When I first visited Virginia City, Nevada two years ago, I arrived just after the conclusion of the annual Virginia City International Camel and Ostrich Races. I enjoyed exploring Virginia City as the town seemed to be taking a huge, post-event collective breath.
But let’s face it — Camel and Ostrich Races! That’s something I knew I had to see. And now I get to. Next week I head back to Virginia City for what should prove to be a singularly entertaining life experience.
First, a little background
All of this camel hilarity started, not surprisingly, as a practical joke. The credit goes to Nevada’s first newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise. It has a unique and colorful history dating back to its start in 1858. To give you an idea of the publication’s tone, it was during his stint working for the Territorial Enterprise that Sam Clemens became Mark Twain. The camel races didn’t start until long after Twain’s time, but he was not the only sharp-witted jokester in the paper’s history by a long shot.
The story of the race’s beginnings certainly fits with the legendary city and newspaper’s long wild-west history. Of course, legends are not bound by the facts of history so the details tend to vary a bit depending upon which source you consult.
The condensed story as I’ve gathered is that in 1959, then-editor Bob Richards ran a fictitious news story about camel races as a practical joke. Tall tales and made-up stories were a common occurrence at the Territorial Enterprise so many knew not to take the story seriously. The San Francisco Chronicle picked up the story and, either having fallen for the hoax or to expose it, showed up with a team of camels to race. Not to lose face, Richards made the race happen, a tradition was born, and we now get to reap the benefits.
Fifty-Seven years later
The event’s history may be the stuff of legend but even today the races are generating new stories for a modern age. As part of this adventure, I’ll have to opportunity to ride one of these beasts. That will be quite a sight, I’m sure. I’m also really looking forward to watching the professional camel and ostrich racers work their magic.
The event continues to increase in popularity as you can imagine. So in 2015, Virginia City unveiled its new arena to accommodate the ever-growing crowds that throng to see camels, ostriches, and zebras race. Yes, zebras. Just when you think this couldn’t be any more over-the-top!
The races seem to be universally appealing. Everyone I talk to about them asks me countless questions, the last ones usually being “When is it?” and “How do I get tickets?” When I told 13-year-old George what I’d be doing, he said “Ostrich races might be the best thing ever!”
I hope you’ll stay tuned as I bring you all of the excitement, including Val on a camel. I’ve ridden a lot of things in my life but never a camel. I really see no way for this to go except pure comedy. Promise you’ll laugh with me, not at me, ok?