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When the Southern Colorado Agricultural and Industrial Association held its first exposition in what is now Pueblo back in 1872, they couldn’t have expected the event to grow into a 146-year tradition. Although Colorado still wouldn’t achieve statehood until 1876, that exposition was already on its way to becoming a vital part of Colorado history—the one and only Colorado State Fair.
Since its creation, the State Fair was interrupted only once, by World War I. Over the years, declining attendance rates have led some to argue that the event would be better off in the state’s capital, but Scott Stoller, the Fair’s general manager, disagrees. Although Denver’s National Western Complex could host the event, Stoller says the current premises not only have the infrastructure the fair needs, but the very buildings on the fairgrounds have a uniqueness and history that can’t be beat. “You can’t recreate that,” he says.
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Some Denverites might argue the State Fair is too far away to attend, but we disagree. Here are a few reasons why the two-hour drive is worthwhile.
Since it started in 1967, Fiesta Day has paid tribute to Pueblo’s Hispanic heritage. This is often one of the most popular days to go to the fair, not only because of its significance to the community, but also because there’s a host of activities. This year on Sunday, September 2, you can enjoy traditional ballet folklorico and mariachi music, see the presentation of the Fiesta Queen, and watch the floats, charros (Mexican horsemen), and custom cars cruise by in the Fiesta Day Parade.
If you don’t eat something that’s slathered in batter and dunked in scalding oil, then are you really enjoying the fair? (The answer is no.) You’ll find classics like funnel cake, corn dogs, and deep-fried candy bars, but if you’re making the drive to Pueblo, you should indulge in local delicacies. You’ll find the pride of Pueblo, its green chiles, deep-fried or served up in a slopper—a burger smothered in green chili and cheese—from Giodone’s Italian Bar and Grill or Gray’s Coors Tavern.
The Best of the Barnyard
Long after its founding, the fair still stays true to its agrarian beginnings. Even city folks will want to check out the hundreds of animals competing to be the top of their division. You can get up close and personal with the best of the barnyard, and even milk a cow if you really want to get into the spirit.
Real-life Cowboys and Cowgirls
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is headquartered in Colorado, so it’s only natural that rodeos are a part of the fair’s festivities. PRCA sponsors four days of rodeos, in addition to the Ranch Rodeo and Celebración de Los Charros. By night, the Budweiser Rodeo Arena doubles as a concert venue, with the stage set above the bucking chutes. “It’s worth coming out just to see a concert on that stage,” Stoller says.
The fair isn’t lacking in entertainment, and with a wide variety of performers on multiple stages each night, there’s something for everyone. This year’s acts include homegrown talent like Tejano musicians Bad Habitz and the pop-rock group Martini Shot, as well as big-name acts the Oak Ridge Boys, Old Dominion, and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.
Sure, you could go to Elitch Gardens if you’re craving an adrenaline rush, but carnival rides are in a class of their own. If you can handle the 90-foot drop from the Super Shot or the sky-high rotating thrill-ride that is the Power, you’re among the bravest fair-goers in the state. For those who aren’t keen on subjecting their stomach to such experiences, you can always stick to a ride on the classic Ferris Wheel.
Colorado’s Competitive Spirit
People come to the fair to have a good time, but they also come to win. In addition to the livestock contests, there are numerous ways to engage your competitive spirit—from fine arts and floriculture to craft beer and baked goods. Even pet rocks and oddly shaped produce can vie for the coveted blue ribbons. It’s called the State Fair for a reason, and the competitors you see here are the best Colorado has to offer.
With 11 days of activities, there’s plenty of time to make the drive down south, and with so much to see, there’s a little something for everyone. “All the generations can come together,” Stoller says. “Everybody in your family, no matter how old or how young, can find something entertaining.”
If you go: The Fair takes place August 24 to September 3, 2018, and is located at 1001 Beulah Ave., Pueblo. Ticket prices vary.