MANCOS – It was a wild scene of hees and haws in Mancos on Saturday, as the inaugural Burrofest took over downtown.
The event drew onlookers from all over the Four Corners. They came to see 14 donkey-human duos race around Boyle Park, before the burros proceeded to Grand Avenue to have their portraits painted by local artists.
Lynn Drain and his burro, Link, took first place.
“We bring them to these events to get them socialized and more experience,” said Drain, who is from South Fork. He and his wife have more than a dozen donkeys, and have started a “Burros and Burritos” running group just outside Tucson, Arizona, connecting runners to burros.
The fest was spearheaded by the Mancos Creative District and local artist Veryl Goodnight.
“Mancos has all of the same elements to offer Burro racers as do the three Triple Crown towns – a rich mining history and outstanding Forest Service roads and trails in the La Platas,” Goodnight said. “I have long thought that Burro racing would be a wonderful fit for Mancos.”
The Triple Crown takes place over three days and includes three courses over historic mountain passes near Fairplay, Leadville and Buena Vista. The first leg will kick off Sunday in Fairplay.
Burros have a long history in Colorado. Because of their sure footing and carrying capacity, they were a staple in the 19th century mining world, a pack animal able to negotiate steep trails at high elevations, Goodnight said.
Miners on foot would lead supply-laden burros through the Rocky Mountains, according to the Western Pack Burro Association.
The sport of burro racing somehow rose from this world, but the origins are somewhat hazy. One legend claims that two miners found gold in the same spot and raced each other – burros in tow – back to town to stake a claim, while another alleges that the sport was started by drunken miners in a Leadville bar.
In 2012, burro pack racing was designated by the Colorado General Assembly as a summer heritage sport in the state, according to the WPBA.
For the Mancos event, burros gathered at 4 p.m. in the parking lot of Boyle Park, where emcees Sarah Syverson and Tom Yoder introduced the racers to the crowd of more than 100 people. Singing cowgirl Lynne Lewis of Rimrock Outfitters delivered the national anthem before the races.
There was a wide range of ages and experience levels among the burros who took part. The 8-month-old “Baby” Alice was embarking on her first race, while 29-year-old Lilly Mae had trekked over from McElmo Canyon.
Human competitors were also an eclectic bunch, coming from Hesperus and South Fork, and all the way from Yuma, Arizona. A few represented two burro-loving generations of the same family: Dave Daney and his 12-year-old grandson Finn Stanifer. Daney is the author of “Packing with Burros,” while Finn has plans to go live off the land with his donkey “Ziggy” later on in life.
The race was a sort of two-lap obstacle course around Boyle Park. Teams began the race by weaving in and out of the park trees, then raced around the field until they arrived at the historic jailhouse, where they lined up for a photo op on the front porch, on a first-come, first-serve basis.
A bit of a traffic jam collected at this spot, though, as many burro participants were not especially keen about the porch clamber. (Some may call it donkey stubbornness – Syverson calls it “caution.”)
But after much coaxing and cajoling, the burros crossed the porch and teams made one more lap around the park, free of obstacles.
Link and Drain were bestowed with a wreath of flowers for their first-place finish.
Link is a 1½-year-old “mammoth” burro, who has already outgrown his 5-year-old half-brother, Drain said. They have 15 other donkeys and shuttle them back and forth between Arizona and Colorado depending on the season – the Arizona heat can cause skin damage to donkeys.
“We have snowbird donkeys,” he said. Twelve of them will be racing Sunday in Fairplay.
Burro racing is all about the relationship between human and burro, Drain said.
“They’re going to pull you up hills, and then when you go downhill, you’re in front of them, so they don’t get by you,” he said. “There’s just a lot of technique and teamwork involved.”
After the race, artists set up stations along Grand Avenue, using the burros as subjects, while Daney taught packing lessons by the Mancos Common Press.