By Don Nelson

The North Cascades Highway is open, summer-like weather is showing up early, and downtown Winthrop is fully primed for the 71st annual ’49er Days celebration this weekend.

Many of the events will reflect directly on the Methow Valley’s pioneer heritage; others are just plain fun. It’s a great opportunity to express your inner cowboy or cowgirl — no one will think your Western ensemble is out of place.

There’s hardly anything more Old West than the 18th annual Ride to Rendezvous wagon train that will finish a four-day rolling trek through the Methow Valley’s back trails by wending through downtown Winthrop on Friday (May 6) at about noon. The event is organized by the Washington Outfitters and Guides Association (WOGA).

On Friday evening, head to the Winthrop Barn at 7 p.m. for a royal event, Western style: the coronation of ’49er Days Grand Lady Lauralee Northcott and Grand Marshal Clayton Northcott, along with junior royalty Queen McKenna Barnes, King Chase Vander Yacht and princesses Mollie Houser and Courtney Smith. Music and melodrama are also promised.

On Saturday morning (May 7), check out the newest moves of the West Coast Country Heat line dancers, a perennial favorite, beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Riverside Avenue at the four-way stop. The comical Western Vigilantes troupe — or is it a posse? — will also dole out its brand of loud, rambunctious street justice. They will clear the street for the annual parade that begins at 11 a.m., with a wide variety of entries including horses, mules, wagons, floats and probably a few surprises.

You can enter the parade up until 4 p.m. on Friday. For an entry form, got to www.winthropwashington.com.

The street in front of Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe will be blocked off for a bunch of fun games — typically including an egg toss and pie eating contest, which both can get kind of messy — after the parade

Beginning at noon in Mack Lloyd Park, WOGA members will gather for their 28th annual Packers’ Rendezvous. Friends and families are invited to stroll through the park all afternoon and visit the displays and mountain men camps, try a taste of Dutch oven cooking, visit vendors and watch packing demonstrations. The Methow Valley Snowmobile Association and the Winthrop Kiwanis will offer brats, hot dogs and barbeque pulled pork sandwiches until 2 p.m. or they sell out.

In the nearby band shell, musical acts including Grand Lady Lauralee Northcott, a founding member of the widely renowned Horse Crazy Cowgirl Band, will take the stage beginning at 1 p.m. — expect cowboy songs and poetry.

WOGA’s outfitters’ dinner begins at 5 p.m. in the park ($25), followed by cowboy music, poetry and campfire stories in the Winthrop Barn at 7 p.m. ($10). At 9:30 p.m., a dance featuring the music of The Last Outlaws will take over the barn ($7, kids under 12 admitted for free).

On Sunday (May 8), WOGA will host a cowboy breakfast from 8 – 10 a.m. in the park ($10). It’s Mother’s Day, so treat mom to some cowboy cooking. From 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., professional outfitters will compete in the State Packing Competition.

The ’49er Days events are presented by the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce and WOGA. Sponsors include Aspen Grove, Bear Creek Equestrian Center, Bear Creek Golf Course, Brown’s Farm, Common Sense Custom Homes, Freestone Inn, KOZI Radio, Methow Valley KOA, Pardners Mini Mart, Pine Near RV Park, Rivers Edge Resort, Winthrop Physical Therapy, Karen’s Family Salon, Miss Kitty’s Old Time Photo and Donna Martin Dressmaker.

For more information, call 996-2125 or visit www.winthropwashington.com.