“Are ya here for the wrestlin’ class?” the man in the tie-dyed shirt asked.
“Um. What?” I stammered.
“Starts in an hour. You learn to catch the big ‘uns.” He jerked his thumb toward a pond filled with eight-foot alligators. “Hundred bucks. Best deal in town.”
“I’ll think about it,” I promised. I was still adjusting to the idea of a gator habitat in the middle of the mountains. I had not yet thought about the possibility of getting up close and personal with a thrashing tail and deadly teeth.
But at Colorado Gators Reptile Park, getting up close and personal is what it’s all about.
Colorado Gators Reptile Park began in 1977 as a tilapia farm. Geothermal water resources heat the valley, making warm water for raising fish readily available. In 1987, founders Erwin and Lynn Young purchased 100 baby alligators to help get rid of dead fish. The gators soon proved to be more than a convenient garbage disposal as they drew tourists to the farm in Mosca, Colorado. Now, the Colorado Gators Reptile Park is a popular road-trip stop in the San Luis Valley.
This popularity may be due to the hokey-but-sincere charm of the place and the animals in it. Everyone was friendly. A tortoise passed me on my way from the gift shop to the entrance. She was unperturbed when I reached down to pat her sun-warmed shell. Emus scratched and called outside. A man holding a small alligator greeted me as I entered the doors.
“You want to hold her? She won’t bite. Support her back feet, like this.” He grinned, no doubt accustomed to the surprise of strangers.
In an instant, the gator was in my hands. She wasn’t damp, like I expected, but warm and leathery. She didn’t stir. She did keep one eye on me, warily, as I posed for a photo. After, I received a certificate verifying my bravery, “signed” by the gator herself. She bit down on the paper to punch tiny holes through my name.
Beyond gators, the Reptile Park also functions as a wildlife rescue. Unwanted exotic pets from across Colorado wind up here. Carefully maintained habitats host dozens of iguanas, lizards, and snakes. A few crabby parrots squawk from above. Visitors walk past reptile enclosures, tilapia pools, and swampy outdoor ponds.
For the adventurous, the Reptile Park offers both a Reptile Handling Class and the Gator Wrestling Class. The Gator Wrestling class serves a purpose: gators at the park must be caught in order to check for wounds. The Gator Wrestling class will earn you a “Certificate of Insanity,” which seems appropriate. For me, watching the reptiles from a safe distance was enough. For everyone, visiting the gators in their mountain home is a unique Colorado experience not to be missed.
Colorado Gators Reptile Park | http://www.coloradogators.com/ | 9162 Ln 9 N, Mosca, CO 81146 | (719) 378-2612
Hours of Operation:
- Spring Hours (February 27 – May 25): 9 am – 5 pm
- Summer Hours (May 26 – September 3): 9 am – 6 pm
- Fall Hours (September 4 – November 5): 9 am – 5 pm
- Winter Hours (November 6 – February 28): 10 am – 4 pm
- Children ages 5 and under: FREE
- Children ages 6 – 15: $7.50
- Adults ages 16 – 64: $15.00
- Seniors ages 65 – 79: $7.50
- Seniors ages 80 and over: FREE