Finding the beauty in the camel

Rick Gunn/Nevada Appeal file Nevada Appeal features editor Teri Vance won the first heat of the camel races media grudge match last year but lost in the final round.

Rick Gunn/Nevada Appeal file Nevada Appeal features editor Teri Vance won the first heat of the camel races media grudge match last year but lost in the final round.

Sure they grunt. And, yeah, they spit -well, technically, projectile vomit. They don't really smell good, and they're not very agile.

But camels also have they're good points.

OK, none I can think of right off, but they're fun to ride. That disjointed feeling that the back half and front aren't exactly moving in the same direction just adds to the sheer camel-riding delight.

Try as I might to convince my media colleagues to join me in the Virginia City Camel Races, every year they refuse.

So I'll stop wasting precious ink on the cowards - and you know who you are.

This year, I will dedicate this space to those who have, like me, found a fondness for that particular beast of burden.

The first camel races were devised in 1866 by sportsmen and miners, who used the dromedaries to transport salt to the Comstock mills.

How many other races were run is not documented, but they definitely did not extend past 1875, when camels were outlawed by the Nevada State Legislature because they scared horses.

The idea was reborn in 1959, when The Territorial Enterprise editor Bob Richards wrote a spoof of the races.

He published the results of a fictional camel race and, while locals took it tongue-in-cheek, the wire services picked it up, and the story went nationwide.

The following year, Richards was challenged by the San Francisco Chronicle, who had taken his article seriously.

As legend has it, they leased camels from the San Francisco Zoo then raced down C Street.

The event gained immediate notoriety because Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, who were nearby filming "The Misfits," joined director John Huston for a day at the races.

Since then, it has become an annual event, with the international championships being held every other year, alternating with Alice Springs, Australia.

Prior to the championship races, however, is what is known as the "media grudge match."

Last year, filmmaker Soso Whaley traveled from New Hampshire to make her camel-racing debut in Virginia City.

"I found a lot more than I expected," she said. "Between the camel races and Virginia City itself, it just has so much ambiance."

The animal trainer won acclaim for her documentary "Me & Mickey D," for which she lost 10 pounds and lowered her cholesterol by 40 points by eating exclusively at McDonald's for 30 days. The film was a response to "Super Size Me" by Morgan Spurlock, who claimed that eating exclusively at McDonald's caused him to gain weight and ruined his health.

Soso combined her love of animals with her passion for making films, in her new project "Dromedary Daze," which will be shown throughout the race weekend in order to identify participants and give the camel jockeys and organizers of the event an opportunity to see the film before it is officially released.

She plans to show the finished product at this year's Reno Film Festival.

But right now, her mind is just on the race.

As is mine.

My own history with the races began four years ago when former Appeal city reporter Amanda Hammon and I entered on a fluke.

Upon arriving, we discovered we were the only media representatives in the race - the other contestants were mostly prostitutes from area brothels.

Although I understand that a girl's got to make a living, I couldn't help but feel a little bit like I'd stepped into an alternate universe. But all of that is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that I won.

I went back the next year to defend my title, but lost - barely - to Mike McGinnis, who hosted the "Tahoe Variety Show."

Last year, I lost by a mile when my second camel, crazy Mad Max, refused to race, instead spinning in circles and crashing into fences, allowing a helmet-wearing entertainment writer from the Reno Gazette-Journal to claim victory.

This year, there will be no more excuses. It's time to grab the camel by the hump and reclaim my beastly crown.

n Contact reporter Teri Vance at or at 881-1272.

If you go:

Schedule of events for the International Virginia City Camel Races:

Thursday: 6:30 p.m.: jockey party at the Union Brewery, 63 N. C St.

Friday: 1 p.m.: gates open

1:30 p.m.: Media Races begin

7 p.m.: Camel Hump Ball at The Depot, E Street between Sutton and Main streets.

Saturday: Noon: Grand Parade on C Street

1:30 p.m.: Races begin

Sunday: 1:30 p.m.: Races begin

4 p.m.: Championship Races and awards ceremony

For more information, go to


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