Camels running wild (kind of) in Virginia City

Ita€™s crazy to think about the days when camels roamed freely on the Comstock. Crazy in the thrilling kind of way.

What would it be like to just happen upon a camel grazing in the hills around Virginia City?

Well, I guess it wasna€™t so fun, especially for those riding horses. The camels, which were used in the mid-1800s to transport salt to the Comstock mills, were eventually banned by the Nevada State Legislature in 1875 because they scared horses. Plus, they stank really bad.

I can only imagine what that would have been like.

Once, when my sisters and I were working cows with our dad south of Wells, we came upon a donkey.

We heard it before we saw it. But we werena€™t quite sure what we were hearing. Our horses, for sure, were uncertain.

Then the little beast of burden began to take shape a€" the shape of giant, malformed, buck-toothed jackrabbit.

Curiosity turned to mayhem.

All five horses lost their minds. It was a jumbled mess of horses trying to bolt, then crow hopping and spinning.

And we couldna€™t stop laughing.

That little donkey noticed the familial resemblance with the horses a€" even if they denied any similarities a€" and stuck with us the rest of the day, even following us home.

Eventually, a sort of truce was reached as the donkey trotted along behind us. The horses generally ignored it, but continued to lurch forward, startled, every time it let loose one of its horn-like brays.

Ia€™m sure camels created even more havoc. But thata€™s because their true potential had not yet been discovered: racing.

While they may be a nuisance roaming free, they are pure joy in the arena.

What started as a joke in the Territorial Enterprise in 1959 has now become an annual event.

This year, the Virginia City International Camel Races celebrates its 50th year featuring camel, ostrich and emu races.

It will be my seventh race in the media grudge match, where I typically race whoever I can (the first year I raced the ladies from the Mound House brothels) because my colleagues are too chicken to show up. Then I twist the truth to make it seem like I win every year (Ita€™s OK to do that when youa€™re in Mark Twain territory).

Joe Hedrick, of Hedricka€™s Exotic Animal Farm in Kansas, will provide the camels and ostriches this year.

I rode his camels for the first time last year. They are fast and wiry, which kind of makes me stop breathing for a second. Although domesticated and no longer roaming the Comstock, you still get the feeling theya€™re just running wild.

The Media Grudge Match starts at 1 p.m., as do the professional races Saturday and Sunday.

Come on out ... but you might want to leave the horses at home.

a€¢Â Teri Vance can be reached at tvance@nevadaappeal.com.

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