Llama treks

Youngsters ride or walk on summer outings near Taos, New Mexico

Hiking with llamas may be the best possible way to see the backcountry with young children. Gentle, strong, and content to be led by pint-size handlers, llamas made all the difference on our 8-mile, daylong trip up the Columbine Canyon Trail near Taos. Llamas carried the gear. They also obligingly carried the kids. Small children (under 60 pounds) can ride a llama for the entire hike. Older children alternately ride and walk.

Among our group of 7-year-old boys, the foot travel, surprisingly, was almost as popular as the in-saddle time. Each of our mini trekkers was given responsibility for his own llama. He led it, cooed to it, forded streams beside it, and forgot utterly about boredom, hunger, sore feet, or being at a far remove from a Game Boy. The stream gurgled. A breeze sighed through the pine forest around us. The llamas, dampened by a brief drizzle, smelled pleasingly of wet sweaters. And the boys giggled, in no hurry at all to return.

INFO: El Paseo Llama Expeditions  (reservations required; www. elpaseollama.com or 800/455-2627); treks include lunch and start at $59 for a half-day; children under 10 are half-price.

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