Aztec Highland Games return to Riverside Park

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — The athletic events featured at next month's 2021 Aztec Highland Games and Celtic Festival may not have familiar names to many, but they are deeply rooted in tradition and require a great deal of athleticism and strength.

The caber toss, the sheaf toss and the stone put are just some of the games that will be on display when the 2-day event begins Saturday, Oct. 2 at Riverside Park. 

In addition to the games, the Highland Games & Celtic Festival present a variety of music and dance performances throughout the two-day event. Including heavy athletics, the festival features Celtic-themed vendors, live music, dance and more.

The event was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 protocols and precautions, but plans to renew the event this fall got underway months ago.

Charles Thacker, one of the athletes competing at the Games as well as one of the event's organizers said that athletes did their best to make up for the lack of events by continuing to meet for small practice sessions.

"It was difficult for sure, being that we couldn't go to events or really get together in big groups," Thacker said. "But we did meet when we could for practices."

A competitor prepares for a sheaf toss event at the Aztec Highland Games and Celtic Festival.

The Highland Games have been held in Aztec for more than a decade, and there are similar events all across the country throughout the year, with the national championships being held in Kansas City, Kansas.

"I think the event has really grown here," Thacker said. "And it's got as much to do with the games itself as the events around it, but it's good to see even the curiosity seekers come out and enjoy the event."

The training that goes into these event can be excruciating, primarily because there's not a lot of specific training that goes into some of the unique events at the games.

"It's hard to find places where you can train for a hammer throw or a sheaf toss," Thacker joked. "So a lot of weight training goes into getting ready for these events."

Some of the more distinctive events that go into the Highland Games date back to Ireland in 2000 BC and have crossed the water to Scotland in the fourth and fifth centuries.

The caber toss is one of the oldest and most unique events featured in Highland Games. With no verified origin, it is speculated the event may have developed from the logging industry, where trees were launched into rivers.

Competitors toss a large tapered pole called a “caber”, weighing approximately 175 lbs., and measuring nearly 20 feet long. The object is to get the caber to turn end over end. Distance thrown is unimportant.

The sheaf toss competition consists of taking a pitchfork to toss a burlap bag filled with straw or mulch over a cross bar for height. The sheaf toss has origins dating back to harvest time in the Highlands. Workers would have to pitch bales higher and higher to fill wagons. Once wagons were brought from the field to the barn, workers would then pitch the bales into a barn's storage loft.

A competitor prepares for a throw in the 56-lb. weight for height event at Highland Games heavy athletics competition in 2019.

Festivities for the Aztec Highland Games begin each day at 9 a.m. For more information about the heavy athletic events at the Highland Games, log on to

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680