If you are wondering if you read that title correctly – you did! ShangriLlama is named after the mystical Himalayan utopia from the novel Lost Horizon. This newly-named “Shangri-La” in rural Texas is home to a replica of an Irish castle, numerous barns, pastures, and a woolly pack of pedigreed llamas.
The owners of ShangriLlama offer pre-booked educational visits, llama walks, llama parties, and llama lessons. I had the privilege of attending a couple of the Llama Lessons – once with friends and more recently with my two adult children. We had a blast!
Llama lessons are one-hour sessions held in the castle’s fully enclosed and climate-controlled barn. This experience is a little hard to explain but I will give it a try! Once parked on the castle’s sprawling property, you follow the signs, check in, and enter a very nice barn. In the middle of the room, standing on a padded floor and munching on hay, are a pack of gorgeous, multi-colored, four-hundred pound llamas!
You are then encouraged to mingle and wander all around these gentle creatures. Touch them, take photos (a couple will pose for selfies!), feel their different coats, and get up close and personal with each one. They do not kick. They do not bite. They do not smell. They are simply mesmerizing!
Once everyone has arrived and had plenty of llama interaction time, visitors are asked to sit along the barn walls on padded benches. Mama Llama (owner Sharon Brucato) hooks up a microphone and greets everyone before beginning the informative talk about her beloved llamas – myths and facts.
Some of the myths: Llamas don’t spit on people. They spit on each other as they challenge another for rank in the group or if a fellow llama invades their territory. Sometimes people do get caught in the crossfire, but spit is never intended for humans. Good to know! Llamas also do not kick people. They can kick, but only kick predators such as coyotes that threaten their life. Llamas also do not bite. They do not have any upper front teeth and they have no inclination to bite anything or anybody. After learning these facts, it was easy to understand how all of us were just turned loose in a barn full of llamas with no prior warnings, rules, restrictions, etc. They are very safe creatures to interact with.
Mama Llama introduces visitors to each of her llamas and gives their age, background, personality, and rank. Dalai Llama, Barack O’Llama, Como T. Llama, Bahama Llama, Pajama Llama, Drama Llama, and Sir Lance-O-Llama all sit, lie, or stand around quietly munching on their hay as we are told facts about their ears, sounds, coats, feet, diets, breeding, medicines, and likes and dislikes. It was all very interesting.
Did you know that llama sweat glands are in the lower legs? The smell is similar to popcorn! Did you know a llama can run as fast or faster than a horse? I didn’t know that either – they can run 35 miles per hour! Did you know that llamas can be litter box trained like a cat? We saw this first hand. Did you know that three of these llamas are stars? One was in a detective show, one is in a Game Stop commercial, and another is the mascot of a Dallas hotel. How cool is that?
This was such a enjoyable morning! I had no idea that llamas were such sociable animals and this interactive experience was so much fun. Hanging out with llamas is certainly not something I get to do everyday and I think all of us – friends and family alike – loved our “llama lessons.” If you love animals and this sounds like something you would enjoy, contact ShangriLlama and book your own llama experience. I hope you enjoy these cool creatures as much as we did!
Note: ShangriLlama is a gated, private home owned and operated by the Brucato family. For their privacy and for the safety of their animals, the address is only provided when a reservation is made. All activities require an advance reservation.
I want to give a big heartfelt thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines for putting Waco in the national limelight! If you are a fan of HGTV, home renovations, or interior decorating – you are most likely familiar with the very popular dynamic duo, Chip and Joanna, from the show Fixer Upper. If you haven’t heard of them, you may be living under a rock.
Let’s start with their backstory. In 2003 the Gaineses opened their first Magnolia Market in a small storefront on Bosque Street in Waco. They also started Magnolia Homes Construction and worked both of these businesses as they started their family. Chip headed up the construction side – Joanna ran the design part of the business. Their creativity, work ethic, popularity, and down-home Southern charm soon landed them starring roles in the Fixer Upper show in 2014. The rest, they say, “is history.”
After a couple of years of running their businesses and filming their cable show, Joanna’s home decor business had physically outgrown the original Magnolia Market shop. They now had their eyes on a sprawling downtown Waco property that included 2 huge rusty grain silos, a 20,000 sq. ft. abandoned barn, and 2.5 acres of property. This site had housed the historic Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Company (built in the 1950′s) and had sat in ruin for decades. With their vision, capital, and hard work – the Gaineses opened the Magnolia Market at the Silos in October 2015. They did an impressive job of re-purposing this decayed agricultural property and have now turned it into a goldmine.
The Magnolia Market at the Silos now welcomes more visitors (200,000 more) than the Alamo each year! There are several parts that make up this compound today. The Magnolia Market is now a nationally- recognized store offering boutique decor, stylish home design accents, books, and gift items. There are two separate areas that make up the huge warehouse. Magnolia Seed & Supply is a little corner garden with a wooden teepee, produce beds, fresh flowers, and a garden shop. Silos BakingCompany is a free-standing on-site bakery that sells cupcakes & cookies. These delicious sweet treats are Joanna’s personal recipes and the Gaines family’s handpicked favorites.
If you have the opportunity to visit, make the time to wander around a bit and take in all the various moving parts of the property and fully appreciate all that it offers. It is not “just a store.” Besides the main warehouse building, iconic silos, and garden area – there is a large central green field (with artificial turf) for lawn games, picnic tables, benches, food trucks and gorgeous landscaping and design elements throughout.
While visiting the Magnolia Market last week, my mind kept flashing back to certain elements of Disney World. There were quite a few similarities between the two places. Both offered a nice, family-friendly in a “homey” environment. Everything was neat as a pin. Every employee was in uniform and was friendly and helpful. All displays were inviting and well-stocked. Every section was streamlined to get you in and out as efficiently as possible. There was not one piece of trash to be found anywhere and every single area we visited was clean, neat and pristine. And unfortunately, very much like Disney, there were lines everywhere!! It WAS crowded but most enjoyable, even after all was said and done!
Despite the crowds of people and the Texas summer heat I encountered last week, I still say that Magnolia Market is well worth a visit. It is such a great concept and lets you experience the work of Chip & Joanna Gaines first-hand. The show really doesn’t give this place the justice it deserves. I am so glad that they were able to see their hard work pay off and their dreams come to fruition. I also give “kudos” to the Gaines family for their tireless work in the revitalization of Waco (they employ over 600 people to help run their various businesses). You make Texas proud.
After Mother’s Day rolls around every year, my thoughts turn to driving out to Terrell, Texas to Ham Orchards. Let’s just say I may have a small, peach ice cream addiction – nothing life threatening – just a need to satisfy my sweet tooth with fresh, homemade peach ice cream a few times throughout the summer months. Ham’s is the place for me to satisfy this craving!
Ham Orchards is located east of Terrell and resembles the country stores of times gone by. One can buy ice cream, fresh produce, jams and jellies, pickles, and BBQ sandwiches. In other words, there is something for everyone. This business started in 1979 and through the years has grown to 5 orchards, 10,000 fruit trees, and covers 100 acres.
When you drive out to Ham’s, you will notice three main buildings on the property surrounded by the orchards and fields. The first is the largest building and is the Farm Market. Behind the market is a small BBQ place and restrooms. Past those buildings is a large covered pavilion that comfortably seats 200 patrons who want to eat their ice cream or BBQ sandwiches in the shade. There is plenty of parking in front of and to the side of these buildings.
fresh peach ice cream
The Farm Market is where you line up to buy the ice cream. There are two flavors: fresh peach and fresh strawberry. You can buy a cup or cone on-site or buy frozen pints to take home and enjoy later. People drive from all over the Dallas metroplex to rural Terrell for this frozen treat and I certainly understand why!
Take time to grab a cart and shop in the rest of the market. There is a fudge bar with all types of flavors. There is a bakery aisle with homemade scones, fried pies, cakes and fruit pies. Check out the freezer and refrigerated cases for salsas, spreads and dips, and delicious frozen casseroles (chicken pot pie, Mexican beef casserole or chicken spaghetti). There are many shelves filled with cider, honey, salad dressings, pickles, sauces, relishes, jams & jellies, and marinades. I love the Bread & Butter pickles, pickled okra and blackberry jam!
cakes & pies
pickles & relishes
dressings & marinades
jams 7 jellies
A large portion of the market contains all the locally grown produce. Fresh tomatoes, onions, squashes, cucumbers, melons and berries always seem to be available. Large boards list all the types of peaches and when they will be available. This past weekend when we were there, “Flavor Rich” was the type of peach that was available.
As we were leaving Ham’s this last time, we decided to order BBQ sandwiches to take home with us for dinner. I have heard how much everyone loves the Peach Pulled Pork sandwich, but we opted for the plain BBQ Pulled Pork. (I am not a big fan of “sweet” with “savory!”) The bun was fresh, the pulled pork was tender and delicious and I really liked their tangy BBQ sauce. Very nice!
pulled pork sandwich
If you have some free time, drive out to Ham Orchards for some ice cream, fresh produce, and BBQ. Ham’s is open 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (closed on Sundays). They are only open mid-May through mid-August so don’t delay! They are three miles east of Terrell on Hwy 80.
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