Some Camels Travel..........And Some Camels Race

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North America » United States » Nevada » Virginia City
September 7th 2013
Published: September 12th 2013
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In this world many are in pursuit of the pinnacle of spectator sporting events. Some flock to Wimbledon or Churchill Downs, while others crave the World Cup or perhaps the Super Bowl. Our quest takes us to the charming old west town of Virginia City, Nevada, where the annual camel races take place. Heady stuff this, but throw in some ostrich racing and it becomes jam-packed wall-to-wall excitement that makes the heart pound while the laughs flow freely.

If you are unaware of the charming little town of Virginia City, Nevada we hope to tell you a couple of stories about this small western town that will peak your interest and prompt you to schedule a look-see. Proud of its place on the National Register of Historical Places, this is a small town of 855 people in Storey County Nevada, which only has a total of 4,000 residents. At 6,500 feet in altitude you’ll find some stunning views, colorful sunrises and amazing sunsets. Nevada is one of those great western American states that offer wide-open spaces, a glimpse of small town America and can prove it has a bit of a sense of humor..….more about that in a moment. Storey County is also a harbor for the legal purveying of the world’s oldest profession, but Virginia City has none of that….as far as we know.

For you to understand this town it will help for you to have a bit of historical perspective. In 1859, Virginia City was a bit of a boomtown when silver was discovered and of course there was a rush and the town’s population grew to about 30,000 residents. The mining industry has its share of break or bust stories through the decades and this town is chock full of them. The great discovery in this area was known as the Comstock Lode and this part of the country was hopping until 1874 when the silver mines dried up. Like many hard luck mining town stories, this one ended sadly. No mining, no economy and then of course, no people.

One of the most famous people to have inhabited this fine town was none other than Samuel Clemens. In November 1863, over a decade before he became a celebrated author, he was a reporter for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper. As the story goes, one day he was mugged as he was walking over a hill in southern Virginia City. Later he discovered the mugging was a practical joke set up by his friends to give him additional writing material. He didn’t find it funny as he was relieved of all his money and a gold watch that had great sentimental and financial value ($300). Fortunately his possessions were returned to him and he did write about the incident in his book “Roughing It.” While Mr. Clemens was in Virginia City he began using his pen name of Mark Twain—so this was his birthplace!

Being fans of Mark Twain, one of the world’s greatest writers and a fellow world explorer we decided to stop in the museum and have a look. A few hours before the race, we paid our four dollars, descended down a flight of stairs at one of the many gift emporiums and nosed around and looked at various printing devices and type settings used back then and got a feel for the time period. We even saw where Mr. Clemens once sat (please refer to the picture below).

As with most towns, what truly makes it special are the locals who inhabit the area. The people who have chosen a particular town to grow roots and become part of the family. Those are the people that give Virginia City its fun personality.

Over 50 years ago, the local editor of the paper, a Mr. Bob Richards literally made up a story about the camel races in Virginia City. This information was in turn reprinted in the San Francisco Chronicle. When the editor of this fine rag discovered it was, shall we say, made up, he was less than pleased. The following year when Mr. Richards published the story again, the editor of the Chronicle informed him that he was sending a reporter to cover the story. The rest as they say, is the lore of a fine joke becoming a reality as the annual camels races at Virginia City commenced and have continued for many years.

All we can really tell you is that it was a hoot to people sitting on these animals in the starting gate suddenly thrust down the straightaway in an all-out meander trying to maneuver left one time and down the track a few paces to capture a win. Now this may seem simple enough except for one thing, the camels don’t always cooperate regarding simple navigation of the racetrack. It wasn’t uncommon for one or more of them to literally just wander in any direction at a moments notice. A rider could find themselves leading the race one moment, then in the next instant wondering why in the world the camel turned right instead of left or simply decided to just slow to a stroll, allowing someone else to win the race.

As if that wasn’t enough of a spectacle, there were also ostrich races….with actual riders. For a moment you have to question why someone would actually consent to race on either a camel or an ostrich, but then the joke is one you, because you’ve almost missed the real reason……it’s hilarious. Couple this with continuous banjo-playing and an announcer who really hams it up and you’ve got quite the afternoon’s entertainment.

Now watching the races can build up a thirst, especially in the warm sun, so we had to repair to the Red Dog Saloon, a local pub and eatery, which is well known in these parts due to the fact that they have provided live entertainment for many decades. Some of the acts to have graced
Virginia Truckee RailroadVirginia Truckee RailroadVirginia Truckee Railroad

Virginia City, Nevada
the stage here include Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead among others. We can also attest that the pizza is quite good as well.

There are souvenir shops, silver jewelry establishments and many other trappings to take advantage of the tourist dollar as you amble down the somewhat-authentic wooden sidewalks, which are the furthest thing from level. You’ve literally got to watch your step for fear of stumbling. It’s a good people-watching town as the main drag contains almost all of the attractions. You can watch Old West gunfights and see people dressed in traditional garb of days gone by. They even parade the camels down the main street after the races…just because they can.

A visit to this unique town is one of the reasons that make the United States the beautiful quirky place that it is. A chance for a community to take stock of itself and boldly declare that just because it doesn’t make sense to race camels isn’t a reason not to set out to do just that, and also have some serious fun in the meantime.

If you spend the night in this town we’d highly recommend staying at Edith Palmer’s Country Inn. We found this Inn warm and comfortable and the breakfast was delightful.

Please don’t leave this town until you’ve dined at the Cider Factory. The Cider Factory Restaurant was such a pleasant surprise that we ate there two nights. The chef creates foods that will make your taste buds dance!

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 27


Cider Factory RestaurantCider Factory Restaurant
Cider Factory Restaurant

Don't miss this one!
Mark Twain sat hereMark Twain sat here
Mark Twain sat here

OK, maybe he did more than just sit!
Brutus & Mykines makes friendsBrutus & Mykines makes friends
Brutus & Mykines makes friends

The camel did not come home with us
Baker Street BandBaker Street Band
Baker Street Band

Excellent cover band

The Old West
Mark Twain's deskMark Twain's desk
Mark Twain's desk

Territorial Enterprise Newspaper
Twain's pressTwain's press
Twain's press

Mark Twain Museum
Ostrich racesOstrich races
Ostrich races

...and some ask why

12th September 2013

Enjoyed your blog! I agree that some of the best experiences in America are in detours to small towns and off-the-beaten tracks. Though never really expected to see camels and ostriches in Nevada. :)
12th September 2013

Nevada is the old west
It offers gambling, prostitution...and crazy camel and ostrich races. America is its small towns and this was fun. I know you've experienced some of America so you know what we mean. It is a lovely state with stark beauty.
12th September 2013
Fun with camels

MJ that is such a cute photo! :)
12th September 2013
Fun with camels

Thanks Ren and Drew
I enjoyed making some camel friends. It was a fun afternoon.
12th September 2013

Camel Racing!
Here it is, probably my main reason to visit the US - to see camel races! ;-) Love the look of Virginia City too - they must be wonderful folk to host an event relating to camels. I reckon the Mark Twain museum would be worthy enough of a trip alone, but of course, nothing beats racing camels.
12th September 2013

Camels and so much more
Shane there are so many reasons to visit the U.S. but this has to be a big draw. The small towns and warm people who live in our small towns are the real America. I'll bet you could contact the organizers of the event and be one of the jockey's! We learned there are a few other towns who offer camel races and we were unaware of that until Saturday. The Mark Twain museum was small but very well done. Hope you will check it out.
12th September 2013

What about the Ponderosa?
It sounds like a great place to visit at Camel Race time. A pity that we missed it. We were starting to have to prioritise by then. I was looking for some mention of the Cartwrights. Surely some of their family must still live at the Ponderosa and they seemed to spend a lot of time in Virginia City.
12th September 2013

Ponderosa & the Cartwrights
We entertained mentioning some information about the fictious ranch mentioned on show the Ponderosa with the Cartwrights but didn't want to end up with a 3,000 word blog on the camel races. There are many shows that have been filmed in this area or mentioned in movies to include a 1940 film called Virginia City about the Civil War with Erroll Flynn, Back to the Future and a couple of documentaries. The song Darcy Farrow made famous by John Denver leaps to mind also. Good hearing from you.
12th September 2013
Brutus & Mykines makes friends

Brutus makes a new friend
They look lovely together!
12th September 2013
Brutus & Mykines makes friends

Making friends around the world
Our mascots enjoyed visiting with their camel friend.
12th September 2013

Camel fun
It looks like you had great fun...I didnt know there were camel races in Nevada - I have seen them in Dubai. Often on my way to work there I would see the little boys riding them at the camel camp. And as for the " ancient profession" we were a bit shocked as we drove across Nevada to see massive painted signs advertising such abodes ..."truck drivers most welcome with free parking" ...I bet !! It did feel a bit "lawless" around there. Cheers Lynne x
12th September 2013

Nevada is open minded
I remember twenty years ago when I was working in a hospital in Reno, Nevada and learned of the legal prostitution and I was a bit surprised. They didn't have anything (legal) like that where I grew up. The locals tell me the girls must go through frequent testing and practice safe sex. Makes more sense to do it that way as people aren't going to stop have sex. Any way that is a discussion for another day. Glad you enjoyed Nevada.
12th September 2013

Interesting blog
Thanks for sharing some of the history of Virginia city. I was hoping to see the two of you racing on the camels or even the ostriches!
12th September 2013

Twenty years younger
We might have tried to race a camel twenty years ago but with age comes wisdom! Ha ha. The ostrich looked frightening to out of control and unpredictable.
12th September 2013

And some camels race
You two----you're always finding the most delightful things to experience! Looks like this was great fun.
12th September 2013

Fun, fun, fun
Our life is nothing but fun! We like to go to local festivals as it gives us the real flavor of the area we are in. It is fun to see how the locals entertain themselves. Remember when we were in Niceville we went to the Mullet festival? Fun, fun, fun.
12th September 2013
Bite me

Glad to see you managed to relocate the travel camel
12th September 2013
Bite me

Relocation of the travel camel
We are attempting to woo him to the U.S. for a visit. ....wouldn't that be great?
12th September 2013
Mark Twain sat here

What everyone needs to know
Nothing like trivia to delight. Camel race culture begun as a joke...continuing today...excellent! Wonderful to see how this tiny town ensures it remains on the map...Mark Twain, camel & ostrich racing...great blog.
12th September 2013
Mark Twain sat here

A fun weekend
Great things come out of joking around. Cute town. Maybe you should become a camel jockey?
12th September 2013

What a fun read
This was a fun blog with great pictures. I had no idea this existed. It's not something I will probably see, so thanks for sharing the great pictures. I'm glad you had the chance to head over and see this.
12th September 2013

You are so close
Hopefully, you will head over there some day. It is a lovely drive, cute town and wonderful people
23rd September 2013

I always assumed Mark Twain/Samual Clemmens had grown up near the Mississippi River -- shame on me for making such an assumption (I even have his autobiography on hand . . . unread). Great joke, great find, great blog!
24th September 2013

Assumptions were not wrong
He did grow up in Hannibal, Missouri. As with many nomadic travelers....they move around a great deal and have many did Samuel Clemmons. I've read the autobiography and would recommend you dive in. He was a river boat captain, worked in the mines, worked as a type setter, a journalists and became a wise man, philosopher of sorts and great writer.

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