Believe it or not, you can witness real live races of camels and ostriches in Virginia City. I've watched it myself 4 or five times!
The event is held the weekend following Labor Day (September), lasting 3 days.
The race alternates between Alice Springs (Australia) and Virginia City (NV, USA). Alice Springs has their races mid-May.
History goes that in the early 50's the playful editor of the local paper printed fake results from the week's camel races. The locals new it was just for fun, but then the San Fransisco Chronical decided to call his bluff.
That's when the newspapers from Phoenix (AZ) and Indio (CA) came to the aid and actually brought some camels and the races were realized. Also some camels came from the SF Zoo.
Later ostriches were added to spice things up a bit... and even emus.
"Ironically, when Richards cooked up his spoof, he was drawing from a real episode in Virginia City's colorful past. In September 1861, two Virginia City men, Marius and Louis Chevalier, purchased nine bacterians (two-humped camels) to haul salt that was used in the process of refining silver." (NV Commission on Tourism)
Camels were used because they were believed to be better suited to the climate and would be cheaper. All was well until NV outlawed camels on the roads. "Some of the camels were moved to other states, but many were turned loose in the desert. Wild herds were reported as late as the mid-1930s."
Cost is VIP $35 / General admission $10 / Jr, Sr, Military $8
For a mere $200 you can even jockey a camel provided by the event staff!
Once the home of Virginia City's richest man, John Mackay, this house has seen many distinguised visitors. It was built in 1859 by George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst. Tours are available. Visiting on a weekday, I even had my own individual tour. The stories are great.
Born in Ireland in 1831, John Mackay moved to Virginia City from Downieville, California in 1859, upon hearing of the silver strike. He had made relatively little from gold prospecting in California, and was ready to try something else.
In Nevada, he made far more. His background as an apprentice ship-builder made him very adept at constructing mine shafts. He also had an astute business sense, and so became very wealthy. But he never forgot his humble roots. Mackay was a great philanthropist, who did a lot for the town.
There are about 1500 wild horses that travel in groups of 2 - 20 animals. These horses have been hunted in the near past for sport by some idiots. The town has a few places where you can donate money towars helping to save the wild horses. Driving back to Reno from Virginia City, we spotted two of them next to the higway. The best time to see them is in the morning and early evening.
Silver was what put this on the map in the 1860's. It was the largest deposit in the world at one time. They kept digging, right under the city, then called Comstock. There are two mine tours, Ponderosa Saloon Mine Tour and Chollar. This was the Saloon one, and really well preserved heritage down under, where for $4 a day, they dug out the passages and brought out the silver in the rock to process. Situated on Mt. Davidson, it has tunnels all around the surrounding area, and some/many have already collapsed. The town is under that threat also.
The $400 million that was mined allowed San Francisco to become a thriving city, because many went there to also live and purchase items.
There is a street just off the main street that had a series of mansions. About 6 are still standing and a couple in renovation for tours. This tour was a nice one that still had the setting just like it was back then. The family has owned and preserved it for these years, and one continues to live here. The other home tour is the Mackey Mansion, more in the town sector, and it is nice also.
Here is a collection of authentic Gold Rush memorabilia, including mining gear, tools, equipment used to assay the silver, a safe, and many other items. This is a good primer on life in this town during the boom years.
This is the most lavish building in Virginia City, still a working courthouse. Built in 1876, it replaced an earlier one that had burned down. This is the oldest continuously operating courthouse in the state of Nevada.
Juliette Bullette was a prostitute in Virginia City during the boom years. She was well-liked and even respected. This museum has exhibits about her and about the world's oldest profession, as it was practiced here in Bullette's time. This includes some displays of vintage medical equipment (these things always make me grateful to be living in the 21st century).
This is an old-style Western saloon, home of the notorious "Suicide Table". Legend has it that a number of people have been so unlucky playing on it that they actually committed suicide. There are many sad stories associated with this artifact. It now sits in a dark corner of the saloon.
St. Mary in the Mountains is considered, "Nevada?s Greatest Religious Landmark" and a "Gothic gem". It really is one of the most beautiful Catholic churches that I've seen in my life. This church was originally burned in a fire that swept through Virginia City, this new building was completed in 1876, and Mass of Dedication was September 16, 1877. It was 107 years later that a twenty-five years of restoration efforts ended with the 107th Anniversary of the Dedication.
...camel & ostrich races! Pictures taken at this event are so goofy and hilarious they automatically qualify for publication in any magazine! or they should, at least. This saloon town is a full-day event and definitely go during the annual camel races. We had a great lunch looked at the old theatre in the midst of renovation, strolled along the main drag, total authentic saloon feel with oodles of Harleys stopping through on the way to Sturgis, gazed at the wonderful old church in dire need of renovation, saw a "tame" female panther that a guy travels around with, ate homemade beef jerky - major weakness - and wrapped up the day at the old cemetary, also seeking support for renovation. I was moved by the view of this little Old West silver town perched at the base of the mountains. They've invited tourism and made it really work.
This restored building is actually the third reincarnation of Piper's Opera House. The first was built in 1862 and burned in the great fire of 1875 (which pretty much burned the entire town and is why many of the buildings show a building date of 1876). But Piper's Opera House burned once again in a smaller fire in 1883. The present structure was built in 1885 and left to rot for generations. But thanks to substantial grants from the state of Nevada, the U.S. Agricultural Service and the National Parks system--the Opera House has now been carefully restored. It is open to the public and actually hosts live events.
Designed to accomodate over 1,000 students, the Fourth Ward School Building is the most prominent building on the south side of Virginia City. Built at a cost of over $100,000 in 1876, it was mainly financed by the mining companies that reaped enormous profits from the sweat of the miners.
The school had all the latest gadgets including running water on each of the four floors plus Philadelphia style flush toilets.
The school was in use through 1936. Today it is a museum.
Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan wrote. 'No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.'
All you have to do is take a stroll around the cemetary in Virginia City to see that Hobbes had a point. So many people sought fame and fortune in these hills of silver, a pitiful few did strike it rich, but so many more died in pursuit of wealth never attained, and what is worse, died young in their 20s and 30s.
This striking Catholic church is the landmark that anchors the northern end of Virginia City. It was built in 1876 (once again after the great fire of 1875) in a gothic revival style. It remains a parish church in the Reno dioceses. But according to the Salt Lake Tribune it currently has a congregation of only 25 families.
The current pastor, Rev. Joe Anthony is trying to comb through the copious items piled in the basement over generations in order to establish a museum on site.