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Camel Races…and Boys and Girls Club

September 20, 2013

Nevada – Sunday, September 8

First thing this morning I headed up to Virginia City – a booming gold mine town back in its day. The town retains its old west character with shops in old wooden buildings and wooden walkways, and it doesn’t take much imagination to imagine the chaos of thousands of miners working their claims outside of town and then coming back into town to visit the saloons – some of which (the Bucket of Blood for one) are still open today. Virginia City is host to quite a few special events during the course of a year, and this weekend the town was hosting its annual Camel and Ostrich Races. I had to go see what this was all about. There have been camel races in town for decades. In the early days of mining, camels were sometimes used to haul gold and ore and other supplies across the desert, and inevitably there were occasional races. Camels can be temperamental though, and when the railroad came through town, many of the camels were simply turned loose in the desert to fend for themselves. Then one year, a newspaper editor, who was a bit of a prankster, posted a fictitious ad about some upcoming camel races, and then he also published the “results.” It was all meant to be a joke, but the wire services in California picked up the story, and some newspapers published the news. A newspaper man out in California was annoyed to have been deceived by the fictitious story, and when the prankster repeated his fake ad the next year at the same time, the California guy decided to call his bluff, and he called his Virginia City counterpart to say he was going to enter a couple camels in his race. The California guy didn’t have any camels of course, so he went to the zoo and they were apparently happy to loan out some camels for a race. The Virginia City guy realized that the race really had to happen now that he had legitimate entries, and he set out to find a few more camels. And there were some Hollywood people in town like director John Huston, who rode one of the camels, and thus the annual Virginia City camel races were born.

The town was full of people for the festive weekend, including some who were dressed in old west attire, and there was a prospector with his donkey (have to pay to take photos) and different animals to pet and all sorts of touristy things. There was a very short parade of the camels down the main street (one of the camels went into one of the saloons the night before) and Tula and I walked all around soaking up the “old west” atmosphere. Tula was not fazed at all to see camels walking in front of her. Pets were not allowed at the actual races, so she stayed in the car. The races were silly and goofy, but it’s the kind of thing that’s fun to actually see – the racetrack was short and the MC introduced each animal before a race, and well as the “jockeys”. Only 3 or 4 animals raced at a time, and there’s a great deal of unpredictability. One of the camels turned around in the starting gate and came out late; one abruptly started running in the wrong direction partway through the race and another one fell while rounding a corner (camel and jockey were okay). I’ve heard of people riding ostriches before, but wasn’t sure if it was really true, but now I’ve seen with my own eyes that it can be done. Ostriches have really strong legs, and can badly injure and/or kill animals or people if they strike out. The ostrich jockeys sit right behind the wings, and are not really in control of their animals – the ostriches are racing back to the starting gate for treats! It was quite a sight! And then there was a zebra race – I’ve never heard of that. Zebras don’t typically have the sort of temperament to be calm, backyard pets that can be ridden. But the farm that provides all these animals (based out of Kansas )raise their animals with a lot of patience and hands-on care and time, and they include the zebras in the racing. This organization has about 70 camels together, and they are busy at Christmas time, providing animals for live nativity scenes, and they provide camels to the Rockettes for their manger scene. They took a long intermission and I walked back to the car to get Tula out for more walking. There are steep hills from the town down to the racetrack and I trudged up and down those several times. I found some good food at one of the many food/snack trucks, and I went back to watch a little more racing after intermission. After one more walk through town (which is literally in the middle of dry desert hills) we headed back to Carson City – I walked nearly 6 miles in town and by the track before we left. There are still some old rigs and rusty machinery around as evidence of the thriving gold and silver mining days and again, I wish I could be teleported back to that era for just a few days to experience it!

I did a little computer work and then headed out to make my donation for the day. When I was out walking in Carson City yesterday, I had noticed a big banner across Main Street about a luau fundraiser to support the local chapters of the Boys and Girls Club, and the luau was a late afternoon/early evening event. I couldn’t afford the $100 ticket price (this is their biggest fundraiser of the year), but I thought if I went over there toward the end of the event, I could at least contribute my $56 donation. And my timing was good – when I found the park that the event was held at, lots of the people were leaving, and the volunteers had time to talk. I met Bridget, one of the organizers, and she was very appreciative of the extra donation. She told me they’d had a good turnout for the luau – nearly 750 people, and they have hundreds of kids in their programs along with many volunteers, and any extra donations can go a long ways because they have to rely on personal and corporate help with so many kids in the local chapters. She even gave me a t-shirt even though I wasn’t an official guest. So I was glad I stopped by – it was fun to talk with her. Once again, I am struck by the enthusiasm that so many volunteers have for the programs they choose to support.

By now it was getting dark, and I still had a couple miles to walk, so Tula and I just set off on the blue-lined Kit Carson trail that we could follow by the light of the streetlamps. So we finished up our walking and called it a day – another day where I saw something I had never expected to see at the outset of my journey!

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