Darren Carroll (Darren Carroll)Cause for concern on the way from Portland to Cody, Wyoming as the engine started making some funny noises around Richland, Washington. (Leica M240, Summilux 35mm)

Greeley Stampede, Greeley, CO. June 30, 2014. Photograph © 2014 Darren Carroll (Darren Carroll)Unwinding for a bit after a rodeo in Greeley, Colorado before making our way to Prescott, Arizona. (Leica M240, Summilux 35mm)

Jacobs Crawley cooks dinner for 3 fellow saddle bronc riders as their van heads up I-5 near Salem, Oregon. (Darren Carroll)Road food: Beef fajitas on a makeshift camp stove at 70 mph on I-5 in Oregon. (Leica M240, Voigtlander 15mm f4.5)

As a fellow rider takes the wheel, Jacobs Crawley naps in the back of his van somewhere in California. (Darren Carroll)Grabbing a few hours of sleep in the back of the van along I-25 in New Mexico. (Leica M240, Elmarit 21mm)

Stopping for gas near Williams, Arizona.Stopping for gas near Williams, Arizona. (Leica M240, Summilux 35mm)

Prescott, AZ, July 1, 2014. Photograph © 2014 Darren Carroll (Darren Carroll)Sterling Crawley rides at the Calgary Stampede. (Canon 1DX, EF 70-200mm f2.8L-II)

Greeley Stampede, Greeley, Colorado. (Darren Carroll)Greeley Stampede, Greeley, Colorado. (Leica M240, Summilux 35mm Aspheric)

Prescott, AZ, July 1, 2014. Photograph © 2014 Darren Carroll (Darren Carroll)Prescott, Arizona (Leica M240, Summilux 35mm Aspheric)

Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo, Prescott, Arizona. (Darren Carroll)Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo, Prescott, Arizona. (Leica M240, Elmarit 21mm Aspheric)

Luke Branquinho on his way to a 6.6 second time in steer wrestling at the second round of the Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary, Alberta. (Darren Carroll)Luke Branquinho, steer wrestler. Calgary Stampede, Calgary, Alberta. (Canon EOS 1DX, 70-200mm f2.8 L-II IS)

Jacobs Crawley during a saddle bronc ride in Cody, Wyoming. (Darren Carroll)Cody Stampede, Cody, Wyoming. (Leica M240, Summilux 35mm Aspheric)

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