Mountains, llamas and adventure
By Janelle Gore, a junior from Orlando.
WILMORE, KY—Asbury College student Ben McElroy’s summer has been anything but ordinary. McElroy ’11 is working as a tour guide at Spruce Ridge Llamas and Guest Cabin in Salida, Colorado, which is owned by Asbury alumnus and current parent Dan Jones ’70. His daughter, Amy, is an Asbury sophomore. This unique summer job sends him high into the Rocky Mountains on exciting camping trips, and down to the ranch where he has learned to corral, pack, care for and give haircuts to llamas.
McElroy, an avid participant in the Asbury Outdoors program, heard about the job through a friend and was immediately intrigued. A few months later, he was hired as an official tour guide. McElroy’s father, an Eagle Scout, had already taught him some basic survival skills as well as how to put up tents, start fires, and cook.
However, McElroy was not so familiar with the llamas. He says that while llamas are usually very well behaved animals, they can have rebellious moments. For instance, llamas do not like their legs or faces to be touched, and if one were to do this continually, he or she might be spat upon by the llama!
Llamas also seem to have a sense of humor. When corralling them to prepare for a trip, McElroy said, “Sometimes they go right where we want them and other times they try and see how long we will chase them around.”
But aside from their occasional quirks, llamas are perfect for assisting guests on their trips. Their soft, padded feet are light on the environment. They have amazing sight, sound and smell capabilities, and a distinct and loud call that they use to warn the group of nearby danger or predators. But the main reason the ranch uses llamas is because they can pack between 50 and 110 pounds. It is too difficult for people to carry their own packs due to the high elevation – over 14,000 ft – which can cause hikers to become out of breath and exhausted.
McElroy takes these groups of 2-10 persons up into the mountains for as many as three days. He has only encountered a few weather related problems such as strong storms and heavy snow, but these storms can often cause the temperature to drop 40 degrees in a matter of minutes!
But aside from the minor weather issues and contrary llamas, McElroy says that the camping trips are actually a break for him. Off days include a lot of hard work at the ranch. He has already built a room to store camping gear, a storage shed, and a shoot to hold the llamas during haircuts. But the hardest task, he says, is putting up fences. “There is a reason the mountains are called ROCKY mountains,” he said. Sometimes it can take up to an hour to dig a hole for a single post.
Through this experience, McElroy has developed a great appreciation for the peacefulness of his surroundings. “I never realized how much I enjoy camping. The mountains here are beautiful. Well, everything here is beautiful - the wildlife, streams, waterfalls. I'm just amazed at how creative and artistic our Creator is.”