Lander Llama Ranch – Lander, WY

July 1, 2008

I found Lander Llama Company the same way I find a lot of places on the road, by running endless Google searches for interesting accommodations. Cabins, cottages, historic inns and hotels: they’re all possibilities. Anything out of the ordinary becomes a potential destination. And so I had bookmarked the llama company’s website, waiting for a chance to escape the flurry of Jackson, WY, summer activity in order to hide away with a few friendly beasts. At the first chance, I hit the road and headed to Lander, approximately two and a half hours east of Jackson.

Lander is situated in the Wind River Canyon area, a breathtaking, glacier-carved slice of Wyoming. It is a heavenly area for outdoor enthusiasts. Pristine wilderness settings offer exceptional hiking opportunities. Local rivers and streams are treasure chests for trout fishermen. And photographers would have to search hard to find any direction that was less than picture perfect.

Teresa and Scott Woodruff founded Lander Llama Company in 1985 and, along with their young daughter, Skylar, and a fetch-crazy black labrador, run the thriving business year-round. Formerly a dairy farm, the property is now a working ranch, with an exquisite group of llamas, whose jobs are either to accompany humans on wilderness pack trips or to breed. It was my good fortune to arrive when a new member of the family – less than forty-eight hours old – had just been born. The adorable baby stayed close to its mother’s side, often resting on the ground, but also spending some time standing on wobbly, newborn legs. I was amazed to find how big the baby was, considering its youth.

I decided to jump into the barnyard and hang out with the in crowd. Scott had already coached me a bit on llama behavior, informing me that they would accept my presence in their territory, but would be wary of being petted. Contrary to their reputation, he assured me that llamas need to feel a high level of anxiety or fear before resorting to their much-hyped behavior of spitting. Fortunately, his predictions of good llama behavior proved to be true while I was there.

As is frequently the case, my travel destination included some type of lodging. In the case of Lander Llama Company, this came in the form of The Bunkhouse, a single cabin-type accommodation situated not far from the llamas’ housing.. The structure featured rustic yet artistic lodgepole décor and was comfortably outfitted with modern amenities, including a private bath and shower. (It now has wireless access, too, though it was not yet installed during my visit.) A fully stocked kitchenette offered fresh fruit, popcorn, coffee and tea, as well as homemade cinnamon rolls, pancake mix, cereal, milk, juice, bagels and English muffins, all ready for a fix-it-yourself breakfast in the morning. No need to make a grocery run into town and no chance of going hungry. The comfortable queen bed was all I needed for my visit, though a family would be able to benefit from three additional single beds in a loft area, as well as a fold-out couch.

A front porch faced the babbling flow of the Popo Agie River and offered a small table and chairs for outdoor relaxation. Through a rear door of the structure, a narrow back patio gazed over the corral area. Web, the Woodruff’s black lab, provided good canine companionship in either outdoor area, napping at my feet while I admired the pastoral scenery and jotted down notes.

As tempting as it would have been to hide away from the world for my entire stay, I decided to do a little local exploring in town. I took some time to browse small shops and bookstores along Main St. With a few new books for future reading tucked away, I stopped in for a delicious dinner at Cowfish, a trendy, modern eatery located within the historic Coalter Block.

Between the artistic brick and glass interior, the clever logo – cow head, fish body – and the excellent food, I was impressed. I indulged in linguine with spinach, tomatoes, pine nuts and feta cheese, prefaced by salad greens with caramelized onions and balsamic vinaigrette and followed up with warm berry crisp ala mode. It was the class of restaurant that could have been found in Malibu or Carmel. Yet with an easy, five minute drive, I was back at The Bunkhouse, where I relaxed into a cozy evening in front of a gas “wood stove.”

Over a hot mug of freshly brewed coffee in the morning, I spent some time on the front porch. Puffs of white floated down from a row of Cottonwood trees. Web showed up again to visit and enticed me into a few rounds of fetch. Before packing my overnight bag in the car, I took a stroll to say goodbye to the llamas and caught up with Scott and Teresa to thank them for their hospitality. It wasn’t easy to leave, but I have Lander Llama Company and The Bunkhouse bookmarked for return visits and will be definitely recommending it to others.