The Castle Valley Gourd Festival features a colorful gourd parade. The highlight of this procession is the unveiling of the “Gourdess,” whose identity is a mystery until the parade begins. [Moab Sun News file photo]

Gourds have been the most important crop in the Southwest for more than 3,000 years.

They were cultivated by Native Americans who lived in this region and have countless practical uses. One of the most vital sources of food, gourds were used by cowboys as canteens and by Native Americans as kitchen utensils and for food and beverage storage. Gourds and their many diverse uses will be celebrated on Saturday, Oct. 21, at the 16th annual Castle Valley Gourd Festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“It will be a truly wonderful afternoon out in the valley,” festival organizer Ruth Brown said. “Come one, come all! It’s a family event and there is something for everyone.”

The festival was created by Chris Coffey, Rebecca Martin and Bob Ridges, who were all fascinated by the history of gourd usage in the Southwest. It centers around gourd art and the countless ways gourds can be used creatively.

“The more you get into gourds, the more interesting they become,” festival puppeteer Tricia Ogilvy said. “The different shapes and patterns of gourds are all unique.”

In addition to 12 vendors who will be showing and selling their gourd art, there will also be larger gourd structures that will transform Castle Valley into a vibrant gourd fantasyland.

“There’s a large gourd ballerina, a gourd kayaker on gourd rapids, a big gourd praying mantis, a gourd Cheshire cat, a gourd monkey that sits in a tree, and even more gourd figures that folks bring out every year,” Ogilvy said.

The festival will also feature a colorful gourd parade. The highlight of this procession is the unveiling of the “Gourdess,” whose identity is a mystery until the parade begins. The Gourdess has been a tradition ever since the very first Gourd Festival.

“The first year, one lady had grown a gourd that was oddly shaped; it was very voluptuous,” Brown said. “We dressed the gourd up as queen of the festival, and every year after that we’ve always had a human Gourdess.”

The Gourdess scatters gourd seeds that will grow into next year’s gourds. Each Gourdess chooses their own costume, which are all unique and wildly inventive.

“My costume consisted of long, thin banana-style gourds that were as long as my arms,” Ogilvy said. “My arms were on top and I had two extra arms on each side.”

In addition to this style, which is reminiscent of the six-armed Hindu goddess Kali, Gourdesses have dressed up on roller skates, as Southern Belles (“Gourd with the Wind”), and many other inspired interpretations.

The children will have a gourd old time with many kid-friendly activities. Ogilvy will lead a puppet show, where the set and puppets are made of – you guessed it – gourds.

“This year’s puppet show is called ‘Out of Her Gourd,’” Ogilvy said. “It’s about a boy and a girl who are crossing the desert to find where the Gourdess lives. They have a bit of an adventure, and I can’t tell you whether they find her or not.”

Children will also be able to make their own gourd art with paint, glue, glitter and beads to take home with them. Adults have this option as well, but their art endeavors will be more advanced, with wood-burning techniques and gourd engraving. Kids can also enjoy face painting by Moab’s Carol Delaney, who “will make them whatever they want,” Ogilvy said.

You can taste maté out of your very own gourd goblet, get your fortune read from hand-made gourd cards, learn more about the history of gourds and the history of the Gourd Festival, and eat your fill at the potluck lunch happening at 12:30 p.m. Be sure to bring your own dish so you can partake of the delicious array of homemade goodies.

All events are free of charge. You would have to be out of your gourd to miss this festival!

Castle Valley Gourd Festival is back on Oct. 21 with fun for the whole family

What: Castle Valley Gourd Festival

When: Saturday, Oct. 21, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Castle Valley Community Lot, Castle Valley

Cost: Free; no dogs allowed