For Gary Jackson, it was love at first sight - at least with the camels. Diane took a few minutes longer for him to win over.
Jackson, co-owner with his wife, Diane, of Nevada Camel Co. in Stagecoach, was smitten by camels more than 15 years ago while assisting and then racing in the Virginia City Camel Races.
"I fell in love with the animals," Jackson said, adding that his previous work with horses probably helped him communicate with camels.
"I found I had an connection with them," he said Tuesday while taking a break from a camel tour around the 60-acre ranch with three girls visiting from Florida.
The girls, staying with their families at Incline Village, are experienced equestrians who discovered the listing for the camel ranch in the Yellow Pages under "Horse Stables."
Riding camels is "a lot different" than riding a horse, said Kaitlyn Granger, who rode Milagro.
"There's no up and down to a horse."
"It's intimidating," said Alyson Booth, Michael's rider. "At first you're excited - then you're face to face with them."
Michael likes to test new riders to see what he can get away with.
Alyson's sister, Natalie, rode Laverne, who wanted to kneel unexpectedly.
"They have the intellect level of a 4-year-old child," Diane Jackson said, "with personality and quirks."
Jackson encountered his first full-scale camel ranches - three of them - during the 1987 Camel Cup Race in Alice Springs, Australia.
"I saw people making money with camels and said, 'That's not a real job.'"
With a bigger tourist base in Nevada and less camel-ranching competition, he figured it was worth a go.
His first camel caused Diane to notice him.
In 1992, Jackson was giving camel rides at a fair in Colusa, Calif. He noticed a woman walking across the grounds looking pretty down in the dumps. His pickup line had an unusual hook.
"Hi. You want to meet my camel?"
"Camels were a unique part of this unique guy with long blond hair and a camel looking over his shoulder," she said, laughing. "He came as a package deal."
Her experience with animals had been limited to small dogs. Now she helps manage a menagerie of large animals more common in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Jacksons have eight camels, with a baby possibly on the way. Six ostriches were added for the Virginia City races.
They also have emus for races in which children herd the birds to the finish line with brooms.
Their petting zoo includes more usual animals: pygmy goats, pot-bellied and regular pigs, ducks and chickens.
"We have a couple of llamas down there (in the pens)," she said. "I'm not sure why. I'm not real fond of llamas."
Most of the Jacksons' animals are considered farm animals - even the emu and ostriches. The camels, however, are exotic under Nevada law and subject to special licensing requirements, such as the type of fencing and shade.
"There's a lot of hoops to jump through," she said.
All that, even though camels have a place in Lyon County history.
During the Comstock period, salt was carried by camel trains from the flats near Fallon to the Virginia City mines. Legend has it that once the animals were no longer useful, they were turned out to fend for themselves.
An alternate theory is that they were taken to a camel auction in Benicia, Calif., where, Diane Jackson said, they probably were originally purchased.
Nevada's last known wild camel was spotted in the 1930s, when it wandered into Goldfield and was shot for disturbing the horses.
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Today, the Jacksons' camels are constructively occupied giving rides at the ranch, in camel races and at fairs and special events.
"We're really popular at Christmastime," Diane said of the camels' popularity in live nativity scenes.
Camel ranching turned out to be more work and less money than Jackson expected. The income from the events and activities pays the upkeep for most of the animals, but Jackson also works in sheet metal, heating and air to keep himself and Diane in food and shelter.
Jackson now calls his original urge for a camel ranch "a momentary lapse of intelligence talking."
If you go:
Nevada Camel Co.
Address: 11625 Highway 50 East between Dayton and Stagecoach
ON THE NET
Camel ranching in the United States
Sally Taylor is night editor for the Nevada Appeal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 881-1210.