DEMING, N.M. — Amid the yucca spikes and wide-open skies of the southwestern New Mexico desert, the ducks are waddling.
The 28th annual Great American Duck Race was held this weekend, the cornerstone of a four-day festival in Deming that also features an outhouse race, tortilla toss, chili cook-off, horseshoe and softball tournaments and more.
There’s a carnival and even a royalty pageant, where residents dress up like ducks.
“It’s all about having fun. It takes care of a lot of boredom,” said Ken Mosher, who stepped away from his job as a plumber and volunteered to assemble the “Duck Downs” racetrack Friday.
Six friends drinking at a bar dreamed up the idea in 1980, including the late Harold Cousland, then editor of the Deming Headlight newspaper.
The idea was to liven up the summer doldrums and bring tourists to Deming. The event is staged at a grassy, tree-shaded park, right under the red-bricked, metal-roofed Luna County Courthouse.
For two decades, participants trained ducks and brought them to Deming to race. But the competition started rising to an uncomfortably serious level for such a tongue-in-cheek event, and eight years ago, the organizers began collecting a pool of their own ducks — 160 this year.
“These ducks are well taken care of,” said Steve Smith, the lead organizer. “They only work two days a year.”
The ducks waddle down an eight-lane, 17-foot channel of chicken wire known as the dry track. In recent years, organizers added a wet track — a wading pool outfitted with eight racing lanes.
Last year, the champions in each category — youth and adult racers — each took home $1,290.
Anyone taking part pays $5 to sponsor a duck, and winners advance through tournament-style brackets. In each round, competitors are assigned a different duck, with all the ducks given time off to rest.
“It’s a random draw,” Smith said. “It’s all luck, no skill at all.”
For more on the Great American Duck Race, go to www.demingduckrace.com.