Jones just goes.
has. In high school, when he broke his leg riding a bronc? He tried
healing for three months and then cut the cast off himself. Couldn't
stay off horses and bulls.
as a pro, he rides to earn and he rides out of sheer wanderlust.
Maybe it comes from driving around the West as a small boy with
his father, J.W. Jones, a sheet metal worker now, but from 1987
to 1994 a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association cardholder, a bull
rider like Spud is today.
father never reached the height that the son has enjoyed last week.
By qualifying for his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo berth,
the 20-year-old Jones became perhaps the first Navajo to ride bulls
in the world's biggest rodeo.
reach it - barely - he hit 70 PRCA rodeos, traveling, for the first
time, primarily on his own. It was a long year, and when he came
home to Twin Lakes, N.M., for three or four days at a spell, it
was just to rest and eat his mom's cooking and swap out dirty clothes
can't stay home," Jones says. "On the reservation, everything
slows down. I'd be walking outdoors, 'Damn. I got to go somewhere.'
love driving," he continues. "I miss traveling real hard
that Vegas or the WNFR haven't exceeded his expectations. Through
nine rounds, Jones has covered four of his bulls and earned more
than $20,000 on his way to sitting sixth in the average. And he's
easy to spot. He's the jangly, 6-foot-1, 150-pounder who's always
grinning after his rides.
20, grew up 90 miles from the Four Corners on the Navajo Reservation.
seen his name in lights and on handmade signs in the stands, heard
it on the public address. And still - he misses driving.
a young man who grew up in a no-stoplight town 90 miles southeast
of the Four Corners, a place so small his parents drive 15 miles
to pick up their mail, the tug of the road and rodeoing is always
again, if this is where it leads, it's no wonder Jones rodeos compulsively.
The Navajo love rodeo the way few people do.
play basketball in the winter, Jones says, but "when it hits
spring and summer, it's just rodeo all the way around."
trying to find one need only pick up an issue of the local newspapers
and flip to the ads in the sports section.
much of the WNFR, a radio reporter relayed standings and scores
back to the Navajo Nation - in Navajo.
No wonder: It was a big year in Vegas for Native Americans. With
Jones and team roper Derrick Begay, of Seba Dalkai, Ariz., both
qualifying, the Navajo Nation, a sprawling reservation of fewer
than 200,000 people, has two WNFR participants for what is believed
to be the first time.
don't really know the reason we love rodeo so much," Begay
says. "There really ain't much to do out there on the reservation
except ride horses and raise cattle, raise sheep.
always wanted to come here, but I never thought I would," the
roper continues. "Shoot. Now I'm here. I don't know how I did
it. It was one of those impossible dreams."
can barely venture a guess as to what he'd be doing if not for rodeo.
working cattle?" he says. "Maybe going to school somewhere?
I don't even know. I don't know where I'd be without bull riding
did try school for a while. He graduated from high school at 17,
and enrolled in Navajo Technical College for seven months. When
he turned 18, the minimum age to receive a PRCA card, he was out
what he likes to do," says Jones' mom, Michaelene. "He
just wants to ride is all he does. He never looked for a job or
his father on the road so much when he was a boy, it was she who
took Jones to his first rodeo at age three, where he began wooly
riding (that's riding sheep, same as mutton bustin').
he grew, she watched him climb onto his dad's bucking barrel day,
night, rain, snow, scorching desert heat.
doesn't stay inside much," she says.
family does travel with him sometimes, as when he won the Indian
International Finals Rodeo in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, last
year. She brought along her electric skillet, potatoes, tortillas
and green chili.
further north you get, Jones has learned, the harder it is to find
the young man was largely on his own this year, burning gas in his
little S-10 pickup, calling home with the good news (winning Denver
was his highlight), tiptoeing around his injuries (his parents know
he hurt his chest or rib or lung or something, but can't tell you
exactly what) and subsisting often on one meal a day, usually at
an IHOP ("eat breakfast," he says, "and it will last
you all day"). Or if he did well at an event, sitting alone
in a Mexican restaurant afterwards.
has won a considerable amount of money during the 2008 WNFR.
mom does make some of his lodging arrangements on those times when
he has to fly, which he dislikes given that he's too young to rent
one particularly road-weary stretch he had to fly from Boise to
Huron, S.D. She typically checks with a hotel to see whether it
offers shuttle service. This time, however, the ground transport
fell through, and rather than call a cab, Jones hitchhiked to the
just remembers him calling as he walked along the highway.
was so bad for him," says his mom. "I didn't want him
to notice that I was crying on the phone."
always upbeat, told her not to worry, because he figured someone
would stop for him.
was ready to drive the 1,400-odd miles to Indianapolis for the Dodge
Xtreme Bulls Tour Finale in October. Instead, his parents booked
tickets for him and his father before he could protest.
on one of his bulls in Indianapolis made Jones the last man in the
door at the WNFR, just $456 ahead of the 16th place man in the standings.
won only $600," his father says. "But it brought him here."
Saturday night's final round, it will be back on the road for Jones.
He's actually looking forward to going home, to rest up for a few
weeks, before next season.
first he's going to take a detour from Vegas to California. See,
on one of his trips up and down the coast, he has taken up surfing,
so he wants to catch some waves before heading back to the desert.
Less than a month 'til Denver, you know.
thing about being hurt is, you've got something to look forward
to," he said, "and that's getting healthy."