Another Garfield County Fair comes to a close |

Another Garfield County Fair comes to a close

RIFLE – On Sunday, John Baker and his little sister Anne came to the Garfield County Fairgrounds with their mom, Nancy Whitcombe, to pick up their artwork – but they left without it.

John, who “will be 12 in four days,” he said, and Anne, 8, are artists. John’s a budding photographer, literally. His three-photo series of flowers in a vase was taken through the prisms of a crystal. It earned him a first place in his age class at the Garfield County Fair’s fine arts competition.

Anne won first places too for three paintings – a still life, another of dolphins swimming, and a cut-out paper landscape.

But when the kids came to pick up their pictures on Sunday afternoon, Jennifer Firmin, the fair’s supervisor of fine arts, asked them if she could keep their work for awhile.

“Miller’s Dry Goods wants to exhibit your work for a few days,” Firmin explained to John, Anne and their mom. The downtown Rifle store shows award-winning local artists’ work following the Garfield County Fair. “Would that be OK with you guys?”

The kids were taken aback at first, then looked at each other and smiled.

“Well, sure,” Anne said.

“My pictures started as a mistake,” John said, pointing to his photographs. “I have a digital camera and I was taking a picture of some flowers first, but then there was a crystal in the way so I moved it. Then I noticed how the crystal was flashing with light.”

Anne said one of her pictures made with pieces of colored paper turned out the way it did because she ran out of materials.

“There wasn’t enough paper left to make mountains, so my picture ended up having cut-off mountains,” Anne said, of her landscape that looks a lot like the horizontal mesas of the Bookcliffs and the Roan Plateau.

Mucking out the stalls

Anne and John were only two of many local youths who came away from the fair with ribbons. Samantha and Jennifer Blea both won best of fair, grand champion and best in class for Samantha’s flannel rag quilt and Jennifer’s quilted pillow and peanut butter cookies. They also volunteered to help set up the exhibition room with their grandma, Mildred Arnold, who’s been involved in the fair – and 4-H – throughout her life.

“You never forget the things you learn in 4-H,” Arnold said.

The mood Sunday at the fair was relaxed. Only about a third of the grandstand was filled with spectators watching the Ranch Rodeo in the outdoor arena, and most of the vendors had carted away their food and wares, and folded up their pop-up tents.

Fairground workers were busy mucking out stalls in the cavernous indoor arena where 4-H animals made history earlier in the week, and piles of green metal panels were stacked on a flatbed trailer, ready to be hauled away until the next big event.

The carnival had an air of calm around it, too. Only a couple kids were taking rides on the Ferris wheel and the crazy train in the 100-degree heat.

Another Garfield County Fair was coming to a close.

Ranch Rodeo

Ranch rodeos test the true skills of the ranching life. The ranch rodeo – comprised of branding, team penning, team sorting, pasture roping and steer mugging – tests the riding, roping and all-around ranching skills of contestants.

Winning the steer mugging – where a team of four riders works together to target, rope and tie a young steer randomly selected by judges from of a group of steers, and all in record time – was the Burns Ranch out of Burns, Colo. Kevin Wahlert, his 20-year-old daughter Sam Wahlert, Jerad Schlegal, and Dustin Flohr from Rifle had the fastest time over three other teams. The Chambers Ranch out of Rifle took second.

Other events, like team penning and branding, also have a practical side to them, unlike bull riding, for example, an event in the pro rodeo circuit.

“It may not serve a purpose,” said Kevin Wahlert of bull riding, “but there is nothing like getting on a bull and testing yourself. It serves that purpose. Plus it’s one of the most amazing experiences you can have.”

Generations of fairs

On Sunday, the large exhibition rooms under the grandstand that had housed the 4-H and open class competitions were emptying out, though there were still lots of goods, like Yvonne Chambers’ giant zucchini and Dakota Zemen’s enormous sunflower, which hit the ceiling and stood at least 15 feet high.

“I’m surprised how well the vegetables did with all the hot, dry weather we’ve been having,” said Darleen Mackley, who has a long history with the Garfield County Fair.

Mackley’s mother, Marie Bernklau, moved to Rifle in 1930 “as a young bride,” Mackley said. “I lost my mother last December, but between the time she got here up until the time she was 90, I think she only missed one Garfield County Fair, and that’s because she was in the hospital!”

Mackley, just as her mother did before her, plays a big role in the fair. Besides entering some award-winning vegetables and food products of her own, she organizes the fair’s open class entries.

“Open class is wonderful because anyone in the county can participate,” she said.

Rebecca Nelson is just such a participant. Her cake, a red chocolate confection she calls the Waldorf Astoria, took first place, best of fair and grand champion honors at this year’s fair. Nelson just moved to Rifle from Denver, and this is her first time entering a county fair competition.

An intricately crafted wedding gown Rifle resident Connie Trueblood made for her daughter’s wedding won a first place in the clothing division, while Virginia Gera’s zoot suit that she made for her son to wear to his prom took the grand champion ribbon.

Sunday afternoon, Savana Hatch, 15, finally got a chance to come in and say hello to Darleen Mackley. Hatch and her mother, Ros, had staged a pellet shooting gallery as a fund-raiser for Savana’s 4-H shooting club.

“Savana is always a part of this fair,” Mackley said.

Mackley is encouraged by the number of young people who are involved in the fair. She is hopeful they’ll help keep the tradition alive.

“We really encourage children to be a part of the fair,” she said. “We try to make the fair a learning experience and to make it fun, too.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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