“IT'S THE ONLY PLACE I know of where you can pay five dollars and race a duck,” says Joanna Costilla, board president of the Great American Duck Race, in Deming. Between August 25 and 28, in fact, you can do much more than race ducks in Deming. Every summer, thousands flock to the southern New Mexico town for the main event, plus an outhouse race, tortilla toss, and 24-hour softball tournament. Live music, a parade, a carnival, a hot-air balloon ascension, a beer and wine garden, and vendors round out the festivities.
The 43-year-old tradition sprang from a few locals drinking around a campfire, according to Costilla, who has attended the races since she was a kid. “One of them was like, ‘You know what would be really funny? If we raced ducks.’ ” The four-day extravaganza begins with a Duck Royalty Pageant, complete with homemade costumes for the birds. Then, more than 100 ducks race in heats—in water and on land—for the final prize in various categories, where winners can fly away with up to $1,500. But the Rouen ducks—which are hatched in April, raised with minimal human contact, and given ample periods of rest before and after their prime time—are the biggest winners. After the race, they retire to a local pond, Costilla says, “where they live out their best ducky lives.”
“It’s Deming’s premier event,” says Joanna Costilla. “We encourage people—if you’ve come to the duck races from far away, come find one of our board members. We’ll give you a ticket to race a duck!”
The tracks are in prime condition. In the race’s initial years, ducks competed only on a dry track, which was redone in 2019. A brand-new wet track debuts this year.
Watch out for the ladies. “That first day of races, you can see the ducks that stick out. People will try to find them,” Costilla says of the bidding public. “I used to think, personally, that the male ones with the green heads were faster. But now I think the females are faster.”
Great American Duck Race, McKinley Duck Downs, Courthouse Park, Deming
Elephant Butte Balloon Regatta
August 5–7 & August 12–13
Watch balloons launch from scenic Lions Beach at Elephant Butte Lake State Park.
New Mexico Shakespeare Festival, Albuquerque
August 5–September 13
The stage at Veterans’ Memorial Park hosts free productions of two plays by the Bard: King Lear and As You Like It.
Beer + Wine + Food = PARTY
Find your favorite flavors at one of these festivals.
Santa Fe Beer & Food Festival, El Rancho de las Golondrinas, La Ciénega
Chile the Kid Beer and Wine Festival, Ruidoso Downs, Ruidoso