Racing Camels, Ostriches and Zebras in Nevada’s Historic Virginia City A Tradition Dating Back 64 Years and Steeped in Comstock Lore
VIRGINIA CITY, Nev. – It’s a story 64 years in the making – the historic silver mining town of Virginia City, Nevada, and racing camels, ostriches and zebras for a roaring crowd of thousands of onlookers – and it’s happening again this Sept. 8-10, 2023. Virginia City is a town that honors its history and heritage down to the roots, no matter how quirky they are. When, 64 years ago, the first camels were raced down the town’s C Street, it became an instant tradition and today one of northern Nevada’s favorite family-fun events.
The small mountain mining town is home to the site of the discovery of the largest silver ore deposit in North America, the Comstock Lode. When miners struck it rich on silver in 1859 the town soon boomed into one of the largest cities between Denver and San Francisco. Today, the town wears its history as a badge of honor with a mostly unchanged main street, buildings dating to the 1850s, more than 10 museums, mine tours and vintage train rides. Not a place that shys away from history, the town celebrates its wild annual special events with as much fervor as its mining history. The International Camel & Ostrich Races are a testament to tradition.
The first camel race in 1959 was the result of a sort of rivalry between the Territorial Enterprise, Virginia City’s newspaper (known for being Mark Twain’s first writing gig) and the San Francisco Chronicle. The editor of the Territorial Enterprise printed a fictitious story about camel races in Virginia City as a hoax, and the editor of the Chronicle reprinted it. The following year, not happy about being made a fool, the Chronicle sent a team to race in Virginia City with a camel borrowed from the San Francisco Zoo – thus beginning a tradition.
During the event, professional and amateur jockeys maneuver their trained animals around the U-shaped track in short but highly entertaining racing heats. Jockeys from the International Society of Camel Jockeys vie for the World Title while amateurs, media and those from sponsoring companies race for laughs and an adrenaline jolt. Even attendees can participate in a race for a fee of $500, and some pre-race training. Entertainment and music between races keeps the crowd involved with section competitions, games and more. A carnival-like atmosphere rounds out the event with food and drink vendors, arts and crafts and even camel rides for the whole family to enjoy.
Starting Friday, Sept. 8, Hot Camel Nights offers a Friday evening race and an opportunity to soak in a bit more of Virginia City by exploring the town during the day and staying for the nightlife afterward. Races continue with two shows Saturday, Sept. 9 and Family Day Sunday, Sept. 10.
Tickets are available now online at VisitVirginiaCityNV.com. Pricing is as follows:
- • General Admission – $20
- • Premium Shaded Seating – $30
- • Kids (3-12)/Seniors General Admission – $13
- • *VIP Bleacher Seating – $55
- • *VIP Reserved Front Row Table for 6 – $400
- • *VIP Reserved Interior Table for 6 – $365
- • Upper Arena Reserved Parking Pass – $25
*All VIP seating is tented and includes a meal.
For more information on Virginia City, Nevada, visit VisitVirginiaCityNV.com or call the Virginia City Tourism Commission (VCTC) at 775-847-7500.
A short 45-minute drive from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport takes visitors to one of the largest historic districts in the United States – Virginia City, Nevada. Come experience this mining “boomtown” as it was in the 1800’s. Step back in time while visiting the numerous historic buildings, saloons, churches and museums or take a mine tour or even ride a real steam train. The Comstock Adventure Passes offer the best value with discounted attraction packages. For lodging, event calendar or Comstock Adventure Passes, visit online or call 775-847-7500. The Visitor Information Center is located at 86 South C Street, Virginia City.