Visitors to the Rim Country have an opportunity to interact with llamas at two different ranches.
Fossil Creek Llamas in Strawberry offers hikers a chance to trek into the forest with their picnic basket and gear carried by llamas for a fee.
Richard Falkenberg of Mesa del Caballo is a private owner willing to let children and their families interact with his dozen pet llamas.
"Going on a hike with llamas is fun because they are curious, gentle animals," said Joyce Bittner, owner of Fossil Creek Llamas in Strawberry.
"We serve healthy, hearty lunches with sandwiches, fruit and salads," Bittner said. "Because the llamas carry all the stuff, we aren't limited to carrying dry food like you would with a backpack."
Llamas weigh on average about 300 pounds so they can carry about 50 to 80 pounds.
"We have even taken strawberry shortcake as a dessert," Bittner said.
Special hikes with special food can be created for groups of four or more, such as a bottle of wine for a twilight hike.
All 10 Fossil Creek llamas know their names. Among them is Lakota, a 7-year-old male, who lives to give kisses, and Secret, a 2-year-old female born on the property, who is in training to carry a pack and hike with groups.
Fossil Creek Llamas is located at 10379 Fossil Creek Road, Strawberry. Half-day hikes are $65 for adults; $40 for children 10 and under. Reservations are a must. Call (928) 476-5178 for more information.
Llamas are native to South America and are often used as beasts of burden.
There are short- and long-wool llamas. Their fur may be one solid color-- white, off-white, black or many different shades of brown, from sandy to cinnamon to almost black -- or a combination.
Like ponies, the pattern of hair colors on llamas can be "paint" or "Appaloosa."
Llama skin tends to be sensitive and they can get irritated if groomed with a brush.
When a llama's coat is shorn its fibers may be used for spinning, weaving and felting.
Several local artists use llama hair in their creations.
Although they are a hardy animal, llamas do like shade in the summer and to be out of the wind and snow in winter.
Grazing animals are not known for their intelligence, but llamas' acute vision and sensitivity to behavior in animals and humans helps them learn about their environment quickly.
They do spit sometimes, but it is in self-defense if they think they are about to be hurt.
But you say, "I don't want to hike, I just want to see a llama up close or feel it's fur and maybe get a nuzzle from one."
Richard Falkenberg has a dozen at his home in the Mesa del Caballo subdivision, a few miles northeast of Payson, and he is happy to have people interact with them.
"I don't have a formal routine," Falkenberg said. "Depending on how the family and children are with animals, then that's how far I go with what they can do with them."
Children might even get to lead the llama on a halter.
Falkenberg has been raising llamas since 1990.
"My wife and I were drawn to their calmness and we wanted something that the children would be attracted to," Falkenberg said.
The Falkenbergs took their llamas into hospitals and schools, a tradition Richard has continued because his wife, a former school teacher, would have wanted it that way.
"After the children looked at the llamas, we would read books to them or have them read to us," he said.
Razzle Dazzle is a 4-year-old male who is usually first to greet the public, and, Falkenberg said, has a special affinity with children.
"But 6-month-old crias, Rosalita and Alex, are who I favor right now," he said. "Llamas are called crias until they are 6 months old."
The brother and sister llamas are in training to travel to meet children.
Several of Falkenberg's llamas have won awards based on their "conformation" -- bone structure and coat -- their agility on an obstacle course and their good will toward the public.
Rosalita won Grand Champion female out of Chino Valley, Calif. Alex, her half-brother, has won first place in that competition and her older brother, Ivan, won first place in Maricopa County.
Falkenberg can be contacted at (928) 468-1583 or found at 8132 W. Sepia, Mesa del Caballo.