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The Cowtown Rodeo, NJ trip over Labor Day 2011

Posted by on Sep 4, 2011 |

I’m on a quest to find beautiful images of people and horses with a Western theme. It turns out that even though I live in New York City, I dodn’t have to travel too far to find the real deal.

Over Labor Day weekend, I drove the couple of hours south to rural Cowtown, NJ to attend my very first rodeo.

The Cowtown Rodeo is the longest-running, regularly scheduled rodeo in the country. Located in Salem County, NJ, the Cowtown
Rodeo produces rodeo events sanctioned by PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association). Performances, if I can call them that, are held every Saturday night at 7:30pm Memorial weekend through the last Saturday in September.

I thought I’d be smart and take NJ Transit down to Princeton Junction, NJ and rent a car for a third the price I could from two blocks away. Little did I know that the five-minute cab ride from the train station to Larry’s Sunoco Avis would cost $16. Is that really possible? How annoying.

I didn’t appreciate that they gave me a bigger car than I wanted. I can’t stand the Chevy Impala. It drives like a tank with slow pick-up, has no electronic compass and NO EZ Pass! Grrr…plus, the cara is just too big. Give me the Ford Focus I had in Montana a couple of weeks ago any day, even if they did think they were doing me a favor.

So off Charlie, my little Havanese dog, and I went for a night at the rodeo. The place is easy to find off I-295. Since we were a couple of hours early, we did some driving around the area. On a photographer’s landscape rating, the area only ranks about a 3. It’s not particularly interesting, but it’s not entirely dull.

Several of the competitors were gearing up and allowed me to take some photos. I never look through my camera – I just hold the camera somewhere, cross my mental fingers, and shoot.

Cowtown Rodeo NJ
The popular white Cowtown Cowboy hat. They look like white straw.

Cowtown Rodeo NJ
This horse carries a husky team roper. I watched him practice on the fake steer below. He never missed – except in live competition, unfortunately.

Cowtown Rodeo NJ, a practice steer, fake steer
This is the practice steer. It’s actually a beautiful piece of art made from real horns and wood.

Cowtown Rodeo NJ, children practicing steer roping
These kids were having a blast roping a steer head attached to a movable cart

I had a hard time watching the bull riding segment. Those men fall hard and those bulls weigh a lot. I had an even harder time watching the barrel racing after a horse fell to his knees in the soft dirt. Ouch. Poor thing. But he finished the race.

I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express at Carney’s Point, all of ten minutes away. It was fine. The nearby bar, the Flying J Inn, is a hoot – plenty of characters there. I should have taken my portable portrait equipment in with me. They sell a pretty good selection of beer by the six-pack in addition to being a regular bar.

The next day I tried to get in to the River House Inn in Snow Hill, MD, but the only room available was in the main house. They don’t allow dogs there, so I scrapped the whole travel plan. The other hotels in nearby Salisbury had such awful reviews on Trip Advisor that I decided to drive home through Lancaster County.

Ok, this route was the best through the Mennonite Farm country. I missed the turn to get to the Newport Gap Pike, so I got a little detour through South Wilmington. Not so pretty.

Once I got on 472, the rolling, picturesque farmland opens up. It’s stunning. The thick, humid, hazy weather was awful for the kind of landscape photos I wanted, so I stayed in the car.

I drove through a very quiet downtown Lancaster where most shops were closed, had a soup and coffee at the Prince Street Cafe, and sat outside the restaurant with Charlie. It was hot and humid and the view wasn’t that great. It was time to go.

Next stop was Quakertown via Route 23. This is basically one very long Main Street, and most of the towns are not that interesting. The good visuals are on both sides of the road, but there is no east-west smaller route to go.

I took a left on 100 at Bucktown, got stopped by a long train carrying far too many LNG cars at Pottstown (some charming brick warehouse-style buildings), and finally made it to Quakertown. Not sure why I wanted to go there, because as soon as I got there, I turned around and headed back to NYC.
Cowtown Rodeo NJ
The Central Market, downtown Lancaster, PA