Joshua and Jeremy Ely left school early Monday: They had a date to feed an elephant. And to pet a llama and study showgirls and joke with clowns.

The boys are visually impaired. But like most children, Joshua, 10, and Jeremy, 12, love the thrill of a circus.For several years, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, US WEST, Telephone Pioneers and KALL Radio have co-sponsored a "touch tour," allowing people of all ages with visual impairments to get "a feel" for the workings of the circus.

"Would you like to feel my nose?" inquired Tammy the Clown, kneeling before 34-year-old Paula Lopez. "I have a big, squishy nose and a huge pink bow in my orange hair. My eyelashes are almost as long as yours. And I wear size 18 shoes."

Lopez is employed by Utah Industries for the Blind. This is certainly not her first circus; she usually comes with a friend who tells her what's happening during the parts that must be seen, not heard.

Rick Van Driel, 27, couldn't quite figure Rani, the elephant, out. Her body didn't confuse him. He knew her skin would be tough with bristly little hairs. He just couldn't tell what she wanted when she kept grabbing his hand with the wet opening to her trunk.

"She's probably looking for another carrot," Tammy said. "She never forgets a face."

Particularly a face attached to the hand that just fed her.

Van Driel is particularly fascinated with the bird feathers some of the performers wear. He's a docent at the Hogle Zoo who is trying to get his own raptors permits.

Flamenco dancers showed off their costumes and explained them. Members of the tour got to meet a llama and talk to several clowns. But there were fewer people than expected on the tour, so it was brief.

There was a snafu: The time was changed and some people arrived too late for the tour.

"It's a shame," said Mike "Hillbilly" Weakley, who has clowned around with the circus for two years. "That's one of the highlights for most people. No matter what age people are, they love the circus. But they don't usually get to see and touch the elephants and other animals. These folks do."

The people who arrived late for the touch tour were just in time for a special performance of the circus. During the matinee following the touch tour, the Telephone Pioneers provided members of the audience who had visual impairments with special radio headsets. The earphones provided a "play-by-play" of circus action, narrated by KALL Radio's Peter B.

The clowns had a bit of last-minute advice for their blind and visually impaired visitors before the lights dimmed and the magic began: "Laugh real loud. And clap real hard."

They did.