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Chuckwagons of the 27th Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium, a cowboy festival.

True, a cowboy festival is NOT the obvious choice for a romantic weekend away.

Yet the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium in Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico is where I CHOSE to begin our 17th wedding anniversary celebration.

Yep. It’s exactly where I wanted to be.

What’s up with that, right?

On the drive to Ruidoso Downs, I also wondered how it was I could be satisfied with something other than dessert by candlelight on our anniversary.

(And, No, no matter what B.B. King says, it is NOT because the thrill is gone.)

Only now, as someone who luvs to cook, do I understand why this cowboy festival attracted me so. And why it might be something that a food lover like you would enjoy, too.

Could My Attraction to This Cowboy Festival Be a Horse-Thing?

At first, I thought my interest in going had to do with a long-time horse-crush.

I began daydreaming about owning a horse of my own when I was a little girl. A golden palomino, to be specific. Even after I accepted that boarding one in the backyard of our Flatbush brownstone just wouldn’t work, I made it a point to be around horses at every opportunity.

I rode in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and later on Maui, in Costa Rica, and most recently, on the Corralitos Ranch here in New Mexico.

So, naturally, the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium ~ once voted the nation’s Best Cowboy Cultural Event ~ seemed a great destination.

Of all the horse-handling experts at the festival, Horse Whisperer Craig Cameron was my favorite. Whether you’ve ever ridden a horse or have a special love for animals in general, you would enjoy watching this veteran horse trainer in action.

The lessons he taught while training a young horse will encourage me to stick with it the next time I try to lead a horse and it looks at me as if to say, You want me to do WHAT?

Here’s a bit of the video I took below:


(WATCH A FULLER VERSION of this video on the Facebook page here.)

I do luv horses. But the chance to watch someone dancing with them isn’t the only thing that drew me to the festival.

I wanted to experience the chuckwagon cook-off as well.

Or Is It a Kitchen-Thing?

Yes, it seems I’ve had a long-time thing for kitchens, too.

For example, on the way out here from New York, we HAD to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Northern Virginia.

The residence has over 11,000 square feet of living space with 43 rooms. But what most fascinated me was on the lower or staff level: the kitchen.

This was a dream kitchen for the time, outfitted with the latest “appliances” brought back from Jefferson’s 5-year sojourn as Ambassador to France.

The place where James Hemmings, Jefferson’s French-trained chef, once whipped up lofty meringues and crème brûlées. And made French fries in copper pots.

The Monticello kitchen prepared food for many kinds of events but never, I imagine, for a cowboy festival.

More recently, in Paris, I fell in love with the kitchen of the Camondos, a wealthy family prominent in pre-war Paris.

The kind of 18th-century furniture and art that would attract any admirer of beautiful things fill almost every room in the mansion. But what drew my attention most was THAT KITCHEN. With so many gleaming copper pots on display, it packs more than triple the bling of Monticello’s.

Doubt you'll ever find fancy pots like these (at the Musée de Camondo) on a cowboy festival chuckwagon.

And the gigantic custom-made oven looked crazy handsome to me.

The beautiful oven in the Camondo kitchen ~ not exactly like the one they cook on at a cowboy festival.

(READ MORE about my visit to the Camondo Mansion and other historic homes in and near Paris here.)

So, yes, last week at the festival, when I wasn’t staring goo-goo eyed at the horses, I was all about the chuckwagon, the cowboy’s kitchen.

No Less Than Seventeen Chuckwagons Served at This Year’s Cowboy Festival.

Each chuckwagon offered homemade cowboy-sized meals the operators had prepared on site.

We dined at the Honey Do Spoiler, a chuckwagon where both the hospitality and the serving sizes were generous.

Honey Do Spoiler, a chuckwagon at the cowboy festival known as the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium.

Our lunch plates included plenty of stewed beef as well as pinto beans, and potatoes with peppers.

My favorite was the dessert ~ a peach cobbler, heavy on the peaches so that it seemed more like a peach crumble.

A typical chuckwagon meal served at a cowboy festival.

If you’re a light eater, the cost of the chuckwagon lunch ~ $25 ~ will likely seem steep. At any rate, it seemed steep to me.

Yet, if you typically go for seconds, as I did ended up doing here, you’ll find the meal filling enough to satisfy you through the balance of the day. Filling enough so that many hours later a light dinner or none at all will do you just fine.

What Else Is There to Eat and Do at this Cowboy Festival?

For eats, you’ve got kettle corn, fry bread, and fudge, oh my ~ and much more.

Caramel apple slices and deep-fried funnel cakes are among the sweets you can eat at this Lincoln County cowboy festival.

Stuffed sopapillas, burritos, and quesadillas are among the many savory offerings at this yearly cowboy festival.

And you have your choice of various events to attend, including demos in leather crafting, cooking, and blacksmithing, as well as traditional dancing (Spanish and Apache).

Spend some time cheering on Western bands like The Time Jumpers with Vince Gill in concert at night and the Flying J Wranglers during the day:

Flying J Wranglers perform at the 27th Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium, a cowboy festival.

What’s more, there are shopping opportunities galore.

With over 100 vendor stalls offering everything from jewelry to saddles and horseshoe sculpture, anyone who wants to shop ’til they drop can find their happy place here.

But never mind all of that.

At a cowboy festival, my happy place ~ probably yours, too ~ can be found closer to a chuckwagon. 

Because just as the heart of the home is the kitchen, the heart of a cowboy festival is its chuckwagons.

And who doesn’t enjoy hanging out in the kitchen? It’s one of our favorite places to be.

That goes double for those of us who like to cook.

The time spent with amazing horses and an amazing horse trainer was a bonus.

In the end, I’m convinced there is no better place for us to have been on our anniversary than a cowboy festival. The combination of live cooking and smart horses made attending this cowboy festival as romantic a choice as hot-tubbing it under the stars.

After all, isn’t enjoying favorite things with your favorite person what wedding anniversaries are for?

In what “untypical” way have you celebrated a special occasion?