If summer is the definitive time for oddball Americana like hot dog-eating contests and the world's biggest cheese ball, then in doesn't get much summerier than a rodeo that features alligators. At the Colorado Gators Reptile Park, just north of Alamosa, that is exactly what you'll get over the weekend at Gatorfest -- not that gator-wrestling is at all out of the ordinary up there.
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It wasn't always that way. Back in the late seventies, Colorado Gators got its start as a fish farm. "We got alligators to be our garbage disposal," explains Chris Youngs, a veteran employee of the park (who comes close to sharing a name with park owner Erwin Young, interestingly). Stiff competition from fisheries in Latin America put a stop to that venture, though -- and would have put the operation out of business, but word had gotten out that there were gators to be seen, and the company started rebuilding as an attraction.
But here's the hilarious part: You don't just get to look at the alligators; you can actually fight them. "For $100, we'll teach you how to wrestle gators," says Youngs. "We start you out with the two-footers, and once you kind of learn the techniques, then we take you out with the nine-footers."
Then, once a year at Gatorfest -- insurance rates be damned, apparently -- the park invites all the graduates of the gator-wrestling class to a compete in a gator rodeo at Gatorfest. Now in its fifteenth year, the festival this time around will showcase the park's newest acquisition, "Mr. Bo Mangles," one of 50 albino alligators in the United States. There will also be alligator fajitas. And helicopter rides.
And, really, what the hell else do you need? It's road-trip time. For more information or directions on how to get to Colorado Gators Reptile Park, go to the website or call 719-378-2612.