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March 14, 2007
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ALONG THE WAY: Llama Packing

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Llama and David Bert Danny Riddle ... Clear prop. (sound of airplane engine starting)

When the weather is good a trip to Danny and Vikki Riddle's llama ranch starts with a plane ride. It's comfortable in the little Cessna Skyhawk. As I look around the cockpit I see Henryetta, their beagle sleeping on the luggage in the warmth of the back window. Beside me in the pilot seat is Danny intent on his task. And there in the back seat, with her airsickness bag, is Vikki. Vikki hates to fly, but Danny loves it. And since she loves Danny she puts up with it. But for my part I just gaze out the window at the boundless beauty of Nevada. AS we travel across the state I see so many remote places that I'd like to visit. With all this territory to explore it's easy to see why it's easy to see why having a pack animal was attractive to the Riddles.

Danny Riddle ... I always lived in the country and liked having animals around. And we thought that llamas just might be the pack animal for us.

Vicki Riddle ... We'd read that llamas were good at doing that so we saw there was going to be a llama show in Reno, we headed up that way on our vacation, and ended up putting two llamas in our camper and heading across the state.

In the 13 years since they bought those first two llamas they've managed to increase their herd to over twenty. And before we even get through the gate of the ranch Vikki is counting every one of them to make sure all is well. After all, they are her babies.

Vicki Riddle ... We have 21 llamas now and most of those are llamas that have been born on our property. So I've seen almost all of them being born and being raised and they're kind of like our children. We don't have your typical children we just have llamas.

As I watch Danny and Vikki ready the llamas for the trip I'm fascinated by how docile the llamas are.

Danny Riddle ... Llamas are easy to train and they handle well in camp. You don't really have to worry about them. They don't tend to get themselves tangled up, and they don't tend to tear up the trees or whenever fence they're tied to. And that kind of stuff. They've got very good manners. They're just easy to handle. And they are good for a city person. Some body that isn't around animals all the time. Isn't an expert on how to handle animals. Llamas just work of great

That's spoken like a true believer, but we've all heard the stories about how llamas spit.

Vicki Riddle ... well llamas have the reputation of spitting. And I guess some people that visited zoos have been spat upon by llamas. That's one of the first things that most people ask me is do they spit . And the kids want them to spit. When I go to schools and different charity functions the kids are dying for the llamas to spit at them, or their friend. But properly raised llamas, which means it is raised in the herd with his mother until it's the least six months old, will not spit at humans.

You may have noticed the llama humming in the background as Danny and Vikki prepared them for the trip. Danny will tell you that the llamas hum because they don't know the words. I suspect there's a better answer, but I couldn't get it out of him.

With the sound of the llama's bells, the occasional stream, and flocks of starlings to accompany us we've set out on our journey. Without my 80 backpack on I'm quickly getting to know the benefits of trekking with llamas. In camp when I'm eating like a King I'm sure I'll appreciate it even more. But here on the trail there's an added benefit that I hadn't counted on.

Danny Riddle ... if you're going into a sensitive area they don't wear down trails. The hiker with his Vibram hiking boots will disturb more soil than you're loaded down llama.

Vicki Riddle ... so trail wise they have very little impact. Then in camp itself they're browsers and grazers so they take nip at a Bush, and take a blade of grass, and move around while they're eating. So there really don't do a lot of damage to a grazing area. You can hardly tell that they've been there.

Evidence was found in Southern Nevada that suggests that the llama may have had it origins here in the Southwest which is probably why it seems so at home here in Nevada. Watching them lying there in the starlight they do seem content. Danny, Vikki, and I sure are. As we sit watching the meteor shower after an exhilarating day of hiking made easier by the labors of their llamas, we see the entire universe is laid out before us. This is big country with plenty of wilderness to access. And I can't think of a better way to get there than with the help of a llama.

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