|Camels return to El Morro National Monument last month for the first time since the Beale Expedition came through in the late 1850's. The monument is featuring this and other NPS photos of the living-history event on its Facebook page.|
|Reenactor Doug Baum explains how camels evolved over time to endure harsh desert conditions during an event at El Morro National Monument to celebrate the history of the "Camel Corps." Photo by NPS.|
A special event in the works for years at El Morro National Monument finally became a reality this past September. The "Camel Corps Commemoration,” a four-day event held in mid-September, drew high visitation to the monument and generated record sales for the monument's cooperating association, Western National Parks Association.
About five years ago, interpretive ranger Wendy Gordge learned of Doug Baum, a historic reenactor and owner of the Texas Camel Corps. Gordge began working to bring Baum and his camel corps to El Morro for a living history event. The purpose of the event was to commemorate a colorful chapter in the monument's history – the Beale Expedition of 1857.
On August 23, 1857, Lt. Edward F. Beale's caravan of camels, surveyors and Army soldiers camped at El Morro en route to California. The expedition was tasked to scout a new wagon route to the gold fields.
It was also part of an experiment to test camels as beasts of burden in the punishing deserts of the American Southwest. The Army's unique experiment with camels would come to be known by many as “The Camel Corps.”
Although Beale was skeptical at first, the camels soon proved their worth. A camel could easily carry four times as much cargo as an Army mule. Camels could go for weeks without water. Not picky eaters, they happily munched prickly pear, thorny mesquite branches and whatever else the landscape afforded.
Each bearing a mountain of gear, Beale's camels plodded westward from El Morro on an arduous trek where the only certainty was danger and discomfort.
Baum, with more than 20 years of experience interpreting the "U.S. Camel Corps" brought this history to life. The event featured four of Baum's camels, living history presentations, ranger talks, and activities and crafts for kids.
The commemoration was an outstanding success, illustrated not only by the numbers of visitors, but also by their awe of the gentle giants before them. It was measured by the raised hands of school children, chorus of camera shutters, and the steady flow of smiles and compliments heard from visitors at the end of their day.
For a brief moment, camels made a historic return to El Morro in a special event made possible by the hard work of all El Morro and El Malpais National Monument employees and the financial support of the Western National Parks Association.
By Wendy Gordge and Wendy Parrish, NPS
Oct. 29, 2014