Interview with Al and Sondra Ellis - Highline Trail Llamas
From the LLama Crossing Newsletter
Question: When & how were you introduced to llamas?
We moved to Wyoming in 1982, Al retired from commercial fishing, Sondra commuted to California for the next 9 years to run our restaurants. We immediately obtained horses, 1 year later we sold horses and went back to backpacks thinking there had to be a better way. In 1986 Al read an article about llamas written by Doyle Markham, Snake River Llamas. Contacted him and was hooked. Deciding to buy pack llamas was a whole lot easier than actually finding pack llamas for sale. The producers of pack llamas seemed to have long waiting lists even for weanlings. We did find 2 weanlings we could take right home but continued to search for older animals. We were finally lucky enough to find a 2 1/2 and a 4 year old. (we never did connect with Doyle Markham at the right time and place for any purchases)
The next 10 years were great spending up to 200 days a year in the mountains with Snowy & Jasper. Jasper & Snowy just passed away from old age, Jasper just shy of 22 years. .
Remembering how hard it was to find the original packers we started looking prior to Jasper & Snowy reaching retirement. Once again we were unable to find animals bred for packing that were for sale but we began to see some great classic females there were no longer being bred. Not only were we wanting to replace ours, we hated to see the classics disappearing. We came home with a couple of great girls and a rent-a-stud (Stan Elbe's fantastic Big-T) and the fun began. Realizing with only 2 females the chances were (with only 2 cria's at a time) at weaning time the cria's would have to be separated, male / female and that they needed peers to grow up with, we brought home a couple more older classic females. This was working great until we reached the point our 7 acres in Jackson Hole was not enough land. By this time we also found additional classics for sale and were more involved than ever in wanting to preserve these bloodlines. The decision was made to move to 200 plus acres in Boulder, Wyoming. This gave us the freedom to bring home another 17 (yes seventeen).
Question: What is the primary function of your llamas?
And Highline Trail Llamas was born. Dedicated to preserving and enhancing the working llama.
Question: Your Breeding philosophy?
To maintain as diverse genetic background as possible while producing exceptional tall, strong, double coated , willing & eager packers. We provide outfitted llama treks and rental llamas in Western Wyoming. When confronted with the thought of letting strangers take our llamas we realized we have perfect confidence in our llamas training and abilities. The potential handlers have to take our class at the ranch prior to departing for enjoying their trek.
When trekkers return with stories of the best trip of their lives- that is our reward.
Question: Advice for New llama owners and those considering llamas?
Once you have packed with llamas there is no going back. Sondra says even if they never go to the mountains she still wants to see them in the pasture. Most llamas are capable of carrying a pack and with their willing nature they will try to do what you ask its up to us to not require something beyond their natural capability. Realistically determine what your packing requirements are and choose animals easily capable of fulfilling your needs. The requirements for an occasional 3 miles picnic hike are completely different from months on the trail with an 80 lb pack or packing the occasional 120 or 130 lb. elk quarters.
Weigh the difference between shearing and a raincoat versus a llama with a double coat that stays warm and dry and never picks up debris.
Question: What are your future plans?
To continue producing outstanding packers proven on the trail, and to introducing former backpackers to the freedom of llama packing.
We welcome visitors by appointment , call or write
Jack and Tracy Pearson:
Pearson Pond Ranch & Llama Co.
242 Llama Lane (Charles Lane), #6017
Ellijay, GA 30540
Phone: (706) 276-3658
Fax: (706) 276-3680