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Rocky Mountain Fever, Part #1

It was June of 1996, not quite a year past our wedding day (more on that later), and Jen and I were in Denver, Colorado attending our first ever AOBA national conference and show. Though we didn’t yet own our first alpacas, we had purchased the house and parcel of land back home in VT that was already starting to morph slowly but surely into Cas-Cad-Nac Farm.

I still remember walking into the convention center in downtown Denver and getting hit for the first time with that comforting smell that is unique to an alpaca show barn (meaning the day 1 smell, not the day 4 or 5 smell by which time things are usually getting a bit rank). We had of course made several farm visits to breeders here in the Northeast by then, but seeing all of those beautiful show animals in one place really took our breath away. Wanting to learn and absorb as much as we possibly could, we split up at the conference so that we could attend as many different seminars as possible. Simply put, that year’s conference was a real launching point for everything that he have done in the 19 years since. With the memories of Denver ’96 so ingrained in our collective memory, when the newly formed Alpaca Owners Association (created by the merger of the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association and the Alpaca Registry, Inc) announced that they would be hosting their National Fleece Conference and Show in Denver this June, we knew we needed to go back to where it all began again, though this time we would be bringing our teenage boys with us!

We obviously wanted to support this new format — having the AOA fleece show be a separate event from the National halter show which has been held in March for the past couple of years —  though in the interest of truth in advertising: what we were really doing last week, was using the presence of the conference/show in Denver as an excuse to gallivant around Colorado for a few days with our kids. Mail-in fleeces had always been an option but we wanted a chance to play a bit! There were some things that we had seen 19 years ago — most especially Rocky Mountain National Park — that we wanted to share with the boys, and this year’s show, coming as it was after the end of the school year, was the perfect excuse. My better half had spent the prior couple of weeks struggling to get all 45 of our fleece entries properly skirted, while juggling what felt like one on-farm emergency after another. Truth be told, the last few weeks have easily been some of the most trying in our farm’s history, so the chance to get away for 5 days was also especially welcome in the end. We flew into Denver last Wednesday, where we met up with our three large 24″ x 24″ boxes of show fleeces that Jen had shipped from home. Though 2 of the boxes had seemingly exploded out during transit, the good folks at FedEx had stuffed and taped things back in/together as best they could, and all fleeces were thankfully accounted for. After celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary that first night with the boys at our hotel’s excellent steak house, Jen and I drove over to the conference and show venue late the next morning to drop off the fleeces. We had mischief to get to after all!

Pausing for a family pic on the Tundra Communities Trail at roughly 12,000" of elevation inside Rocky Mountain National Park. Are our kids getting big or are we just shrinking?

Pausing for a family pic on the Tundra Communities Trail at roughly 12,000′ of elevation inside Rocky Mountain National Park. Are our kids getting big or are we just shrinking?

I’ve always loved experiencing a city through the lens of its sports culture and am very fortunate that my beloveds nurture/tolerate (depends on the day) that personal obsession of mine. Back in ’96, AOBA had actually offered a group outing to a Rockies’ game at Coors Field, as one of the add-ons for its conference attendees. Even though we had sat way out in the bleachers on that occasion, the visit to that then brand new ballpark had always stuck with us, perhaps especially because Fenway Park in Boston was our only comparison: at that time a rundown, ramshackle old ballpark as soon as you considered anything other than the sight lines and the intimacy of the place.  Plus, being a certified sports nut, one of the first things I always check whenever we travel, is whether the local teams have any games scheduled while we are in town. Just smart enough not to touch the third-rail of a baseball outing on the actual night of our wedding anniversary, I had gotten us tickets for Thursday’s matinee between the Rockies and Diamondbacks instead. As luck would have it, after dropping off our fleeces, we made it to the ballpark with about 20 minutes to spare before the first pitch!

Friday we headed off for an eye-opening tour of the Wild Animal Sanctuary in nearby Keenesburg, CO, at the suggestion of our friend and avid sanctuary supporter, Laurie McCallum Hoffman (thanks again Laurie!). The Sanctuary houses some 400 large carnivores (primarily bears and large cats), that have been rescued from horrendous living conditions and have then been given care and living quarters within the Sanctuary’s 700 acres that are akin to large-animal heaven. We were fortunate enough to have visited Kenya and Tanzania 4 years ago as a family, and I can honestly say that watching a couple of the Sanctuary’s lion prides move in unison within one of their large enclosures, was not all that different from seeing them in the Serengeti, the obvious difference being that the animals in CO don’t have to hunt for their food. I can’t say enough good things about the Sanctuary.  It’s a pretty incredible organization, trying desperately to make the world a better place for some previously abused and neglected animals. Unlike some other institutions that house wild animals (*cough*), Sanctuary founder Pat Craig and his staff are pretty clear that the world would be a better place if they weren’t needed. One can dream. In any case, if you’re ever in the area, please check them out!

In many ways, the highlight of our time in Colorado though, was our day trip up to the town of Estes Park (coincidentally, the birthplace of the AOBA National Show) and into Rocky Mountain National Park. Having spent most of our lives in New England, we both remembered being blown away by our first visit to the park back in 1996 (whoa, so those are real mountains!) and the chance to take Sam and Max back there was a real draw for us.  By northeast standards, Mt. Ascutney, on which our farm sits, is a mountain with it’s summit at just over 3,000 feet above sea level. In Colorado, Ascutney would be a foothill.  The scenery inside RMNP, the roads and their crazy-ass hairpin turns that take one up into areas that are at over 12,000 feet of elevation — often times without any guardrails: the inside joke Saturday was that our car spent quality time “spooning” with the center line — was truly awe inspiring all over again. We did of course have to stop on the way back out of the park and have a ceremonial snowball fight, you know, because we could. The boys took it all in from the backseat of our rental car, though we knew that things were different from anything back home when even our normally motion sickness-immune student pilot turned off the audio book he was listening to on his Ipod, so that his eyes could truly concentrate on the winding road ahead! Hopefully we don’t have to wait another 19 years before going back again…

As for the fleece show in Denver and our results? That’ll just have to wait for part #2…:-)

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