I’ve traversed West Texas by foot, mountain bike, horse, raft, canoe and kayak, but last week’s overnight camel trek through Cibolo Creek Ranch south of Marfa felt like no other.
Riding through the Chihuahuan Desert on a camel feels sort of like riding a rocking chair strapped to the top of a stepladder that’s being dragged across a gravel road. It’s a combination of rough and rolling, with the bonus that camels turn around and give you big goofy grins now and then.
Camels are groovy. They’ve got three stomachs, finger-thick teeth, nostrils that squeeze closed to keep out sand, peach-sized eyeballs fringed in 4-inch lashes, feet the size of fruit pies, wavy hair, pecan-shaped turds, and fuzzy topknots. Their breath stinks and they fart loudly, but they’re gentle, curious and sweet.
I rode a one-humped dromedary named Cinco on my trip with Doug Baum and the Texas Camel Corps. We also had a heftier, two-humped Bactrian camel in our squad of five heat-resistant beasts. Together, we strode about 12 miles over two leisurely days.
To climb aboard, we asked our straw-colored steeds to “kush,” the command to kneel. While they’re lowered, it’s easy to gently swing one leg over a camel’s back and settle into the padded saddle. You’ve got to lean back as they stand – they rise rump first, and the motion tends to heave you forward.
I managed to stick in place without any trouble.
Highlights? That swaying, high-rise ride. Watching scenery that looked straight out of a John Wayne movie scroll past in slow motion. Stopping at a spring-fed creek in a canyon, which had filled neck deep with water following a 4-inch rain. (Perfect for skinny dipping!) Eating traditional Moroccan food. Listening to Baum sing and play guitar around a campfire. Waking up at midnight to the yip of nearby coyotes.
Baum, who is well-versed in the history of camels in Texas, offers treks both in West Texas and Egypt, where he keeps a second home. He narrated our trip with stories of the U.S. Army’s use of camels here in the 1850s and ‘60s, when they were used as pack animals for the U.S. Calvary.
Look for my upcoming story in Texas Co-op Power Magazine.