The Castle Valley Gourd Festival returns on Saturday, Oct. 20, with its annual 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]

A classic fall festival celebrates the fruits of harvest-time and the crisp air, clear blue skies and changing leaves of the season.

The Castle Valley community adds its own spin to the tradition with a focus on gourds — as an art medium, functional objects or material for pure whimsy — at the Castle Valley Gourd Festival on Saturday, Oct. 20.

This will be the festival’s seventeenth year. Ruth Brown, one of the festival’s coordinators, said it started out as “just a few people getting together to celebrate gourds and gourd art,” and has since grown to host around 400 attendees throughout the day. It’s appealing for Castle Valley and Moab locals, and also for out-of-town tourists.

“We get a lot of visitors,” Brown said. “We get people from Alaska and even from Europe. If they happen to be in Moab and they see the posters or read about it, they’ll come by.”

The festival features a parade, a potluck lunch, hands-on arts and crafts tables for both kids and adults, face-painting, a silent auction, a gourd-themed puppet show and gourd art for sale. Flights of fancy are manifested in gourds as masks, monsters, hats, animals, baskets, costumes, ornaments and instruments.

The parade is always led by a “Gourdess,” whose identity is unknown until the day of the festival. The queen of the parade creates a character and costume to be unveiled at the festival.

Last year’s Gourdess dressed as a gourd-adorned mermaid and brought an entourage of undersea creatures. “Gourdy” is another annual character in the parade, and marches alongside tractors, fire engines, kids on bikes and sometimes people on horseback or floats.

The puppet show is created by Tricia Ogilvy, and usually has a playful take on the day’s theme.

“It’s for the kids, but the adults enjoy it too,” Brown said of the puppet production. “All the puppets are gourds … The story usually involves gourds as well, like ‘Gourd With the Wind’ or ‘Valley of the Gourds,’ — all kinds of things.”

Artists from Colorado and Arizona, as well as Moab, Castle Valley and Spanish Valley, come to the festival and their styles range anywhere from elegant to comical. Gayle Houston is a local artist who makes gourd vases which she sells in a retail store in downtown Moab. She sometimes donates her work to the silent auction at the gourd festival, but she doesn’t usually display her art there — what she does sell at the festival are her homegrown gourds.

“I like to grow things,” Houston said. “I’m from a farming family, and it’s just something that I have to do, I have to plant something in the spring.”

Houston grows many different vegetables, but she expressed a particular fondness for gourds, which she grows on an arbor.

“They have this smell and this sort of persona,” Houston said. “It’s just cool to hang out underneath a gourd arbor … it’s kind of like a little room inside.”

Houston also loves the atmosphere at the gourd gathering. When asked about her favorite part of the festival, she said it is “the funky agricultural aspect.”

Gourds for the event aren’t usually from Castle Valley — ironically, it’s not a great location to grow them.

“Funnily enough, we don’t have very good luck in growing gourds in Castle Valley … the soil isn’t right, I guess,” Brown said.

Local businesses Grand Rental Center and Red Cliffs Lodge are supporting the festival by, respectively, lending chairs and tables and donating chili to the potluck lunch. Attendees are encouraged to bring something to share with the free meal, which will take place after the parade. The nonprofit thrift store WabiSabi is also a supporting organization.

“It’s just a real family, old-fashioned, small-town party,” Brown said. “… it’s just a bunch of people getting together and having fun.”

Locals and tourists celebrate all things gourd at annual Castle Valley festival

“It’s just a real family, old-fashioned, small-town party.”

When: Saturday, Oct. 20, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Castle Valley Community Lot

Cost: Free

Info: Visit or