The streets of Utah's capital city were built wide enough to turn around a wagon team, but as he navigated them on horseback Monday, Gov. Spencer Cox wanted to focus on looking forward.
"Last year was a rough year, as we all know, and we're back and bigger than ever," the governor said Monday after saddling up in Salt Lake City to mark the return of Days of '47 festivities that were canceled in the pandemic last year.
He and first lady Abby Cox, who both grew up riding horses in rural Sanpete County, returned to their roots for the occasion that brought a taste of their family's current home in Fairview to downtown Salt Lake, the governor quipped.
The couple refused seats in a wagon and opted to ride quarter horses named Sitter and Sunday, on loan from Dan Shaw, president of the Days of '47 Rodeo. They chatted as they joined cowboys in guiding eight Texas longhorns for a slow mile downtown before arriving at the Utah State Fairpark at 155 N. 1000 West.
Salt Lake police conducted traffic control on motorcycles while bystanders recorded the unusual procession on cellphones.
Cox described Monday's cattle drive — under city stoplights, rather than over mountain passes or meadows — as "surreal" and "incredible." He joined rodeo Chairman Kem Gardner in encouraging Utahns to attend several days of events ahead of Pioneer Day on Saturday, including some that will honor the history of Utah's Native American tribes.
"This is about the history and the heritage of our state," Cox said at the Utah State Fairpark rodeo arena as the cattle milled about behind him. "It's still a really important way of life for people in rural Utah, and this is the one opportunity we have every year for all of Utah to come together and celebrate this Western heritage that is ours."
Cox said those who have received their COVID-19 vaccine should feel good about joining a big crowd in the open-air arena.
"If you're vaccinated, you have very little to worry about," the Republican governor said. "If you're not, I would be very concerned and I would be very careful around crowds, and so I would just encourage people to get vaccinated."
Abby Cox, who learned to ride a horse before she could walk at her family's cattle ranch in Mt. Pleasant, grinned as she took Sunday for a lap around the arena. She said this week's events will help Utahns who have been craving a sense of community in the pandemic to find it.
"I think we lots of times see real division through social media and things like that," she said. "But when you come to an event like this, it feels like home."
Days of ’47 festivities this week:
- Float preview party, Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., at the Mountain America Expo Center, 9575 S. State, Sandy.
- Cowboy games and rodeo, Tuesday through Saturday, event times vary, Utah State Fairpark.
- Deseret News Marathon, half marathon, 10K and 5K, Friday; marathons begin at 5:30 a.m., 10K at 6 a.m., 5K at 7 a.m.; races begin near Emigration Canyon and the University of Utah's Research Park.
- Sunrise Service, Friday, 7 a.m. at Assembly Hall on Temple Square.
- Days of '47 Parade, Friday, 9 a.m. in downtown Salt Lake City; route starts at South Temple and State, runs east to 200 East, turns south to 900 South, then east to Liberty Park and will be televised on KSL, Ch. 5.
More information is available at daysof47.com.