Saturday, November 28, 2009


Years ago we saw the Oasis Camel Dairy on Huell Howser's TV show, "California's Gold." We've wanted to go there ever since, and last weekend, we finally made the 2.5 hour drive to Ramona (not far from Julian)--what a treat!

The camel dairy is located on 34 acres of rolling pastureland. It's run by Gil and Nancy Riegler. That's Nancy in the green shirt in the photo above. The Rieglers have over 20 camels, all dromedaries (the one-humped variety). At this time they use the camel milk to make soap; they plan to sell the milk for human consumption at some point in the future.

The amazing thing about the camels is how intelligent, sensitive, and friendly they are. Seems like they have a bad reputation, but in fact, they behave like giant puppies. They lined up at at the fence to be petted and couldn't get enough.

This mother, named Tula, stayed close to the fence while Gil talked to us about her and her baby, Storm, who romped all over the corral.

There's one kind of camel that needs to be handled with kid gloves: an uncastrated male like this one, named Flash. According to Gil, they're extremely unpredictable--"Never turn your back on a bull camel," he says. Flash made constant gurgling noises--he sounded like the mud pots at Yellowstone--and certainly could have spit, bit, or kicked at the slightest provocation.

Along with the camels, the Rieglers have a whole barnyard of other animals. Here's Bill with a donkey. The pot-bellied pig is 14 years old and named Byron (thanks to Bill for Byron's photo). The Rieglers raise exotic turkeys (for racing!) and keep many other exotic birds as well--Nancy does an exotic bird show.

The last photos show Bill and me with Clyde. To learn more about the Oasis Camel Dairy and to order camel milk soap online, click here.

Just to round out the camel experience, here's a camel poem I wrote years ago after Bill and I ate at The Brambles Restaurant in Cambria. The poem tells the story--enjoy!

Camels at The Brambles
(Cambria, California)

Someone called this rambling restaurant home,
once, but now it’s a five-star steakhouse
where dozens of diners cluster on Saturday nights.
Promised a spot by the fire, we are taken instead
to a corner booth, surely unchanged in forty-five years—
worn red upholstery, torn wallpaper, a faint glow
from a battery-operated lamp—and over our heads,
two faded etchings: a gypsy dancing in the marketplace,
toes barely touching the ground, as amorous Arabs look on;
and camels bending to drink at a palm-fringed oasis.
One camel’s bundle resembles a peacock’s fan.
We’re becoming unmoored when our waiter, Lawrence,
swoops up. This is my favorite booth, he announces.
I just want to put curtains on it. We agree—
not only curtains, but pillows and a hookah
would make it fit for a desert prince and his princess.
We celebrate our birthdays with Cabernet, surf and turf.
For dessert, Lawrence brings English trifle, two candles
mounting a peak of whipped cream. Back at the hotel,
we watch Peter O’Toole cross the dunes and declare,
Nothing is written. Choose your own destiny
and ride it like a camel, loose-lipped and free.