Monday, May 13, 2013

Q: What do a headless chicken, mountain bikes, dinosaurs, and the season of fall, all have in common?

A: Every one of them is celebrated, in one way or another, in one western United States city:

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
    Est. 1884
      Population about 13,000
        Named after the fruit trees city founder William Pabor hoped to grow there.

          Let's start with the one that made you click to this post: the headless chicken. (Yes, it did. You know it did. Who wouldn't click on a link about a headless chicken?)

          Mike was a two-and-a-half pound, five-and-a-half-month old Wyandotte rooster when Fruita, Colorado farmer Lloyd Olsen came looking for him for dinner on September 10, 1945. Long story short: the ax fell, but Mike didn't. He strutted. He scratched. He (attempted to) peck at feed. And when night came, he tucked his (missing) head beneath his wing, and went to sleep. When Mike was still alive the next morning, Lloyd took it as a miracle, and kept the rooster alive, feeding him grain and water directly into his esophagus via an eyedropper. 

          Fame soon came to Miracle Mike, the headless wonder chicken. He was studied
          Photo Credit: Mike the Headless Chicken Festival

          by the University of Utah. He was taken on a national tour. He was featured both in Life and Time magazines. Longtime Fruita residents described him as "a big, fat chicken who didn't know he didn't have a head." And he lived like that for a whopping 18 months.

          Since then, Mike's story has inspired songs, a sculpture, paintings, and a segment in a PBS show. But what may be the biggest thing to grow out of "the amazing story of one chicken's will to live" is this: The Mike the Headless Chicken Festival, celebrated annually in Fruita, Colorado during the third weekend in May. This year's 15th annual festival is set for May 17-18, 2013. The fun includes events like a chicken dance contest, games, eating contests, food and artisan booths, live music and a 5K run ("Run Like a Headless Chicken"). For this year's "Mikeritaville" theme, they've added volleyball, sand castle building, a tiki bar, and limbo contests.

          From the official website:

          "Mike's will to live remains an inspiration. It is a great comfort to know you can live a normal life, even after you have lost your mind."

          Yes. Yes it is.

          Moving on to mountain bikes:
          Thanks to the efforts of festival founder Troy Rarick and other mountain bike
          Photo Credit: Fruita Fat Tire Festival
          enthusiasts, the Fruita Fat Tire Festival has brought the city greater recognition as a go-to place for some great mountain biking fun. The first festival, in 1995, saw about 300 attendees. That number had soared to about 1300 by 2012's 18th annual celebration, with folks coming from all over the US and even abroad.

          Celebrated annually the last weekend in April, this laid-back festival marks the unofficial start of Colorado mountain biking season. There are lots of fun events for festival-goers to check out: live music, vendors, mountain bike skills camps, a Clunker Hunt, expos and bike demos, parties, prize drawings and giveaways, and road and trail rides.

          From the official website:

          "The festival highlights the many mountain biking opportunities in the Fruita area, including the North Fruita Desert and McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, both managed by the BLM Grand Junction Field Office. Rides on surrounding public land trails, for all skill levels, are popular during the festival."

          Diggin' the dinosaurs:
          In 1901, paleontologist Elmer Riggs and a crew from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, came to Fruita, Colorado. They did some digging, and found about two-thirds of a brontosaurus skeleton - considered one of the finest specimens known - on what came to be known as Dinosaur Hill.

          Since then, many more dinosaur discoveries have been made around Fruita,
          Photo Credit: Dinosaur Journey Museum
          Colorado and surrounding areas, sparking the designation of the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway, the Fruita Paleontological Area, the Dinosaur National Monument and the Rabbit Valley Trail Through Time, among other dinosaur-related places.

          Many prehistoric fossils originally found around Fruita and surrounding areas can be viewed in museums all over the USA. Fruita's own Dinosaur Journey Museum hosts not only prehistoric exhibits and events, but also dig expeditions and a variety of Dinosaur Days festivities throughout the year.

          From the Dinosaur Journey Museum website:

          "Over one hundred years of paleontological work in the area has produced many exotic, beautiful, and scientifically important fossils. As work continues on our paleontological heritage, the people of Mesa County and our neighboring friends can look forward to learning more about our past."

          And finally, the Fall:

          Photo Credit: 2012 Fruita Fall Festival Poster
          From its early beginnings in 1914 as the Cowpunchers Reunion, to the Hunters Roundup and Harvest Carnivals begun after World War II, to the combination of all three in the 1970's to form the festival as it is known today, the Fruita Fall Festival has evolved to become "the granddaddy of festivals on the Western Slope." The largest of Fruita's many festivals, with crowds estimated from 35,000 to 50,000, it's a three-day event celebrating Fruita's harvest and history, and is held annually the last full weekend of September.

          For the festival's 99th year, slated for September 27-29, 2013, the theme is "Fruita of Tomorrow," with 2013's official festival poster to be designed by one of Fruita's own (see festival website's main page for details).

          Festival participants will have plenty of fun events to enjoy: live music on two stages, carnival rides, street dances, a parade, a bed race, baking and canning contest, youth pet and talent show, a magic show, arts and crafts and food vendors, and a 5K race.

          And something special to look forward to after this year: 2014 will mark the Fruita Fall Festival's Centennial celebration. So, a celebration of a celebration - and doesn't that sound like one great big fabulous party-in-the-making?

           * * *

          So. Headless chickens. Mountain Bikes. Dinosaurs. Fall. And you can find all of those things, all in one place - just not all at the same time. 

          How great is that? 

          Fruital Fall Festival History research text from hard-copy festival program - courtesy Robbie Urquhart - Special Projects Coordinator, Fruita Area Chamber of Commerce (Thank you, Robbie!)