Even Gourmands Appreciate the Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive



The loud clang of a cast-iron, chuck wagon-style dinner bell and bellowing voice break up the camp camaraderie.

“Lunch!” yells head wrangler Randy Bell of Reno. “You got two choices: Take it or leave it.”

The lighthearted humor sets the tone for the next five days as we settle into life on the Northern Nevada range. We’re guests on the 27th annual Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive.


Hasn’t everyone dreamed of masquerading as a cowboy? Well, you too can get into character and play the part (outfitted in Wranglers; long-sleeved Western shirt; boots; chaps; and a wide-brimmed, feather-topped felt hat). You’ll bond with your horse as you drive 300 head of cattle over 50 miles of desert with about 50 fellow guest-cowboys.

It may feel a bit like roughing it (and you likely will get a little saddle sore), but breakfast, lunch, and dinner fare reward you handsomely for your efforts. Plus, you’ll close out each day satisfyingly tired around the campfire, listening to cowboy poets and musicians with a whiskey in your hand. And you’ll retire to your tent or bedroll to sleep soundly under the stars.

The adventure begins with a bit of a scramble to collect the essentials for authenticity and comfort. Then, before you know it, the day arrives and you load the car to head to the Reno Rodeo office. A bus takes you to your first stop, near Doyle, Calif., and that will be the last motorized transportation you’ll ride for nearly a week.

Since the cattle drive occurs in June (June 9 – 14 in 2018), the weather can be unpredictable, from cool, warm, and windy to rainy and even snowy (as it was one fateful night in 2017). So pack smartly and watch the reports before departing.

Guests hail from all over the nation and other countries. In 2017, they came from Florida; Alberta, Canada; Las Vegas; Colorado; California; South Dakota; Wisconsin; and Reno, to name a few locales. The group includes grandparents and grandchildren, mothers and daughters, and friends, and some make the trek on their own. The event attracts enthusiasts of the outdoors and those fond of horses, Western history, and tradition.

“I’ve enjoyed it immensely, especially the challenge of the land and weather (hot or cold) and working as a team to get through it. That’s what it’s all about,” says Tim Strickland, who is a regular rider at home in Texas and participated in the 2016 cattle drive. “Plus, the people are friendly and the Reno Rodeo committee puts on a great show.”


Now back to that food. Hearty choices include eggs, sausage, bacon, and muffins in the morning and barbecued chicken, steaks, and robust sides at night. We were fortunate to have the crew from the stellar Brothers Barbecue in Reno cater our trip, along with Terry Bell, aka The Dutch Diva, who baked fresh bread (her sourdough starter has been in the family for 140 years) and desserts in her Dutch ovens each day. She also woke up at 3:30 a.m. daily to boil cowboy coffee in large enamel pots suspended over beds of coals. One volunteer even churned fresh ice cream to top off her desserts. The mobile Sierra Dorado Saloon, with an old-time façade, opened in the evenings to much ceremony, and wooden stools around it filled quickly with thirsty cowboys.

When not at the bar or around the campfire, guests eat and drink in a shady dining tent surrounded by the desert’s beauty and historic wagon trains ringing the camp. The sounds of neighing horses and grunting cattle escape from corrals not far away.

“I love being in the outdoors and seeing the beautiful Nevada landscape on horseback,” says Pamela Rutherford, a Reno mother who was participating in her first cattle drive but has been involved with the Reno Rodeo for years as a flag girl and member of the drill team. “I enjoyed moving cattle, learning something new, and just really loved the whole experience.”

What’s even better about this excursion is a portion of net proceeds goes to the Reno Rodeo Foundation, which focuses on helping Northern Nevada children and families with extraordinary needs. The foundation has dispersed about $6 million since it was founded in 1986 and supports about 60,000 children each year. Last year, a half million dollars were distributed to local programs, including $215,000 for educational scholarships and community grants.

Horseback riding over miles of majestic scenery, good grub, stiff drinks, and friendly volunteers (62!) and guests. It was easy shedding our city-slicker skins and settling into this spectacular escapade of a lifetime.


The Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive is held each June (June 9 – 14 in 2018). The event costs $2,000 per person and includes horses, meals, an open bar, entertainment, ground transportation, and expert leadership. Western attire is required, and travel and hotel cost extra. For details, visit Renorodeo.com/events/2018/2017-cattle-drive(3)

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