The Slatest

The Best Photo We Didn’t Use This Week: The Sport of the Summer Is Hauling Ass—Literally

A man sits in the middle of a road and shares a carrot with a donkey above him while onlookers watch
A man and his burro. Jason Connolly/Getty Images

Slate’s homepage editors spend a lot of time looking for editorial photos to put on our site. Those searches sometimes yield unexpected results: random, perplexing, and mesmerizing photos that don’t belong on the homepage, but that are too good not to share. Every week, we’ll share the weirdest photo from the wires.

What search term was used to find this in Getty?
“bill lee”

What were you hoping to find?
A photo of the Tennessee governor, who is one of several Republican leaders pushing for residents to return to work in his state despite low vaccination rates.

Advertisement

What did you find instead?
A man and a donkey sharing a carrot, Lady and the Tramp–style. The scene around them is a mix of kitschy Wild West Americana and people in modern outdoorsy gear.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

What’s the actual backstory here?
The man and donkey in this July 2018 photo are George Zack and Jacko, respectively. They are celebrating their second-place finish in the 70th annual Burro Days race in Fairplay, Colorado. Burro Days is the first event in the World Championship Pack Burro Racing Triple Crown. As a nod to donkeys’ historical role in mining, runners are required to outfit their burros with a pack saddle that weighs at least 33 pounds and contains a shovel, pick, and gold pan. Participants may “push, pull, drag or carry the burro; however no riding of the burro is permitted.”

Advertisement
Advertisement

The competition is no joke. To complete the 29-mile race, runners must get their “ass up the pass”: The course goes over Mosquito Pass, a 13,185-foot summit (as you can imagine, there are lots of ass-based jokes in this sport). The fastest time on record is 3:44:18, but people have taken up to 10 hours to finish, with the race time counted as the moment the burro’s nose crosses the finish line. First prize is $1,000.

Zack and Jacko are a trusty team. The duo came in first place in the 2012 Fairplay race, and they won the Leadville Boom Days race (the 22-mile second event in the Triple Crown) four years in a row.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Why run an ultramarathon with a burro?
It’s a uniquely Coloradan tradition, stemming from the important role burros played in the state’s mining days. Donkeys were prospectors’ preferred companions because of their stamina and ability to smell dangerous gases underground—a skill for which they earned the nickname “Rocky Mountain canary,” according to Bill Lee, a pack burro race director and runner.

Pack burro racing is considered the only indigenous sport of Colorado, and in 2012 the legislature designated it the state’s summer heritage sport. The Fairplay race was started by the local chamber of commerce in the twilight days of the state’s mining era in 1949 as a way for the town to entice visitors. Today, Burro Days is the tiny town’s largest attraction, with more than 10,000 people coming each year.

Why is this the weird photo of the week?
Mark your calendars: Burro Days is back. The 72nd annual race and festival are happening this July 23–25, after taking 2020 off for the pandemic.

Advertisement