They remind me of cats: some aloof, some prancing, some sprawled in the dust. One of the llamas leaps into the air, heels almost clicking together, then rushes over to the paddock fence to snuffle at my fingers. A white one, blessed with a lustrous coat and limpid eyes, turns his back to me with a snort. A grey appaloosa arches his back and tosses his head, then flings a glance at me to see if I’ve noticed his display.
While the “Llamas X-ing” sign seems out of place for a gravel road in northeastern Utah, the animals themselves look at home here. Something about the craggy faces of the surrounding hills and the parched sense of the land suits these tough, nimble creatures. They make the landscape seem more accessible, less forbidding. After a day driving through mountains that seemed to sprout boulders as their only crop, I’m ready for the llamas to show me a beautiful Utah, the one I couldn’t see from the car. The animals hum to each other, making a sound like a throaty moo, my presence forgotten. This bunch is used to visitors; Shirley Weathers and Bill Walsh, owners of Rosebud Llamas, have run llama-packing treks here for ten years.
Shirley comes down to the paddock to load the llamas’ packs in preparation for today’s trek and I ask her where the thirteen llamas all come from. Cobbled together from a variety of sources, she tells me that not all of them have had happy upbringings. One was abused as a 4-H llama and became a spitter, a habit Shirley eventually broke.
“Just kept letting him spit on me,” she says. The llama realized that spitting didn’t get a reaction and that Shirley was a kinder taskmaster than those from his past.