Burro Days! Burro Races, Llamas & Outhouses in Fairplay CO

Burro Days! Burro Races, Llama Races, Outhouse Races and More!

Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado - Last full weekend in July_

.

July 2023 – We’d been hanging out in Buena Vista, Colorado, during our summer RV tour, and one afternoon we took a drive north to check out the town of Fairplay. As we came into town, we spotted a big sign that said, “Burro Days – Last Full Weekend in July”

Huh? What on earth was Burro Days? Whatever it was, we were intrigued! We checked the calendar, and the festival started the very next day. Perfect!

When we got back to our RV, we poked around on the internet and discovered that Burro Days is an annual festival — and burro race! — that has taken place in Fairplay, Colorado, every summer since 1949.

Officially known as the World Championship Pack-Burro Race, there were just 21 entrants back in 1949, and they ran from Leadville, Colorado, up and over towering Mosquito Pass (13,185’ elevation!) and down the other side of the mountain into the town of Fairplay for a $500 cash prize. Not surprisingly, only 8 participants finished that race!

Today, there’s 3-day festival that features not only burro races starting and ending in Fairplay (with one race still taking contestants on mountain trails to the top of Mosquito Pass and back!), but also a “Llama Rama” (a what??), a dog race, a llama race, a parade down Front Street and an outhouse race!

We just HAD to check this out!

Front Street Fairplay Colorado

Fairplay’s historic buildings on Front Street are quaint and inviting.

Fairplay got its name back in 1859 when gold rush latecomers found themselves unable to get into one of the bigger mining camps in the area called Tarryall. Frustrated, they nicknamed that camp “Grab-all” and set up a new camp which they called “Fair Play.”

Still fond of playing with words, Fairplay welcomes visitors to town today with a big blue silhouette of Sasquatch bearing the Colorado logo and the letters “WTF” — “Welcome to FairPlay!”

Welcome to Fairplay Colorado

.

While Highway 9 runs right through the middle of town, the historic part of town is on Front Street, and that was where the Burro Days races and parade took place. Much of the rest of town was filled with artisan tents and food tents throughout the weekend.

The buildings along Front Street are really appealing, and crowds grew quickly in front of each establishment in anticipation of the races.

Fairplay Colorado Front Street Buildings

All the shops were open and people milled around waiting for the fun to begin.

Ellen's Place on Front Street in Fairplay Colorado

There were plenty of places to grab lunch and/or a brew!

The Distillery in Fairplay Colorado on Burro Days

.

Colorado Delorme Atlas

Unfortunately, we missed the first race of the day — the Dog Race — by 5 minutes. The contestants in that race are all kids, and they run alongside their leashed dogs. The course is short, so arriving a few minutes late meant we missed it all together. Rats! Next time!!

However, the llamas had begun to arrive in their trailers, and we saw a few peeking out at the growing crowd.

A Llama waits for the Llama Rama on Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

.

Buddy was especially disappointed that we missed the dog race, so when we saw the llamas hanging out with their owners in the middle of Front Street — the “Llama Rama” — he wanted to make sure he saw one up close.

He was very intrigued by their smell — and vice versa!

Llama and puppy meet at the Llama Rama during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

Buddy meets his first llama.

If you haven’t seen a llama up close, they are really big! When you look at them they look back at you at eye level!

Llama Rama at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

Llamas are as tall as people, just a different shape!

Llama Rama during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

Racers were posing with their llamas for anyone with a camera or phone!

As proud owners showed off their beautiful llamas, we realized that the llama race involves a lot of whimsy. The entrants were teams of four people and one llama, and the idea was that all five would run together, the llama tethered on a leash and the four people running alongside.

But the runners weren’t wearing typical running race garb. They were dressed up in all kinds of crazy costumes!

One group of gals paid homage to the brown furry coat of their llama with brown tutu skirts. They wore little llama ears too.

Llama Races at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

.

Most of the llamas came dressed in regular llama attire, but one had been to the groomer and wore fluffy knickers and a thick llama fur stole around her neck. Her black two-toed feet looked like she was wearing party shoes!

Llama Rama at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

Dressed for success!

Suddenly, Mark said, “Hey, there’s a guy over there in pajamas!” I turned and grabbed a quick pic, but it was only later that I remembered the Ogden Nash poem (and explanatory footnote):

The one-l lama, he’s a priest.
The two-l llama, he’s a beast.
And I will bet a silk pajama
There isn’t any three-l lllama*

*The author’s attention has been called to a type of conflagration known as a three-alarmer. Pooh.

I’m not sure if this guy’s pink, llama-covered PJs were made of silk, but his outfit definitely was a three-alarmer!

Silk pajama Llama at Llama Rama in Fairplay Colorado

Three-l lllama?

Mark also remembered a song that his daughter loved when she was a little girl: “Me and my llama are going to the dentist today.”

He’d sung it to me before, and it’s cute, but I’d never gotten the joke until I took a few portrait shots of these wonderful llama faces.

Llama portrait at the Llama Rama during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

“Going to the dentist today!”.

Reese Goosebox

We roamed among the llamas and their people at the Llama Rama for a while, and then suddenly they all lined up behind the start line and took off running on the count of three.

Llama Race at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

The race is on.

As soon as the llamas had raced down Front Street, the crowd ran to the far side of the street to a ridge overlooking a dirt trail in the distance. Before long, the llamas and their people appeared on that trail, racing away.

Llama Race during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

.

Some of them were bunched together and others had gotten a little separated, leaving the person holding the llama’s tether to run on his or her own.

In some cases the llama bounded happily ahead.

Burro Days llama races in Fairplay Colorado

“Weeeeee!”

And in some cases the person was towing the llama behind!

Llama Race during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

“Not so fast!”

There was lots of confusion in the crowd about where the course would go from there and how long it would be until the llamas came back to the finish line, but suddenly the announcer said the leaders were coming in. It was the team of Game Wardens — all very fit looking runners — and they soon crossed the line for the win.

Not far behind, the Search and Rescue team came running in for second place with four guys looking equally fit and serious.

Llama Race winners at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

The Game Wardens took the win in the Llama Race.

Although the first two teams duked it out for the win, most of the teams and their llamas seemed to be happy just to be out running together on such a beautiful day.

Llama Race at Fairplay Colorado Burro Days

All smiles.

As the llama teams went past, a gal standing next to me named Amanda was keeping a close eye out for her team. She and her husband have 9 llamas on their 35 acre ranch, Shining Mountain Llamas, and they had selected two for the Burro Days events.

She explained that they raise their llamas for high altitude hikers who want to have help carrying their gear. Llamas are good natured animals, are native to mountains that are 17,000′ high, can make their way over difficult terrain like fallen trees, and contentedly eat pine cones and other things found on the trail so there’s no need to carry special feed for them. Hunters and mountaineers love having a llama or two along on their high altitude expeditions!

Llama Race at Fairplay Colorado Burro Days

One of Amanda’s two llamas happily trotted past us.

Of course, a few llamas were not very enthusiastic about the running aspect of the race. A few put their foot down and said, “No more!” and had to be coaxed over the finish line — to lots of laughter and cheers from the crowd!

Reluctant llama in the Llama Races at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

“Come on — it’s just a few more feet to the finish line!

The dog race, llama race and Llama Rama were all held on Saturday, while the headline event — the burro races — were reserved for Sunday. We could feel the excitement as we pulled into town for the first of the two burro races the next day.

The announcer was standing on a second floor balcony, entertaining the crowd and keeping all the events running smoothly.

Race and parade announcer at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

The announcer kept everything rolling, from races to the parade, all day long.

We’d done a little homework overnight and learned that “burro” is simply the Spanish word for “donkey,” a particular species of equine animal.

Mules, on the other hand, like the ones we had seen at the Grand Canyon a few weeks prior, are not a species but are a hybrid animal that is the offspring of a female horse and a male donkey. The resulting animal is infertile. Cross-breeding the other way — a male horse and female donkey — isn’t done because of the large size of the baby and the small size of the mother donkey.

It turns out that burros come in three sizes, small, medium and large (“miniature,” “standard” and “mammoth”). When the burros lined up at the starting line, you could see the size differences between them!

The first burro race was the “long course” race — 29+ miles round trip from Fairplay, which is at 9,953’ elevation, to the top of Mosquito Pass at 13,185’ elevation, and then back down again. Longer than a marathon (which is 26.2 miles) and raced at insanely high elevations, this is one heck of a race!!

Start of the long distance burro race at Fairplay Colorado Burro Days

29 miles to go — Both mini and standard burros and their runners left the starting line for a long day of racing high up into the mountain peaks and back down again in the “long course” race.

Each racing team consists of just one runner and one burro, and it is very grueling for both. Unlike a traditional marathon, there are no water stations along the way, although there are checkpoints, and fans can watch from public property.

The burros were carrying packs which held whatever the racers might need: water bottles, energy food, clothing for the high elevation at the top and/or other survival necessities. The runners carried the burro’s tether and more water and food and other goodies.

We found out later that the long race at Burro Days in Fairplay is actually the first race in the “Triple Crown” of burro races each summer. The other two races are held in nearby Leadville and Buena Vista in August.

At the far end of Front Street there is a reconstructed living history museum mining camp called South Park City, and when the runners and burros passed under the South Park City gate around 10:20 in the morning to begin their trek to Mosquito Pass and back, they weren’t expected to be seen again until late afternoon at the very earliest. Some wouldn’t come in until sunset or after dark or even as late as midnight!

Burro Race heads out the South Park Gate in Burro Days at Fairplay Colorado

The “long course” burro racers left Front Street and entered the living history museum mining camp of South Park City on their way into the mountains for a very long trek to Mosquito Pass and back.

But for the crowd on Front Street, attention quickly turned to the second burro race of the day, the “short course” race which is a mere 15 miles of similar outback terrain!

The burros, large and small, soon lined up with their owners. Again, the burros wore packs and the runners were prepared for anything and everything the mountains might throw at them.

Burro Days Fairplay Colorado start of the short distance burro race

The “short course” burro race (a mere 15 miles) gets underway.

We watched a burro named Ivy go by with her owner. We’d met them before the race, and she’d told us that Ivy was a rescue burro. Her mother had been kept in very poor conditions and fed candy bars, so she was diabetic. Fortunately, Ivy was thriving now, and both owner and burro were eager to do the race.

Burro Days shorter distance burro race in Fairplay Colorado

Ivy and her owner begin the “short course” burro race.

Soon, the “short course” racers passed under the South Park City gate and headed into the mountains beyond. Although their race wouldn’t take all day, the fastest racers still weren’t expected back for about two and a half hours!

Burro Race leaves Front Street and South Park in Fairplay Colorado Burro Days

Off they go into the mountains!

With nothing else to do while we waited for the burros and their companion runners to chase each other back to us, the crowd settled in for a really fun parade. Burro Days is non-stop action!

The parade began with the rumble of motorcycles in the distance. Soon, the color guard marched past followed by a group of roaring bikes.

Parade during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

.

Humorous costumes are a big theme at Burro Days, and there were several fun floats and groups in the parade. The “pothole patrol” went by followed by a clever rendition of the Titanic, complete with an iceberg.

Parade during Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado - the Pothole Brigade

Watch out for those potholes!

Burro Days Parade in Fairplay Colorado - Titanic Float

And watch out for that iceberg too!

The Rodeo Queen and Princess looked very regal as they went by in full regalia on their horses.

Rodeo Princess and Rodeo Queen at Burro Days Parade in Fairplay Colorado

Rodeo Queen and Princess.

The sky had been growing darker and darker during the parade, and then all of a sudden the heavens opened up and let loose, drenching everything and everyone in a massive torrent. The crowd scattered to shelter under any kind of overhang we could find, and umbrellas popped up here and there.

Luckily, the parade was almost over, and in no time the downpour ended and people wandered back out onto Front Street, no worse for wear.

A banjo player strolled around entertaining everyone.

Banjo player and little girl at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

.

Ryobi drill set

And then news of the returning “short course” burros filtered through the crowd and the emcee announced their arrival.

The gates to South Park City swung wide, and two runners and their burros appeared, flying towards us at top speed, racing neck and neck.

Winning stretch of short distance burro race at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

The first two “short course” burro racers appeared in the distance.

A roar went up in the crowd as they sprinted down Front Street. It was going to be a photo finish! And it was going to be a little burro against a big burro and younger runner against an older runner to boot!

Final stretch short distance burro race at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

It’s going to be a photo finish!!

The crowd went wild as we watched the fast footfalls of these four racers. They were racing their hearts out!

It was impossible to tell which pair might win until suddenly, at the last second, the little burro surged ahead and stretched out his feet and nose across the line for the win.

What a fantastic race!

Photo Finish short distance burro race at Burro Days in Fairplay Colorado

The little burro wins by a whisker!

We found out the little burro’s name was Ben and his 15 year old companion runner was Aidan Malherbe. Aidan’s family raises burros and he’s been racing them his whole life! He runs track and cross country and trains about 50 miles a week.

Burro Days Champion Ben in Fairplay Colorado

Zippy Fast Little Ben…with special shoes on his front hooves!

Burro Race Champions Ben (Burro) and Aidan (runner-trainer) Fairplay Colorado

The champs, Ben and Aidan Malherbe.

Edged out by inches, the second burro over the line was Tito with companion runner Brian Rawlings. Brian also runs about 50 miles a week and has raced burros for years. He hadn’t planned to run in this race, but a friend called him the night before asking if he could run with Tito because a runner had pulled out. Tito is a wild BLM burro that Brian’s friend had rescued and trained.

What a great story!

Burro Days 2nd place Tito (burro) and Brian (runner-trainer) Fairplay Colorado

2nd place by a hoof length, Tito and Brian Rawlings.

The winning time for these four outstanding athletes was 2 hours and 24 minutes, similar to fast marathon times. Even though the distance wasn’t a marathon distance (15 miles vs. 26.2), the race was held at extremely high altitude and the runners were managing a running burro the whole way.

What a fabulous athletic accomplishment for all of them, and what a thrill these fine athletes gave the crowd!

Of course, the front of the race was very intense, but further down the line it was sometimes a different story. One burro took a very casual attitude and decided it would be more fun to walk rather than run down the finishing stretch. And who could blame him after running 15 miles through the mountains?!

Burro Days short distance burro race with reluctant burro in Fairplay Colorado

“Come on…we’re almost there!”

He took his time and stepped delicately over the finish line.

Burro Days burro race - no need to rush over the finish line! _

“What’s the rush?”

Another burro crossed under the South Park City sign — still two blocks from the finish line — and decided to take a break. His companion runner tried to coax him down Front Street, but this burro had other ideas.

Burro Days burro doesn't want to run any more at the end of the race

“I know the finish line is right up ahead, but I’m going to take a little breather.”

The burro took matters into his own hands (hooves?) and headed off the race course straight into the crowd.

Burro Days racing burro decides to join the crowd at the end of the race in Fairplay Colorado

“I wonder what these people are doing over here?”

Eventually, all the burros made it across the finish line, and after a round of well earned congratulations and photos, the burros and their owners made their way back to their trailers. Meanwhile, the Outhouse Race participants were getting ready to roll!

B&W Tow & Go bumper hitch

There were only two entries in the Outhouse Race, but each team had been huddling at the starting line for a while, discussing their race strategies. Maneuvering an outhouse down a race course isn’t so easy!

Suddenly, they were off and running/rolling with a pair of runners on either side of the outhouse and a third guy sitting on the throne inside. Talk about laughter and hoots and hollers from the crowd!

Burro Days Outhouse Race in Fairplay Colorado

Ya gotta love an outhouse race!

Burro Days Outhouse Race in Fairplay Colorado

Don’t fall in!!

The long course burro racers were still a few hours out at this point, but we were pooped even though we hadn’t raced a step! So, we decided to leave all the festivities and head back to our trailer.

I’m not sure how the race went for the long course burro race contestants or when the winners finally arrived back in town, but their names will appear on the World Championship Pack-Burro Race Winners monument that stands near the finish line.

Burro Days monument of winners in Fairplay Colorado

World Championship Pack-Burro Race Winners, 1949-Present.

If your travels take you anywhere near Fairplay, Colorado, at the end of July, don’t miss the very special Burro Days festival.

Meet a llama, pet a burro, and laugh as the outhouses careen down the road. It’s a total blast!

Note added later: RVing friends of ours who saw the burro race in Leadville told us that the winner of the long course races in both Fairplay and Leadville this year was the adorable little burro named Buttercup. She won the Fairplay Burro Days World Championship race in 5 hours, 26 minutes and 11 seconds with her running partner, Martin Sandoval. Unfortunately, the winner’s wreath did not adorn her neck in Buena Vista the following week, so she didn’t win the Triple Crown, but she has a lot of fans that love her!
Storage ottoman with tray top and drawer

Subscribe
Never miss a post — it’s free!

More info:

Other races we’ve seen in our travels:

More articles from Colorado:

Our most recent posts:

More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.   New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff and check out our GEAR STORE!!

<-Previous || Next->

12 thoughts on “Burro Days! Burro Races, Llamas & Outhouses in Fairplay CO

  1. How were the mosquitos? I was in Colorado 2 years ago at the start of August and the mosquitos were eating me alive! I was in western Colorado near Grand Junction, and see you were east of me by a couple hundred miles. From that point on I decided to stay in a drier climate at this time of year to save my arms and legs from getting eaten alive!

    • The mosquitos have been hit-or-miss in Colorado, Gary. When we were in the wildflowers in Crested Butte, the bugs were intense. Going early in the morning before the bugs were out of bed helped a lot, and a good repellent was helpful too. In Fairplay during Burro Days there weren’t any at all!

  2. Fun pictures, thanks for sharing. We always stopped in Fairplay on our way to Estes back in the day (1960s) and we loved it. I had never heard of walking or racing burros until my friend took it up a few years ago. Looks like everyone was having lots of fun including Buddy.

    • It was a really fun day, Liz! We knew nothing about any of it, but it was easy to get swept up in the good times once we got there. I was astonished afterwards to find out that pack-burro racing is a big thing and that what we’d seen was not only the World Championships but the first of the Triple Crown races! The stamina of the burros and the runners is unbelievable…they are true Ultra-Marathon athletes running an incredibly challenging race!

  3. What fun! We’ll be back in CO next year and I’ll try to plan to be at the Burro Races. Loved the magazine article snd picture too.

    • Definitely check it out next year, Debbie. Burro Days is really special because there’s so much going on, but if you can’t make it to that festival you can still see the other Triple Crown burro races in Leadville and/or Buena Vista. Have a blast — and thanks for appreciating the magazine article and photo!!

  4. We live outside of our fantastic little town of Fairplay but missed the festivities this year.
    Thank you for capturing the flavor and fun in your writing and photos. Could not have been better!

  5. Great article on the Burro races. I have seen the Buena Vista race twice – in 2020 and 2022. I was always amazed at the small burros being able to outrun the larger ones. My favorite is Buttercup! She came in 2nd both years. The Fairplay race sounds like lots of fun.

    • I love the little burros too, Debra! Buttercup won the race at Fairplay this year and she also won the race in Leadville the following week. Those were the 1st and 2nd races in the Triple Crown! But she didn’t win the third race in Buena Vista. However, Brian Rawlins and his friend’s burro, Tito, who came in 2nd in the photo finish of the short race in Fairplay this year, went on to come in 2nd in the long race at Buena Vista!! I had no idea the race community was so close and raced against each other year after year. It’s a very cool sport and so much fun to watch!!

Comments:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *