This event is the height of hilarity in Nevada. Imagine untrained camels, mounted by novice riders, running around a dirt ring to a soundtrack of banjos, harmonicas and wild laughter and cheering. The camel heats are interspersed with ostrich races and the occasional zebra race added for good measure.
The races are the weekend after Labor Day in Virginia City, about 30 miles from Reno. They kick off with a camel parade on Saturday, which is free, and tickets to the races can be purchased online or in person. But get there early because parking is limited.
Camels have long history in Virginia City, once being used as service animals for the gold mines in the 1800s. However, according to local legend, the animals' comical history came into play just over 50 years ago when Bob Richards, editor of the local paper the Territorial Enterprise, ran a fictitious news story about local camel races. Richards was notorious for his practical jokes, so he didn't count on being taken seriously. But the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle thought it was a real story and reprinted it. He was less than amused when he found out it was a hoax.
The following year, Richards ran an announcement of upcoming camel races, and the Chronicle editor decided to turn the tables on the trickster and said he would be sending a team to compete in the races. The Virginia City editor scrambled to make his joke a reality, and the International Camel Races were born. Hollywood director John Huston was the first race on a camel borrowed from the San Francisco Zoo.