by Gillian Harrill
Grade 6, Conley Elementary School
When we think of Arizona wildlife, howling coyotes, scurrying lizards, and rattling snakes come to mind, but never camels. Yes, camels-- those large, horse-like creatures with distinctive humps on their backs. You often hear they can travel over hundreds of miles without water, but no one seems to care how long they can go with water. Arizona is the perfect habitat for a dromedary: a pleasant, warm climate, sunny deserts filled with plenty to eat, and tons of hot tubs to sit in. (Camels love hot tubs.) However, camels aren't native to the area-- they're tourists.
Everyone in Arizona has heard of Camelback Mountain: that huge peak which looks like a resting camel. In 1856, there were a lot more camelbacks in Arizona. Congress budgeted $30,000 to import eighty grumpy camels from Arabia to Arizona. You may be wondering why the government was interested in camels. According to Lieutenant Edward F. Beale's report, these animals were really useful. After the eighty dromedaries were sent to Arizona, Beal discovered a camel could not fail. They can carry more than a thousand pounds and travel twice as far as the average pack mule. Dromedaries can also go longer without a refreshing drink, because of the fatty reserves in their humps. This miracle animal should have its own extreme survival show on television! Just like "Survivor Man" eats bugs in the rainforest, camels consume raw leaves off of the foul and oily creosote bush without even gagging! Camels can also tread on the jagged rocks around the San Francisco Peaks, which are so sharp; horses need shoes to climb on them. Surprisingly, camels can even swim in water like dogs! Lt. Beale predicted that some day �every mail route will be treaded by a camel��
After the US Army read the Lieutenant�s report, they started begging Congress for a thousand more camels. Yet, by 1860, the Civil War broke out, and Congress suddenly lost interest in camels. Meanwhile, back in Arizona, the camel herds were becoming hard to control. They would �spit� on camel drivers, who found out the hard way that the �spit� was actually regurgitated food the camel had for lunch�gross! The camels would even kick their human companions and bite them as well. The dromedaries became so ill-tempered; Arabian camel trainers were brought in to help. The whole idea of having camels in Arizona was a mess!
Congress was so busy with the Civil War, the camel drivers decided to take matters into their own hands. The camel market was�zero. No one wanted a camel. Would you? Hey, how about a free camel! They have wonderful gas mileage; they practically run on unwanted food. A camel has a nice soft paintjob that can't get scratched! Oh, but watch out-- it spits out its regurgitated lunch on you. Do you still want a free camel? Probably not- Since there wasn't anyone who would take a camel, the herders just set them loose in the Arizona desert. They ran untamed for a long time, and it is still very likely that there may be a few herds of wild camels out there somewhere in the scorching Sonoran Desert. All we know is that camel soup was a part of the Southwest Native American diet for many years, and Arizona law states it is perfectly legal to hunt a camel; all you have to do is find one! They're probably just sitting in a nearby wilderness hot tub.