Hot date in Indio

Rides, races, pageants, and ― of course ― fruit at the annual festival
Wendy O'Dea

When camels bearing turbaned jockeys spring out of the gates, you know it's not an average day at the races, except in Indio.

A daily attraction at the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival, the camel races are followed by sprinting alpacas, llamas, and ostriches pulling multicolored chariots toward a frenzied finish.

The festival, held each February, began in 1921 to celebrate the completion of the date harvest. Eighty percent of dates produced in the Western Hemisphere come from this region, a result of dry weather matched with an abundant water supply.

Moorish architecture, the Nightly Musical Pageant, and the Queen Scheherazade Scholarship Pageant reinforce the festival's Arabian theme. As for Big Bubba's Bad BBQ and a demolition derby ― well, there are some things a county fair just has to have.

INFO: The Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival (www.datefest.org or 800/811-3247). Dates can also be purchased year-round at Shields Date Gardens (80225 State 111, Indio; www.shieldsdates.com or 800/414-2555) and Oasis Date Gardens (59-111 State 111, Thermal; www.oasisdategardens.com or 800/827-8017).