It’s a lonesome two-lane highway, populated with antelope and scrub oak, that stretches for more than 100 miles between Alamosa and Salida in the south-central part of the state. A great way to break up the drive, stretch your legs and amaze the kids along the way is to stop in at the Colorado Gators Farm and Reptile Park.
What began as a natural geothermal water source was developed a few years ago into a wholesale tilapia farm. The tilapia, a mild, white fish, is available for purchase at Colorado Gators.
Colorado Gators is a great example of a nutrient life cycle; the fish waste is used as a fertilizer for plants in two tropical greenhouses, which in turn provide food for the turtles and iguanas that inhabit the park.
The farm owners introduced alligators as highly efficient garbage disposals to contend with the fish waste, the gators settled in happily, and Colorado Gators Farm and Reptile Park was born.
“The fish brought the gators,” says Lynn Young, who owns the place with her husband, “and the gators brought the people.”
Kids can feed the gators from a safe distance, with food available for purchase from the park. A two-mile water canal snakes around the property, and guests can rent canoes and take a mild boat ride around the grounds. “We promise no gators in the canal,” Young says with a wry smile.
These days, the park also serves as an exotic animal rescue and education program where guests can see and feed the over 400 gators, as well as snakes, birds, tortoises, ostriches and even a pair of emus.
The outreach program aims to educate children and adults about the behavior and role of reptiles in nature, and at the facility. A number of animals, including lizards, tortoises and snakes help illustrate the hands-on presentation. Another big goal of the program is to teach kids and their parents how to make good pet choices.
“We had one family bring us a 120-pound snapping turtle,” says Young. “They had purchased it as a little pet for their son, and it just grew out of control for them.”
The exotic animal rescue program plays a big part in what Colorado Gators is all about; one of their soon-to-be residents is Morris, a 13-foot long, 600-pound alligator that has been performing in Hollywood in various movie and television projects for more than 25 years. In more of a retirement than a true rescue, Morris will spend his golden years at Colorado Gators.
“Alligators can live to be 70 years old,” explains Young. “An animal like Morris still has a long life in front of him, but his movie star days are over.”
Other rescued animals living at the park include “Doug,” an African Sulcata Tortoise that outgrew his previous owner. He’s 34 pounds now, but may reach 250 pounds. “Dream,” an Albino Burmese Python from India, is one of eight large snakes that live at Colorado Gators.
Commonly bred in captivity as pets, the males of the species are generally mild-mannered and approachable. Females can reach 25 feet, and are often more aggressive.
Special events take place throughout the year at Colorado Gators. April Fool’s Day is free, an Eggfest takes place around Easter, and an annual highlight is Gatorfest, a two-day alligator wrestling rodeo. Brave souls who have gone through alligator-wrangling training demonstrate the skills used by alligator handlers.
When the animals require medical care, transportation or a simple checkup, someone has to step in and handle them. There is no such thing as a tame gator, and they don’t take kindly to being touched.
The facilities at Colorado Gators are basic but user-friendly; pathways are gravel, yet still navigable by strollers. Somehow, the rustic setting only adds to the allure of the place.
If You Go
Colorado Gators Farm and Reptile Park, 9162 County Road 9 North, Mosca, 17 miles north of Alamosa on Colorado Highway 17, (719) 378-2612 www.gatorfarm.com
Hours: Memorial Day through Labor Day, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; day after Labor Day to Memorial Day, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Open seven days a week except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Admission: $10 for adults, $5 for children 6 to 12 years old and seniors 65 to 80; no charge for those 5 and under and 80 and over.
Kelly Smith, who is married and the mother of two daughters, is a longtime Denver resident. Kelly and her family embrace the Western life, enjoying skiing, whitewater rafting and the great outdoors. She is an editor at Colorado Parent magazine and a former editor at Mountain Living magazine. Her stories have appeared in Architecture & Design of the West, Colorado Homes & Lifestyles, Colorado Parent, Herb Companion, Log & Timber Style, Mangia, Mountain Living and Natural Home & Garden.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.