Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Alpacas are members of the camelid (camel) family.  They are indigenous to the Andes Mountains
and are raised and sheared yearly for their luxurious soft and warm fiber.  Alpaca fiber is a
rare specialty fiber . . . Once alpaca was only reserved for Royalty, the common person would be
punished by death for wearing it.  In 1984 the first alpacas were imported, and now alpaca,
though still rare,  is more readily available for all to enjoy.
- from the Big Horn Mountain Alpacas web site



I was disappointed last year that we weren't able to visit Mariann and Jeff Foster's unique alpaca ranch in nearby Parkman, Wyoming, so we eagerly jumped at the chance this week when Mariann invited us to come out to see all their animals. What an interesting business they have!

Jim knew Mariann from races they both ran years ago in Billings, Montana but they didn't really talk much until.a few days before the Bighorn race last year. Mariann likes to run with her young daughter in a stroller on the smooth trail at Scott Park in Dayton. Jim was walking there one day and they struck up a conversation about the race (Mariann has run the Bighorn 100) and the Fosters' relatively new ranch business.

Mariann and Jeff are both teachers but since the birth of their daughter Maria two years ago, Mariann has been a stay-at-home mom. The couple began raising huaycaya alpacas for their soft, warm, luxurious fiber, which has turned into a fairly lucrative business and something that keeps Mariann very busy but still allows her to be with her daughter all day. She is a fiber artist, turning fibers from her own alpacas and those sent from other people who raise the animals into beautiful, useful products like hats, gloves, pillows, and other clothing and household items..

Last year Marianne made handsome hand felted Western-style hats that were given to the overall race winners at Bighorn. I would hope such unique awards are prized by the recipients! She has time to make only about one hat a day with all the other things she has to do to keep her home, ranch, and business going, so she didn't have time to make them for the race again this year.

You can see all the alpaca products the Fosters sell and learn about raising alpacas on their web site at www.bhmalpacas.com.

In addition, the Fosters' two Great Pyrenees dogs blow their soft coat twice a year, and Mariann felts those fibers to make beaded purses and other items. She's a talented artist!

Following are photos I took of the Fosters' alpacas and "guard burro" yesterday. There were also two horses that stayed high in one of the fields and didn't come down to inspect us. All the alpacas were very shy around us and wouldn't let us pet them, but they know who feeds them and readily go to the Fosters!

Here are six of the seven male alpacas, who are kept in a separate pasture away from the two females and one baby alpaca, called a cria:

Handsome boys, aren't they??


We walked through another pasture inhabited by the burro and horses. Jim is carrying a basket of alfalfa and grass to feed the female alpacas and baby:

Notice the sage bushes, ubiquitous in Wyoming and Colorado. Mariann recently discovered a market for sprigs of sage that is also proving to be a lucrative niche! Smart folks, the Fosters.

Jim tried to bribe the burro (Aunt Maggie) with some tasty grasses, but she wasn't interested:

Well, maybe the girls will be more friendly. The alpacas love little Maria:

(Check out that pom-pom tail.) Can Jim charm them, too?

Munchies always help! Note that this female was recently shorn for her fiber. Mariann says before the shearing, she looked even bigger than the second female:

I love baby animals, so I took several photos of the very protective mom (Aurigan) and her cria, Wagon Box Walker, who was born June 4:


We tried more bribery:

The Fosters also use the alpacas as therapy animals with the elderly, the disabled, children, troubled youth, and other groups and individuals. This particularly fascinated me, as I've done therapy with two of my Labs previously and know how effectively animals can bring joy to people of all ages.

The Fosters love the views from their home, and so do we:

This is another lovely view of beautiful Wyoming countryside on the way from the Fosters' home back to Dayton:

That was fun! Thanks so much for the interesting tour, Mariann.


On a completely different topic, I was intrigued and amused by the dozen or more "new" (they weren't there last year) sculptures along Main Street in downtown Sheridan this year. Each had its own podium and sign with the name of the piece, the artist, and the price. It wasn't permanent public art purchased by the city, but an interesting presentation of art-for-purchase by anyone with a few thousand spare dollars (maybe I admired them all the more because they were totally out of OUR price range!).

Each one made me smile for their humor, elegance, or nostalgia. These are the ones I captured on "film." There were more, but I thought I'd tested Jim's patience enough already after I kept asking him to stop so I could take yet another picture. I should have just walked the entire length of both sides of Main Street and photographed them all.

The title signs are beneath each sculpture below:






And my favorite, which was much too large for a pedestal:


Next entry: a short trip to Leadville on the way to my next CT segment.

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil