Llama Trekking in the San Juans, Arts Perspective

Arts Perspective Magazine, Summer 2012

Neil Young once sang about riding his llama from Peru to Texarkana. Little did Neil
know, one cannot actually ride a llama. However, you can happily cross mountain ranges with your tent, vittles, and gear stowed neatly on a llama’s back – precisely what Laura Higgins, MD and her husband David Bray do every summer in the San Juan Mountains near Cortez, CO.

From their ranch just outside Cortez, fourteen llamas munch the new spring grass against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains. In mid-June the snow will have melted enough to allow the llamas to carry packs and escort guided tours on 1 to 3 day treks.

“(Llamas) are intelligent,” Higgins says. “They’re easy to train and very curious.”

Higgins is nothing short of obsessed. Portraits of llamas hang prominently next to family
photos in her living room. The rugs are custom-made from her llamas’ wool as are the
matching vests she and her husband wear. Currently serving on the board of the Pack
Llama Trial Association, Higgins has lead guided llama tours for 10 years.

Soon, Higgins’ llamas will be sheared for the summer season. From her llamas’ wool,
Higgins will sell rugs similar to those in her living room, as well as blankets and yes,
vests. Higgens employs Ingrid’s Handwoven Rugs in Texas to create rugs of any design
– from Navajo to Mexican. Left its natural color, the wool creations are simple, rich and
earthy. She also attends the annual Pagosa Fiber Festival in Pagosa Springs, CO, where
you can buy the brown, tan, and black yarn in bulk.

For centuries, llamas have been utilized both for their wooly fiber and meat. In the pre-
Colombian Moche culture, llamas were frequently buried alongside the deceased to
help them cross into the afterlife. It’s easy to see why humans have been fascinated with llamas for so long.

With big tufted ears and goofy smiles, llamas have a way of evoking irresistible
endearment – despite their pension for spitting on one another. In recent years, there has been a surge in the popularity of llama trekking, but the pack animals have been used for centuries in Andean countries of South America to help carry supplies and trade
goods. Their short, knock-kneed front legs and hairy toes allow them to traverse rugged
terrain that horses and donkeys couldn’t attempt, while simultaneously leaving a smaller environmental impact.

Higgins’ llama treks will run throughout the summer, providing warm meals
and all the supplies needed for a day or more in the mountains. Visit San Juan Mountains Llama Treks for more information.

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