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A Day at the Races
by Margaret T. Minnick

The 1998 Virginia City International Camel Races, that is.
Motel sent top correspondents Chris and I up to Viginia City, Nevada, on September 11, to take in the camel racing action.

The Camel Parade

The day kicked off at 1:00 p.m. local time (1:20 by my watch) with the Camel Parade. Tourists lined the main drag, C Street, anxiously awaiting the start of the parade of camels. Few were distracted by the booth where one could enter to win a Harley autographed by ZZTop -- why, I cannot say.

C Street is lined with the kinds of establishments any Gold Rush town would be proud to boast -- specifically, saloons, old time candy shoppes, saloons, casinos, and more saloons. Situated high in the mountains between Carson City and Reno, Virginia City affords a fabulous view, and the day was clear and mild. Occasionally, our Air Force's finest would give a showy display in the skies with their fancy airplanes. But mostly the area is quite serene and sheltered from modernity (though I'm sure they have TVs and microwaves).

Finally, the parade arrived. Two camels were paraded down C Street. Riding the camels were two young ladies clothed in Gold Rush era undergarments (an homage, I believe, to the well-loved ladies of the night of yesteryear). The crowd followed the parade down the hill to the racing area.

Camel Princess

The Camel Parade

Racing Action!

Camel Racing Action!

The Races

Around 2:30, the first camels lumbered out of the gate. Almost immediately, one of the riders fell off. Unfortunately, he was the rider who had a microphone taped to his arm to provide "the sound of camel racing" to the audience. The sound was nothing more than a big "THUMP!"

Apparently, falling off of the camels is not all that uncommon and, in fact, has become a part of the show. To me, however, the funniest part was the way the camels run. They look decidedly uncomfortable running on hard ground, as their front legs flop in front of them and their hind legs kick out behind. It really must be seen to be believed.

An extra treat, of sorts, were the ostrich and water buffalo races. Clearly, neither of these animals were meant to be ridden. Both women riding the ostriches slid right off within the first few seconds, sending the ostiches running ahead riderless. Water buffalos are a little too small to be ridden, so the men in that race were falling off right and left, too.

What's it cost?

Admission: $8 per person
Program: $2
Corn Dog: $2
Drink: $1

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent ...

Central to the fun were the announcers -- two locals and renowned American author Mark Twain. We were lucky enough to meet Mr. Twain on our way into the arena, and were honored with the privelege of calling him "Sam." Mr. Twain offered many invaluable insights into camel racing and the western lifestyle throughout the races. "The coldest winter I ever spent," he said, "was a summer in San Francisco."

Our Verdict

The Virginia City International Camel Races are good, clean, American style fun. If you have an inclination to go, you should. You will not be disappointed.

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Chris & Mark Twain

Chris with Mark Twain

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