The flowers bloomed abundantly on Table Mountain as the days turned warm and sunny. Numerous hikers climbed the switchback trail to the top and were treated to a spectacular flower display, as well as views of New Melones Reservoir.
Similarly, a colorful array of activities blooms across the county in May, beginning with the 62nd Mother Lode Round-up Parade and Rodeo on May 11. Actually, events take place the entire week before – including the Round-up Queen Coronation on May 5 at the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse Grounds on Rawhide Road outside Jamestown.
“It’s a pleasure to watch the queen contestants, who are often bashful and shy to begin with, blossom into confident young women over the course of several months,” said Audie Archer, who, with his wife Sandy, coordinated the queen contest for a number of years.
This year, Archer, a longtime sheriff’s posse member, took over as chairman of the round-up. Previously, Archer served many roles as a posse member, including assistant drill master, captain and rodeo committee member. Every year in the Mother Lode Round-up Parade (this year at 10 a.m. May 11), he carries the American flag as a member of the color guard.
The parade itself is like a hometown reunion as thousands of people assemble to watch more than 200 entries travel the length of Washington Street in downtown Sonora. As colorful as the flowers atop Table Mountain can be, the parade celebrates the wonders of the county – everything from the sheriff’s posse to elementary school marching bands to flashy cars, fire engines, robots, dogs, politicians and floats representing churches, nonprofit organizations and dance academies. For ringside seats, you might want to set your folding chairs at the curb the night before.
The Mother Lode Round-up Rodeo – a two-day competition – follows on May 3 and 4 at 2 p.m. The rodeo attracts more than 350 of professional rodeo’s finest cowboys and cowgirls, who compete in bareback riding, barrel racing, bronc riding, bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling and team roping. According to Archer, national champions like to come to the round-up rodeo because “Our arena is highly rated and we get high points for good rodeo stock.”
In Tuolumne County, the parade and rodeo are synonymous with Mother’s Day. Many a mom spends the weekend basking in the sunshine savoring the sweet, sweaty aroma of horses as her youngster marches in the parade or a loved one straddles a bull. When I mentioned this to Archer, he admitted that in recent years, he has had to drop by early in the morning to see his mother, who can no longer make it to the rodeo.
“We have a lot of respect for our wives who spend Mother’s Day weekend and several months before working behind the scenes to help us make the Mother Lode Round-up a success year after year.”
On the following weekend, visitors and residents alike can enjoy a brand new event as well as several tried and true favorites. The fun begins May 17 at about 6 p.m., when a stagecoach driven by hardworking docents from the Columbia Diggin’s at Columbia State Historic Park arrive in Sonora for a night out. They are heading to the Sonora Opera Hall for Friday Flix.
Friday Flix, a spinoff from Second Saturday Art Night, entertains audiences with time-tested classic movies combined with playful interactive activities. As people come through the door, they get a goody bag with program notes about ways they can participate during the movie. The movie on May 17, fittingly, is “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Organizers encourage attendees to dress in costumes as a way to get in the mood.
“Many people go all out,” reports Laurie Lehmann.
Admission is $5 and the popcorn is included. The doors open at 6 p.m., but arrive early to enjoy the scene, and a costume contest at 6:30 p.m. before the movie at 7 p.m.
On May 18, the Sonora Certified Farmers Market opens for the season at 7:30 a.m. This year, the opening of the market coincides with a new event, Old West Fest. City of Sonora officials have replaced the annual Spring Festival with this new event.
Not only does the new Old West Fest coincide with the opening of farmers market, it takes place on the same day as several other events, including the Rods to Rails Car Show in Jamestown, the Columbia Diggin’s at Columbia State Historic Park, and the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee in Angels Camp. So by mid-May, the region is fully alive with colorful opportunities for a good time.
Old West Fest celebrates the early industries that have kept Sonora going through the years.
“We will, of course, celebrate gold,” explained Sheala Wilkinson, “but this event will also pay tribute to farming, ranching and lumber, along with acknowledging the movies made around these parts.”
“The whole event incorporates the feel of an earlier age with games and music that will transform downtown,” Wilkinson continued. “For instance, we’ve announced a window contest to encourage shopkeepers to decorate their storefronts according to the theme.”
Old West Fest promotional materials invite people to participate in the fun: “Dust off your boots and high-button shoes, don your hats and bonnets, pull up them overalls and tie up them calico aprons! Join with us as we stroll the streets to a town that transformed in time with tractors, apple pressing, horses and more.”
The farmers market plans to stay open an extra hour on May 18, running until 12:30 p.m. On opening day, Leilani and the Distractions performs at 10:30 a.m., and there will be crafts and games for the kids. Come welcome the vendors back to the market; they offer fruits and vegetables fresh from the farm, while the enticing aroma of freshly made bread wafts overhead and area artisans present unique crafts for sale.
Meanwhile, the Old West Fest gets underway with the Twain Harte Twirlers Square Dance Club dancing in the street and tractors and presses keep a beat with their own rhythm. Other activities include an ice cream social, homemade pies for sale and a re-enactment of ranchers and rustlers making a fuss over near the Yosemite Title Co. The festivities continue at the opera hall, where the Tuolumne County Agricultural Association hosts a food, wine and craft beer tasting event from 3 to 6 p.m. The cost for this part of the day is $20 in advance at tcacsonora.org or 770-0049, or $25 at the door. Proceeds support the organization’s programs.
Spring is bursting forth, not just on top of Table Mountain, but also on the streets of Sonora.
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