DUNCANS MILLS — That the parking lot is a grass field littered with cow patties may help explain the local popularity of the Russian River Rodeo.
This is ranch country.
But there must be something in western DNA that makes people partial to rodeos, whatever their lifestyle, judging by attendance at Saturday's 48th annual.
Something about the well-muscled steeds, the powerful bulls and cowboy heroics on display resonates with country and city folks alike.
"It's the sport, the action of it," said Conrad Blue, 17, of Cazadero.
Christine Canelis, a member of the rodeo association board, puts it this way: "It's just man versus beast."
Whatever the appeal, the event was expected to draw about 1,200 people Saturday and again Sunday, organizers said. It brings in folks from around Sonoma County and the greater Bay Area, at least, to watch tough men and women try their hands at roping calves, riding astride bulls and bucking broncos, barrel racing and wrestling steers.
The no-nonsense cowboys and cowgirls who come to Duncans Mills to participate face real risks in the arena in the hopes of taking home a bit of prize money. They hail from around California, including a handful of locals and one from as far away as Australia.
Carrying into the future the riding and roping skills that are part of the western tradition, they seem fearless despite the size of the animals over which they're seeking to exert their will.
Team-roping competitor P.J. Davis of Orland, who first learned roping from a family friend at age 10, said he was hooked immediately. Twenty-four years later, he's still at it as part of a two-man team challenged to rope a steer around the horns and its rear feet.