A few months ago, a nondescript, but well-appointed package was left at my door. Plenty of time had passed since my latest impulse purchase on Amazon, so I knew it wasn’t that. And it wasn’t exactly close to any special occasions, so on that afternoon in January I wasn’t expecting to discover anything waiting at my door when I got home. But there it was.
I mentally ran through the list of usual suspects who might send something my way, but none were coming up as a match to the ‘from’ address.
Opening the box only revealed a russian doll situation made of parchment paper and twine. Every layer of paper that was removed uncovered a small card, on which a few facts about the brand that had sent this package were printed on top of a photo of an alpaca.
“Knit and spun by Steamboat locals”, one card noted. “Luxuriously soft” another said.
After three layers of paper and three cards, I could finally figure out what this package was and who it had come from. Lying in front of me was a hand-knit beanie from a company based out of Steamboat Springs, called Yampaca.
Yampaca hats are what they call “grass to hat” as the alpaca wool is locally grown, turned into yarn just one town over from Steamboat, and knitted back at their headquarters – headquarters being a cozy ranch nestled in Yampa Valley.
In 2015 Jason Rodriguez and his family moved to Steamboat with the goal of starting a vegetable farm. After deciding they needed grazing animals on the property, they visited a herd of alpacas in Granby, CO with the intention of only bringing back 10. Luckily for the other 77 alpacas, Jason couldn’t leave them behind and they were all relocated to their new home in Steamboat. As he learned more about these animals he realized their fibers have outstanding technical abilities that can be used in making hats and apparel. After a year of designing the hats, Yampaca was officially started with the mission of creating natural, sustainable, technical products.
Setting up the Meeting
Not long after receiving the package, an email popped up in my inbox from Craig Weese, Yampaca’s one man marketing team and alpaca advocate. At the end of this email he said “Also, we’d LOVE to have you over to visit the ranch in Steamboat to meet and greet the alpacas anytime.”
My answer? An emphatic yes!
Dates and times were exchanged and another Colorado Made regular, Rick, and I eventually settled on heading out for a visit on April 20th. I had to take off work for this, so requesting PTO on 4/20 was a little awkward, but I made sure to tell my boss it wasn’t what she thought it was for. “I’m going to an alpaca farm,” I said. “I promise.”
About the Beanie
By the time we were able to head out to Steamboat it had been a few months since I had received the beanie in the mail, giving me plenty of opportunities to wear it around town and in the mountains. When you first get a beanie from Yampaca it comes with a pom, but this pom is not attached. You get to tie it on yourself, giving it a DIY feel and making the hat a little more custom. Yampaca also sells multiple colors of their pom, so you can even pick up a few and swap out the colors depending on your mood.
The fit of the hat is snug, but not uncomfortable. Because alpaca wool doesn’t necessarily have memory like other fabrics it is mixed with merino to allow it to stretch and return to its original shape. Merino is also a natural fiber, keeping the ingredients of the hat all straight from nature.
Alpaca wool has a hollow core that allows it work well in a range of temperatures and makes the hat comfortable to wear in a variety of conditions. In warmer weather it can hold onto cool air and create space where air can flow. In cold weather the fiber traps in heat keeping you warm. On the chance it rains or snows on you while you’re wearing the hat, alpaca wool is also naturally water repellent.
To achieve these same types of qualities in a synthetic hat, you would have to add all sorts of plastic and man-made materials that are uncomfortable on your skin and wouldn’t offer the same quality. Alpaca wool is also naturally odor resistant, so if you do sweat (or wear the hat everyday) it won’t stink like a synthetic hat would.
When a local mill prepares these fibers that will eventually become your hat, no additional colors are added and the fibers are dye free. There are 22 different shades of alpaca, and the hats come in a variety of rich, earthy colors like brown, tan, or grey and all are completely natural.
After the fibers are ready they head back to Yampaca where each and every hat is hand knit on-site. Yampaca is truly Colorado Made, from the gathering of the fiber all the way to the finished product. Once the hat is ready, a tag made from buffalo hide is added with the Yampaca logo burned in by Jason as the finishing touch.
Heading to Steamboat to Meet Yampaca
Opening my blinds on the morning of April 20th I was greeted with dark clouds threatening rain. Soon those threats would become a reality, but I picked up Rick and we ventured on. As we drove up to Steamboat, and over Rabbit Ears pass, we ducked in and out of rain with most bouts quickly sweeping through and leaving the ground just a little soggier than before every time.
Yampaca is situated just outside of Steamboat and as we headed down Country Road 35a we had no idea what to expect. Fifteen minutes later, as we took a right onto the gravel driveway, we instantly knew we were in the right place.
Through the rain streaked windshield we could see alpacas in every direction. As we would later find out, the males are kept separate from the females so they were spread out across the property with large areas for roaming. Look left and you’d see the 40 or so males. Look off to the right and up a hill and you’d see 40 or so females. Funny enough, they were all looking back at us, too – wondering who these visitors were.
After Craig met us outside and got us set up with some mud boots, an absolute necessity with the weather conditions we were experiencing, it was time to step into the pen. We started with the male side first and not a few minutes after entering we were surrounded by wet, curious alpacas. They didn’t get too close though, with most standing just out of reach and awkwardly staring, maybe with the expectation we were there to feed them.
We gave them a few minutes to get used to us while Jason and Craig told us about alpacas, their eating habits, and the story of how he got so many. Alpacas wool is best when they graze, versus gorging on food during larger meals. Because of this, each of the alpaca pens was full of large barrels of grass that the alpacas could only nibble on.
Once the alpacas were a little more comfortable with us being there, we could touch them and get a feel for their wool before it is turned into a completed Yampaca hat. We also experienced the fibers water repellency first hand as their wool was damp and matted on top, but dry and thick underneath that wet layer.
Eventually moving from the male side to the female side, we passed through a barn full of goats and pigs. The pigs are Kunekune pigs from New Zealand and can get to be over 300 pounds in weight. While the ones we met were much smaller, it didn’t mean their presence was any less known. They were quite boisterous with their squeals, to say the least. The goats we met were very dog-like, coming up to us and enjoying pets and chin scratches.
Finally making it through the barn with the noisy pigs and friendly goats, we had reached the female side of the Yampaca ranch. Craig brought with him two large bins of food so not only could we continue to walk amongst them, but now they actually wanted to be close. Sometimes too close, and a little pushy, but the brown pellets we were feeding them must have been delicious so I understand their excitement.
While the alpacas were happily munching away and Rick and I were trying to maintain our ground as they pushed around each other, Jason and Craig introduced us to a few alpacas by name. We met Mozart, Crazy Eyes, and Wild Child. All of their alpacas make frequent appearances on their instagram page through either a portrait photo or their comedic Alpaca Acres series.
What’s Next for Yampaca
As we wrapped up our visit with the alpacas, Jason gave us some insight into what’s next for Yampaca and the other products they want to make with alpaca wool. As soon as next spring, socks will start to be available. From there they’ll be looking to expand even further into other product types where the features of alpaca wool would be beneficial. For now though, you can shop their full line of hats on the Yampaca website.
Learn more about Yampaca and the people behind the scenes designing, knitting, and making these hats so special by heading over to their Yampaca family page.