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All aboard for autumn and alpacas

Posted: Thursday, Oct 4th, 2012


Claire Crowther, pink shirt, and her Little Treasures classmates feed Diamond, a Huacaya alpaca, on Wednesday while visiting Linda Johansen's ranch in Conejos County. Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky


Courier staff writer

CONEJOS COUNTY — Fall’s finest colors made a morning on the Conejos River the perfect place for La Jara preschoolers to learn about the letter A, autumn and a friendly herd of alpacas.

On Wednesday, Little Treasures students hopped on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad in Bountiful before ending up on Linda Johansen’s ranch just outside of Mogote to complete their “All aboard for autumn and alpacas” field trip. Once on Johansen’s century old family ranch, they met Fair Lady, Mason, Van Gogh, Cody, Diamond and the rest of her Huacaya alpacas. The field trip, the fourth of its kind, celebrated the letter A and took the children out of the classroom for a one-of-a-kind hands-on learning experience.

“That tickles,” cried Claire Crowther while Jade, a white and most sociable alpaca nibbled feed out of here hand. “Come back here!”

Exclamations like Claire’s continued throughout the morning, proving many arguments for taking children out of the classroom and onto the land for education.

“I welcome visitors because this is important,” Johansen said. “How often do you see an alpaca? Here, you can feel them and touch them.”

Besides the physical connection to one of nature’s beasts, the experience is also a lesson in confidence building and trust.

“If you’re afraid, that is OK,” Johansen said to the three- and four-year-olds walking into the pen with trepidation. “Sometimes they (they alpacas) are afraid, too.”

When it was time to go, not one child was afraid to feed, touch and frolic with the herd.

“They love the animals,” said Little Treasures Administrative Assistant Marlene Ruybalid. “A lot of the kids talk about this trip a good week before it happens.”

The trip is also beneficial for the alpacas, Johansen said. It helps keep the gentle and easy animals accustom to people, which helps when the shearer comes around to tend to the alpaca’s valuable fiber.

Alpacas produce one of the world’s finest and most luxurious natural fibers, according to alpacainfo.com.

The fiber is clipped from the animal without causing it injury. Soft as cashmere and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool, it comes in more colors – approximately 22 – than any other fiber producing animal. Spinners and weavers from around the world now enjoy the cashmere-like fleece once reserved for Incan royalty.

Alpacas were a cherished treasure of the ancient Incan civilization and played a central role in the Incan culture that was located on the high Andean Plateau and mountains of South America, according to the site. Alpacas were first imported to the United States in 1984 and are now successfully raised and enjoyed throughout North America and abroad.




















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