Go Play: Gator rasslin’ adventure near Alamosa
Colorado Gators Reptile Park started as a tilapia farm in 1977 when Erwin and Lynne Young bought 80 acres with a geothermal hot springs in the middle of it. In 1987, they purchased 100 one-year old alligators to help clean up the mess the fish made. Like children, alligators grow if you feed them, and get cranky when you don’t.
They opened Colorado Gators Reptile Park to the public in 1990 because Americans wanted to learn about deadly, cold-blooded reptiles that are not their ex-wife’s divorce lawyer.
It now includes a bird sanctuary with up to 125 species, reptile rescue, education, and display, and a biodome.
The world’s only alligator handling classes run all summer. You need to make reservations about a week in advance. Call 719-378-2612.
Alligator wrestling is not a thinking man’s sport, says Drew Nelson.
We are at the Colorado Gators Reptile Park and two creatures are smiling: Drew the All-Star Alligator Wrestling Instructor, and the alligator. The one not smiling is me, the one astride an alligator that measured 27-miles long and weighed more than a cement mixer in a real bad mood.
The thing about this alligator is that in this pond he has 80 buddies. I am not exaggerating. Drew, the Alligator All-Star told us this and he never exaggerates.
To do this you have to sign all kinds of forms that refer early and often to death and dismemberment. But after you do get to hang with the gators, they give you a Certificate of Insanity … like you’d need a piece of paper to point this out.
Actually, they teach you to handle alligators, not wrestle them, because you’d finish a distant second in that wrestling match and end your life as a Darwin Award.
As we were beginning our alligator adventure, Drew pointed out that a pit bull bites down with about 400 pounds of pressure. An alligator bites down with about 4,000 pounds of pressure, and we were about to go bother them just to see what would happen. It can be dangerous, but so is love and driving at well above the posted speed limit.
Jay “Gator Jay” Young runs the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. And you’re not wrestling gators as much as you’re helping Drew and Gator Jay check their gators. Not wrestling is a wise choice on your part because an adult male gator can grow to 12-feet-long and 900 pounds — more than your Subaru when it’s empty.
But I digress.
Your mission — and you’ve paid money to accept it — is to grab gators by the tail and pull gators out of the water, so Drew and Jay can check on their general health and well being. Yours is not entirely irrelevant, but you volunteered to be here.
BIG TANK, SMALL GATORS
You start small, in a big blue tank with small gators — about three feet long. You step into the tank and while a gator hisses at you, you grab it by the back of the head and yank it out of the water. You must never forget to grab the tail, because if you forget to grab the tail it’ll slap you harder than that girl in college you tried to talk into … well, never mind what you tried to talk her into because it wasn’t as cool as gator rasslin’.
Flush with pride and accomplishment, you and your comrades troop to a pen with a couple dozen six and seven-footers.
Under Drew’s watchful eye, you pick a gator that you hope is in a coma. Alas, it is not.
You grab the tail and as it thrashes about and reminds you that just moments ago it was sunning itself and not bothering you, you pull it backward out of the water. Being careful to keep your fingers and other appendages out of the immediate vicinity of those aforementioned teeth, you jump on top of your gator, push down its head, pull up its snout and sit on it.
Drew, Jay and in this case Zack and the lovely Storm (yes that’s really her name, and yes, she’s really lovely), check your gator for wounds.
If they find some — and they always find some — then they rub Neosporin on them. Unless they run out, which they did as I was sitting on my first gator. They informed me that they’d have to dash off to the supply cabinet to get some more.
“That’s fine,” I called back to them while sitting on my gator, which was the color of a nuclear submarine and weighed about as much. “Take all the time you need. We’re fine here.”
And that leads us to gator riding and gator grabbing.
From there, Drew led us into 80 Gator Pond. On one side of 80 Gator Pond is a small island. On the small island is a giant sign surrounded by 80 gators. The sign says, “Complaint Department. Sign the form here,” with an arrow that’s probably pointing at a gator, because there are gators everywhere. It’s a target rich environment.
In 80 Gator Pond, the gators run between eight and 12 feet, but look bigger up close. And far away. And you’re at the bottom of the food chain.
You will now walk into 80 Gator Pond, pull an adult gator up out of its natural habitat by its head — the end with the teeth — pose for a picture and return it to the wild. This you do, because sometimes it’s fun to intentionally walk in harm’s way. And this is almost as much fun as you can have with your alligator boots on.
SEARCH FOR INTELLIGENT LIFE
Heading back up the San Luis Valley you pass Hooper, Colorado, where you’ll find the world’s only UFO viewing tower. If you’re lucky, then you’ll find space aliens looking for intelligent life on this planet. Try to stand next to someone intelligent, because you just climbed out of 80 Gator Pond.
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Spooky season is here in Garfield County. Mini ghosts and dinosaurs will soon be walking the streets, hunting precious sugar.