VIRGINIA CITY - The day was bright and clear, the breeze was warm and it was standing room only Saturday for Virginia City's 42nd annual International Camel Races, where a host of exotics and their jockeys vied for honors.
The races are a mix of entertainment as camels, chickens, emus, and ostriches raced for the finish line. Virginia City "Mayor" Monte Wolf, erstwhile DJ at KOH radio station in Reno, acted as master of ceremonies and Larry Elliott offered some mighty fine pickin' on his banjo.
The Virginia City Gunslingers and Saloon Girls were in their finest and to top it all off, Kowboy Kal and his horse, Easy Dancer, offered a lot of neat tricks and hometown fun. The camel racing wasn't bad either, unless, of course, you happened to be the jockey.
"I've ridden horses all my life," said camel jockey Dena Cox, of Reno. "I've even been struck by lightning E But this was tough."
Despite the rigors, Cox said she loves the races because she loves the animals.
"I enjoyed this very much," said Margot Hall, of Santa Cruz, Calif. "It's very much like horse racing, but you never know what the animals are going to do."
The crowd was as varied as the entertainment as young and old gathered for the event. Little boys played in the dust as dad supervised and grandma watched from the bleachers. Straw hats abounded and the light, tropical scent of sunscreen mingled with that of hot dogs on the grill.
The races were born in 1959 when newspaper editor Bob Richards had a three-inch hole in the front page of Virginia City's "Territorial Enterprise." He filled the space with results from a fictional camel race and a legend was born.
The race became a reality in 1960 and the following year, a host of Hollywood's finest including Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift and director John Huston were filming Arthur Miller's classic, "The Misfits" in the area.
The group got into the act and the San Francisco Chronicle and Phoenix Sun challenged each other to a race on camel back. Camels were imported from the San Francisco and it's been an annual event ever since.