The Winter Hotspot: Arizona's Snowbirds

The faces that breathe life into the Arizona team roping community.
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Arizona is the winter hotspot for those who work hard and play hard, too. The team roping culture—packed with jackpots that cater to all ages and skill levels—draws in crowds of ropers from across the continent and beyond to enjoy the climate, camaraderie and competition. Here are just a few of the faces that breathe life into the Arizona team roping community.

Photography by Jamie Arviso and Kari deCastro

[READ MORE: Arizona Guide: The Team Roping Journal's Winter 2019/2020 Complete Guide to Arizona]

Neil Main 

Neil Main 

Neil Main, 63; Nanoose Bay, British Columbia

We knew friends who were going to Arizona, so we went and lived in a trailer the first couple years, and then we bought a place. We started off at Lone Star in Coolidge, and then we bought a place in Casa Grande by the rodeo grounds.

I’m originally from Vancouver Island. I’m a commercial fisherman, and I get my winters off. We fish for a bit of everything. I love the climate, the people and the team roping. It’s wet and windy up here in the winter time, and it’s so nice down in Arizona. Lots of Canadians come down—50 or 60 I personally know. Maricopa is half Canadian, I swear.

I love going to George Aros and Rube Woolsey’s to practice, and I go to all the World Series and as many of Ty Yost’s as I can get to. Every second week there’s a World Series now, so we try to stay practiced up for those. 

[READ MORE: Arizona Evolution: How Arizona Became the Hot Spot For Team Roping

Dave Yost 

Dave Yost 

Dave Yost, 64; Lostine, Oregon

I’ve been going to Arizona for six years. I ventured off with another friend of mine, and we went down and I made connections. The first year was a month and, now, it’s up to about four months. I stay in Morristown, and I have a friend with five acres whom I met down there.

Everybody I rope with is there to enjoy it and have a good time, and that’s the biggest thing. Everybody is doing what they like to do.

I’m a retired ag teacher, and my wife still works. Everybody gives me a bad time about being retired with a wife who works, but I enjoy it.

Bill Eckenroth 

Bill Eckenroth 

Bill Eckenroth, 59; Mandan, North Dakota

This will be our sixth winter in Arizona, and we spend two months there from the middle of January to the middle of March. I like the roping, but the older I get, the less I like the cold at home.

I was a manager for an insulation contracting business for 32 years, plus I did farming and ranching on the side. Now I have a neighbor who comes over and checks waters and feeds my cows and horses while I’m gone. My wife comes with me, and she loves to shop in Cave Creek. She’s a hairdresser, so she will fly home and book a week’s worth of appointments, then fly back to Arizona.

We keep our horses at Rancho Rio, and we have an apartment in town. We love to hang out and socialize—Wickenburg is so fun, that cool little town. We’re getting to know a whole bunch of people now.

Dave Wingo

Dave Wingo

Dave Wingo, 61; Holdenville, Oklahoma

The first time I went to Arizona was on a whim to go look it over. That was four years ago. Each year I stay longer than the last time. I stayed five weeks this last winter and I’ll stay six this winter. My wife loves sitting around in the sunshine, watching me rope and shopping.

I’m a retired school teacher, and I farm and ranch. When I turned 55, I retired from my farm job. We run yearlings on wheat and, if it snows, they have to give them something to eat.

I stay in Wittman, and we stay right there centrally located to where we like to rope. It’s 40 minutes to Dynamite and 15 to downtown Wickenburg. We have a sizable ranch here in Oklahoma, and we’re always having to work and do something to it. In Arizona, we just pay our rent and come home and don’t have to work on patching a fence or work on plumbing. We can just go have fun. I figure the rent you pay is cheaper than taxes and insurance when you’re not using it. 

[READ MORE: Why Arizona Has Become Home to The Snowbirds]

Floyd Marshall 

Floyd Marshall 

Floyd Marshall, 77; Tuttle, Oklahoma

I went out to Arizona in 2000, and I just went for a week. There’s no comparison between how it was then and how it is now. I came out to rope in Scottsdale at the US roping. I came back for two weeks the next year and roped. You didn’t have some place to go every day. I remember on Tuesdays you could go to Beaver Bird’s in Wickenburg, and then Dynamite Arena, too. I went to the US roping that year, too. My wife flew out and stayed 10 days and flew home.

The next year I stayed three weeks, and at the end of the third week I bought a house. I had to convince my wife over the phone. That was February 2002, and we closed in May. We’ve been going every year since. She wasn’t happy with it until I sold it and she decided I made a mistake. Now she’d rather go than me. We bought another place and stayed there 14 years. We come in November and go home in April. We bought a place in Desert Hills, and we’ve been there four years.

It’s all changed drastically since they built Rancho Rio. Rancho Rio has that over-60 roping on Mondays, and they have the over-60 at Dynamite on Fridays. I get to rope against my peers—well, they don’t consider me a peer because I’m so much older!

I was a home builder, but I retired 10 years ago. I used to stop my building projects because I had the type of business that I could restart and go. I never had any idea when I was a young man in business that I’d get to do this, but it’s wonderful. My wife is a shopper, so she loves it there. She shops and doesn’t buy anything. She’ll spend a day in a store just looking at things.

Sammy Gilbert

Sammy Gilbert

Sammy Gilbert, 58; Burnet, Texas

We originally started going to Arizona for a week or two because we were working. That was probably 30 years ago. And then we quit, and it’s probably been seven or eight years that we’ve been spending the winters now. We’re in Wickenburg, and we have a place in Aguila. My dad used to go there, because he roped, too. That’s what got us started. And then the weather was so nice. Once you go, you get hooked.

We own a mobile home park now, and my husband shod horses and I worked in bookkeeping. We do most of our business by phone and have people call if they have maintenance questions, so it all works out. 

[READ MORE: Winter Warriors: Women of Arizona]

Wayne Baize 

Wayne Baize 

Wayne Baize, 67; Anthony, New Mexico

I’ve been going to Arizona in the winter since 2013. I won the US roping in Scottsdale that year, and then I went on out to Wickenburg to Ty Yost’s and Fullers’ and Downtown and Simpsons’ and Morristown. The first time I stayed out there 25 days or so. I have been going ever since. I just stay in my trailer at Rancho Rio now.

I love it because I have a chance. They have so many aged ropings. Other places don’t have that option, where you can rope in your own age group.

I’ve got three boys and some very good help who take care of our saddle shop, Corriente Saddlery, when I’m gone. And we have so many customers out in Arizona, so we call on a lot of people who do business with us. We do stuff for Ty Yost and Karen Fuller and the Morristown Arena, just to name a few.

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