Cowboy up

In January, the stock show comes to Denver

Cattle

Junior exhibitors and their charges get ready for the ring.

James Boone

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Before Denver got all sophisticated, with renovated lofts and urban-chic restaurants, it was basically a cow town. The city returns to its roots every January during the big National Western Stock Show, and city streets sprout more Stetsons than a hat factory.

You can spend days roaming the stock show's 100 acres, shopping for stuff like hats, boots, and spurs. But the best way to get in touch with your inner cowpoke is to just wander this giant animal extravaganza, filled with cattle, goats, horses, llamas, poultry, rabbits, sheep, swine, and, yes, yaks.

Everyone seems to gravitate to the Stadium Arena, which shows 20 different types of cows ― a few beefy specimens weigh in at more than 2,500 pounds each. And families can spend hours in the Children's Ranchland, checking out piglets, chickens, and 46 types of rabbits. A free barn tour gives visitors the lowdown on all the animals.

At night, chow down alongside the cowboys in the National Western Bar & Grill Steakhouse (on the stock show grounds), or take in one of the night's big arena events, like Dancing Horses (they perform in choreographed moves) or a rodeo.

If you miss the stock show, Arvada's Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering, where prairie laureates with names like Buckshot Dot and Buffalo Bill Boycott hold forth, will help you make the cowboy connection. After a day spent soaking up the atmosphere, you may feel the urge to get a sharp new Stetson yourself.

Showtime: The National Western Stock Show runs Jan 8–23 ($7–$9; 4655 Humboldt St., Denver; 888/551-5004). The Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering is Jan 13–16 ($12–$24; 6901 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada; 720/898-7200).

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