If you are looking for a different kind of Christmas this year, a visit to Strawberry and the Fossil Creek Llama Ranch should be on your "to do" list.
John and Joyce Bittner are opening their ranch to the public to enjoy a visit with their llamas and goats.
"People from the Valley come up and have their pictures taken with our llamas and in our Nativity and Santa scenes," John said.
The big attraction for visitors is Sir Charles Barkley, the Bittner's stud llama, and his son, Michael Jordan, along with the rest of the pack and the goats the family uses in their goat milk fudge business.
Llama Lights at the Fossil Creek Llama Ranch is from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Dec. 18 through Dec. 23, then again Dec. 26 through Dec. 28.
Admission is free with a donation of non-perishable food for the Pine-Strawberry area's food bank. A similar donation for the St. Vincent de Paul food bank is requested by the residents of Forest Park, who have decorated their neighborhood in the spirit of the season too.
The Fossil Creek Llama Ranch is at 10379 W. Fossil Creek Road in Strawberry, turn left at the Strawberry Lodge, go past the Historic Strawberry Schoolhouse, the travel approximately 3-1/4 miles. The ranch is on the left side of the road.
Forest Park is north of the Payson High School Campus, off Longhorn Road. To make a donation of food, contribute to the bins at area grocery stores.
In addition to having the lighted displays and the llamas and goats to visit with, the Bittners will have multiple varieties of their goat milk fudge for sale.
The goat milk fudge is a relative new venture for the couple, who are also involved in real estate sales.
John has raised goats for years, but only started making and selling goat milk fudge last year through their Strawberry Fudge Factory.
He said making the fudge and selling it is a life-long dream.
"We use less than a gallon of goat's milk to make a batch of fudge," Bittner said. "And there's no ‘goat taste' to it."
The milk not used for fudge is used for the Bittners' personal consumption. John is a big advocate for the use of goat's milk.
"More people over the world use goat's milk than cow's milk, especially those who are self-contained. It's easier to maintain a goat than it is a cow."
As to the health benefits, he said, "The molecules of goat's milk are smaller and easier to digest than those in cow's milk."
Not only does he think that makes goat's milk more healthful, it also makes his fudge extra smooth.
A batch of their goat milk fudge is enough to make 20, 2-pound units of the candy. "There is no ‘strawberry fudge' -- that's just the name of the town," John jokes. But they do have plain chocolate, chocolate with walnuts and peanut butter. And there are gift boxes for Christmas gift giving.
The fudge is sold by the Bittners, and at various outlets in the Rim country: Sav-Mor Foods, Back to Basics, The Randall House, Pine Deli and Strawberry Market. It can also be found throughout the state, mostly at health food stores like New Frontiers in Flagstaff and Sedona.
For more information about Llama Lights or goat milk fudge, call (928) 476-5178.