A Day at the Virginia City Camel & Ostrich Races

Every September, camels, ostriches, and jockeys from around the world converge on Virginia City, Nevada for the former mining town’s International Camel & Ostrich Races. We attended the quirky event last year, and it’s taking place again this weekend for the 54th time.

During the sizzling Saturday afternoon we visited Virginia City, before the ostriches and camels took to the dusty course, we first stopped by the Silver Queen Hotel & Saloon. The image of the ‘Silver Queen’ covers an entire wall, and her dress glistens with more than 3,000 silver dollars. We also perused candy stores lined with barrels brimming with water taffy, display cases filled with plates of caramel apples, and squares of rich, delicious fudge.  As motorcycles chugged along the road past porticoed storefronts adorned with red, white and blue bunting, we brushed shoulders with individuals that could’ve stepped off a wild west film set. There were opportunities to pan for gold, explore the now-defunct mines that made some speculators billions in the 1800s, and pose with John Wayne cut-outs. But we would save those activities for another time, for we had come to spend the day at the races. We did, however, succumb to having our sepia-toned image snapped at one of the local photo studios. In the last photo of this post, you can see us masquerading as bank robbers.

Down by the camel race track, a banjoist strummed away, while a twangy-voiced emcee got the ostriches and camels’ professional and novice jockeys ready to go. And soon they were off, kicking up tornado-like spirals of dirt as they made their way around the course. By the afternoon’s end, we left Virginia City with sun-kissed cheeks, dusty shoes, and the certainty that we’ll never look at camels in quite the same way as we had before these races in the wild, wild west.

Red Dog Saloon Virginia City
The Red Dog Saloon.
Virginia City Street Scenes
A woman in a hoop skirt (left) and a man donning cowboy boots.
Virginia City ostriches
A Marlboro Man look-like (left) and a curious pair of ostriches (right).
Virginia City Ostrich Races
And they’re off! A trio of ostriches just through the starting gate.
kids chasing virginia city ostriches
Children chase a trio of ostriches.
virginia city 6
Camels at the starting line.
Virginia City Camel Races
Three camels rush through the starting gates.
Virginia City Camel
A camel strikes a pose.
Virginia City Camel Races2

Virginia City Camel Races3

Virginia City International Camel Races Spectators
Spectators, sitting on bales of hay under direct sunlight, watch the races.
Boy riding virginia city camel
A little boy can’t contain his enthusiasm while riding a camel.
A Yorkshire Terrier pup, sporting a bandana and sheriff’s badge, leaves his mark on a Virginia City fire hydrant.
Virginia City Scenes

Virginia City Shop Details
Nineteenth-century chandeliers adorn the ceiling of a saloon (left) and a red corset and white, feathery boa (right).
virginia city bunting
Festive bunting adorns a shop’s front porch.
Virginia City Scenes

virginia city museum
The Virginia City museum pays homage to the town’s mining past.
Virginia City Street Scene 1

Virginia City Storefront
Ghost Hunters Delight Hotel
Virginia City Candy Shop
Bountiful mounds of water taffy.
Virginia City American flags

Virginia City Landscape
Sugarloaf Mountain.
Virginia City Sepia Shot
What’s become our Virginia City tradition: Stopping at Garters & Bloomers for an old-time photo with Shawn’s parents. During Shawn’s and my first visit together in 2010, we posed behind the saloon’s bar.

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • Virginia City’s camel races take place annually, in early September. While there is a fee to enter the races, one can watch the parade at no cost. See Virginia City’s website for more details.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

25 thoughts on “A Day at the Virginia City Camel & Ostrich Races

    1. Angeline, my husband and I convinced his parents to go when we were visiting the U.S. last year, and we’re so glad we did. If you’re feeling really adventurous, I think you can even sign up to ride an ostrich or camel.

      During the same weekend as the races, Reno also has its balloon races. You could combine the two if you go next year:


  1. I am LOL. You’ve got some great shots of a pretty quirky race. What fun and to think you’re making it a family tradition?? Robbing banks!!! The youngster on camel 1 gets my applause for even trying.

    1. Lynne, that little guy’s expression is priceless, isn’t it? I hopped on a camel in Egypt some years ago, and it was especially thrilling there because there were no stairs from which to get onto the camel’s back. I felt as though I’d slide off if I didn’t hang on for dear life!

      This was the first time we masqueraded as bank robbers in Virginia City. My husband’s family have lived in NV for many years, but had never made it to the races. Shawn and I were up in Virginia City in 2010 (when we did our infamous saloon shot) and convinced his parents to join us for the annual races and a photo session. Such fun playing dress-up! Virginia City also has a great history with Mark Twain having made appearances there.


  2. Sounds like fun. I love camels and watched a camel race in the United Arab Emirates a few years back. I enjoyed it so much I included it in my book. I love the vintage picture you had taken.

    1. Darlene, it’d be fascinating to see a more traditional race in the UAE. Do you have any photographs of the event online? I love that you incorporated it into your book!

      I went to Bahrain a few years ago, but didn’t make it outside of Manama. I’m curious what it was like out in the open desert.

      1. It was before I had a digital camera so I don’t have any pictures online. It was amazing and I loved the two weeks in the UAE.The trip to the open dessert was mind blowing.

      2. I’m guessing the mental images of your time there are pretty vivid. How much time did you spend in the desert? When I was in Morocco, I was tempted by the Sahara excursions other travelers I met were embarking on. Perhaps someday soon!

  3. +Tricia A. Mitchell. Fun! You have inspired me to do an everyday piece on the twice daily cattle drive through the streets of Fort Worth, Texas. Your photos reminded me of the area we call The Stockyards. Honky-Tonks, folks dressed up like cowboys (except that they are not in costume!), and plenty of boot-skootin’ at night. Have to wait ’til October though. The longhorns don’t seem to mind triple digit (Fahrenheit) heat, but I sure do!

    1. Deborah, that sounds like a great set of images in the making! It’s such a joy when there’s so much culture right in your backyard. Here in Bavaria, where we’re visiting my parents, we’ve been enjoying seeing the locals dressed up in Lederhosen and Dirndls, from time to time. Mostly, it’s for festivals and special holidays, but every once in a while, we’ll see a gentleman wearing a hunting hat with some feathers blowing in the crisp, mountain air.

      When you get your images up, be sure to share them on G+ :) (Your mention of TX also reminds me that I need to get there someday!)

    1. A quirky blend isn’t it? I found it interesting to learn that the camels were once used as work animals during the city’s mining days. I wonder how many places they globe trot to each year for such races?

  4. There are two spellings for the word JOYFUL – one is camel the other Virginia City. I just smiled and smiled all the way through your adventures in the ” Wild West”. XX Virginia

    1. Thanks so much, Gerard! We had that photo taken at a place called ‘Garters & Bloomers.’ The name of the business evokes the appropriate degree of whimsy for the kind of photos one could have taken there – everything from bank-robbing scenes, to tending a saloon bar, to families climbing into a decorative, old-fashioned claw-foot bathtub. :)

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