Last weekend (September 10-12, 2021) the population of the remote silver
mining community of Virginia City, Nevada, swelled to more than double its typical size
for the 62nd annual Camel and Ostrich Races, a bizarre yet wildly entertaining three-
day spectacle. For those that are unfamiliar, Virginia City is a small, well-preserved wild
west town on the outskirts of Reno, NV. The main part of town comprising four blocks is
home to 13 different saloons, live wild west shows, old timey shops, and historical
museums. Samuel Clemens once called Virginia City home, and it is where he first used
his pen name “Mark Twain” while writing for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in
1862. Virginia City developed as a boomtown in the mid-1800s after the discovery of the
Comstock Lode, the first major silver deposit discovered in the United States. In today’s
dollars, nearly $13.2 billion dollars worth of silver was mined from Virginia City.
Though the number of Virginia City residents has shrunk from 25,000 to 900 over
the past 150 years, many of the original buildings have been nicely preserved, and now
the town serves as a popular destination for those looking for a taste of the wild west
and olden days. Visiting the town feels like being transported back in time, where folks
in period dress openly carrying firearms along the wooden sidewalks is commonplace.
It made me want to buy a cowboy hat, and so I did.
The Virginia City Camel and Ostrich Races is a 3-day event and is held just
below the main town strip at the Virginia City Arena and Fairground, a modest
fairground with a small racing arena, bleachers, local beer and wine, and a variety of
decent fairground food fare. Zebras, ostriches, camels, and chicken chases were
provided by Joe Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm. The animals traveled over 1,400 miles
from Nickerson, Kansas, and participate in similar events throughout the world.
Though a family-oriented event, and as is the case with rodeos, racing injuries and
ambulances are an everyday part of the spectacle.
I had an opportunity to speak with Brad Young, whose motorcycle vlog and
accessories company, West Coast Throttle (westcoastthrrottle.com), sponsored the
races. Asked why a Bay Area based motorcycle organization would sponsor this hokey,
family-friendly event in rural Nevada’s high desert, Brad replied, “Virginia City generally,
and certainly the camel races specifically, takes folks back to a simpler time when the
troubles of the modern world effortlessly fade away; they are the perfect antidote to the
rat race and 24-hour news cycle. It is a special privilege to help see this 62-year-old
small town tradition continue to flourish.” Brad’s camel jockey for the event, a Gilroy native who wishes to remain anonymous, took third place in his inaugural Virginia City
race in the tightest finish of the three-day event.
Next year, Brad and his team hope to bring home a 1st place finish at the camel
races. Virginia City has many special attributes that are remarkably similar to those
found in my adopted hometown of San Juan Bautista. Maybe someday we too can have
our own unique family friendly tradition similar to the camel and ostrich races; we
certainly have the set and setting to do so successfully…