That's right, camels have joined the collection of interesting characters in Bellingham.
The farm launched Camel Safari and opened its doors for camel rides in June.
Upon entering, it appears to be an ordinary stable. Stalls line the wide aisle as far as the eye can see, and the smell of hay tickles the senses.
It's the sounds that signal something isn't what it seems. Bellowing wails and high-pitched bleats blare from the stalls.
Then an oddly shaped head pops up, bobbing from a long curved neck. Then another head ...
The creatures have thick curly eyelashes, hairy ears and big teeth. Not to worry, though. They're friendly.
What are desert animals doing in the soggy Pacific Northwest?
Guy Seeklus brought the even-toed ungulates to his 102-acre organic agricultural farm that also has two alpacas, five horses, seven goats and four camel wranglers.
It started after he bought alpacas for his daughter in 2010. His alpaca research led to a curiosity in camels that wouldn't quit.
"I was fascinated by them," said Seeklus, who owns a background check company.
His goal is to have a camel milk dairy in addition to offering rides and showing off his humpy herd at parades and fairs.
The first camel to arrive was a 6-month-old Bactrian named Lexi.
Camels are social beings. She needed a friend ... and, you guessed it, the population kept growing. Several were born here. There currently are 18 camels. Three are riding camels, with more in training.
"They are so easy to work with," Seeklus said. "Smart, affectionate and gentle, if you treat them right. They are fun. Baby camels especially are hysterically funny."
There are six Bactrian and 12 dromedary camels on the farm. Here's how to tell who's who: Dromedary have one hump. Bactrian have two humps. For the Bactrian, imagine a sideways letter B: it's got two humps. Dromedary, just like a sideways letter D, has one hump.
The camels came from various walks of life.
Dromedary duo Lodi and Raider came from a camel-riding farm in Tennessee. "It is very difficult to purchase a quality, well-trained, happy, behaved riding camel," Seeklus said.
He personally drove the two 10-year-old camels across the country to Washington, much to the surprise of the Kentucky state trooper who stopped him for speeding along the way.
Lodi and Raider are best friends. Joined at the hump, you could say.
"They do everything in sync," said camel trainer Javier Salazar. "If a ride is planned, the other always likes to be included."
Salazar had experience with cattle and horses before becoming a camel wrangler.
"I feel more comfortable in a stall with a large camel than a horse," he said. "They are very docile. They are very smart."
The knobby-kneed plodders have flat footpads to keep them from sinking into snow, sand or mud.
A saddle keeps riders from sliding down their sloped backs.
Visitors can pet, brush and lead the camels. They get a crash course in camel etiquette and maybe a whiff of camel breath.
Camels chew their cud and regurgitate food the way cows do.
"They have freaky teeth," said Lila Penney, 10, of Bellingham.
It was her first time getting up close and personal with a camel.
"They are much bigger than on TV," Lila said.
As her sister, Cleo, 6, put it: "They sound like dinosaurs."
Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; email@example.com.
Camel Safari is at Beldar Haven Farms, 5435 Sand Road, off Mount Baker Highway in Bellingham.
Cost: $99 for a one-hour session for 12 and older; $49 for kids younger than 12. A session includes a 30-minute camel ride, hands-on time with camels and educational talks from handlers.
Rides: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, rain or shine. All riders must sign a standard camel-ride release.
Reservations: Required, either online www.camelsafari.com, or call 800-836-4036 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cancellations must be made at least three days in advance for a full refund.
Meet the camels: They will be at the Skagit County Fair Aug. 7 to 10.
Camel ride tips
Arrive at least 10 minutes before your camel ride is scheduled.
Children must be at least 3 years old to ride. Younger children can observe and participate in the educational portion in the company of an adult.
Wear farm-appropriate clothing, sneakers, or work or rain boots. Clothing should be comfortable. You'll be straddling a camel.
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