Tucked away about 20 minutes from the heart of Manhattan lies a farm property owned by the Crenshaws since the mid ’40s.
At first glance, Shamrock Farms seems like a normal ranch with roaming cattle and other animals — that is, until you see the camels.
Though Valeri Crenshaw now lives in the Kansas City area, she often travels to Manhattan to care for her three pet camels: Algiers, Raika and Sadri. When she’s not able to be around, her father, Roy Crenshaw, steps in to help while maintaining the rest of the property.
Valeri’s fascination with the dromedary began during a trip with her father to Egypt as a high school student. As a boy who grew up in rural Wabaunsee County, Roy often listened to “You Belong to Me” by the Duprees. In it, the band croons about seeing the pyramids along the Nile River or the marketplace in old Algeria before returning to his lover back home. Roy then made it a lifelong goal to see the places named in the song.
“When Valeri was in high school, I said, 'I want to take you someplace so you don’t think all of the world is middle-class American, and you see there’s a big world out there,'” Roy said.
The pair went to Egypt and set out with a rental car and a map to explore the country. Valeri spotted camels while en route to a destination.
“We were driving to the Libyan border with Egypt across the desert,” she said. “It was just sand dunes everywhere, and I said, ‘Look Dad, are those camels?’ He looked over and said, ‘Nah, those are oil derricks,’ and about that time, one of the oil derricks put its head up and then we realized they were camels … that’s when I fell in love with them. I can’t explain why, but it’s been a pretty hardcore love affair ever since.”
Valeri got her first camel in 2006 from a local ranch, which originally had camels flown in from Australia.
Since the trip to Egypt, Valeri’s travel bug grew alongside her father’s and both have seen more than 40 countries. When Valeri married, her husband also often accompanied them.
The group was able to finish Roy’s bucket list of visiting the destinations in “You Belong to Me” in 2011 when they finally flew to Algeria, right in the midst of the Arab Spring. During that time, people protested and rebelled against governments, oppressive regime and standards of living across the Middle East and North Africa.
The group traveled mostly in rural areas, away from most of the uprisings, but at one point, Valeri said, they found a Kansas connection and stayed in a suite that President Dwight D. Eisenhower also had stayed in as he prepared for D-Day.
Roy and Valeri said overall they try to remain respectful wherever they go, leave positive impressions of Americans on the locals and learn what they can from other cultures.
Roy stopped traveling about two years after they visited the Pushkar Camel Fair in India, and he said the experience was so much fun that he wanted to “end on a high note.”
Roy and Valeri arranged to meet with the Raika, a semi-nomadic group in rural India who are closely associated with camel herding. Roy said at first, the locals were skeptical about their ability to keep up as they were supposed to walk about 100 miles from the Raika village to Pushkar, which would take place over six days through the desert on rough terrain. That opinion changed over the course of the trip, he said.
“When we got close (to the fair), Valeri had won them over,” Roy said. “She knew a lot about camels, she could help them hobble, all of that, and we walked every day and we never held them back. I think they thought, ‘OK, we didn’t see that coming.’ When we got about a half mile from the big Pushkar fair, they had a little huddling and called Valeri up and they gave her the halter of the lead camel to lead them in. That was a big deal.”
Nowadays, Valeri said many of her trips are related to camels in some way, whether it’s a conference or a camel training event. She is trying to train her three camels to walk in a caravan so she can take them places, but it’s slow going with two of them being on the younger side. Sadri is two months old and Raika is about nine months old while Algiers is six years old. Valeri said she’s planning on getting two more camels later in the year once they’re old enough as well.
“They’re big, strong animals so you can’t just say, ‘I think I’ll just do whatever (while training)’ because you can’t outmuscle them,” she said. “You have to have a relationship with them and they’re really smart.”
Roy and Valeri said while many people associate camels with the deserts, there also are some all over Asia, and they fare well in both the Kansas heat and winters.
“They’re so well adapted,” Valeri said. “They get thick fur in winter. When it snows on them it doesn’t melt because they’re so insulated. And around May, I get to comb it all off.”
Valeri said the camels are reminders of her experiences, and she’s even started her own collection of camel items and furniture.
“My life is now filled with a love of camels — trinkets, experiences, knowledge and, because I may be the luckiest person I know, real, alive, loving camels,” Valeri once wrote in a blog post, Camel Tales and Shamrocks. “I have some ‘oil derricks’ of my own. They make me smile. They make me remember where I have been. And not a day goes by that I don’t wonder if it is all a wonderful dream.”