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A harder outlook for today’s cowboy

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DENVER — Just a few miles from the midday bustle of this city’s hip downtown, a pen of black-hided yearlings trotted into a dusty arena as a crowd of burly men in cowboy hats looked on silently.

“I’m in the market for some heifers,” whispered one cattle rancher, eyeing the animals up and down. “If the price is right, I’ll be buying.”

For more than a century now, the National Western Stock Show has been a proud totem of the old frontier — a place where rodeos, ranching, and cowboys still live and breathe, even as Denver’s cow town roots have long since faded.

These days, as lofts and breweries spring up in the once blighted industrial neighborhoods near the old stockyards, the show has also become a colorful illustration of just how strikingly life on the range has changed.

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