Meet Gators, Snakes and Reptiles in the World’s Largest Alpine Valley

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“WARNING! TRESPASSERS WILL BE DELICIOUS!”

The sign — complete with centerpiece photo of a laughing alligator — screams raucously from beside the sanctuary entrance. This dark yet cheesy humor quickly becomes standard, deflecting any concerns or critiques that may stem from discomfort. Colorado Gators Reptile Park (CGRP) knows it makes some folks squirm with its dangerous residents, stinky fish ponds and geothermal swamps. But what it lacks in splendor it more than makes up for in character, commitment and compassion.

As I stepped over the threshold into the dim terrarium room, the refuge’s charms emerged. CGRP, a bonafide tilapia farm since 1977, has long used alligators to help manage fish waste. In the 1990s, people started dropping their unwanted exotic pets off and a haven was born. Today, in addition to its “working” gators, CGRP takes in birds, reptiles and arachnids who’ve become too large or unruly for their owners to handle. Visitors learn about the animals and in some cases interact with them. Friendlier rescues serve as ambassadors and the sanctuary offers classes in handling reptiles and alligators. Tourist dollars support the farm, the animals who call it home and CGRP’s community education and outreach.

A number of amusing and informative signs guide visitors throughout the property, offering details on each of the critters’ unique histories. Many of the animals are rated on an alligator paw system: one paw = bad pet, five paws = great pet. Within moments of entering the terrarium room, I was snuggling with a vermillion serpent of the five-paw variety. While I cooed at the captivating corn snake, the employee who fetched him for me explained why these animals can work in a home. “They don’t get too big and they’re laid back,” he explained. Unlike many of the sanctuary’s charges.

After reluctantly returning my new friend to his home, I directed my attention to the other creatures. Several species of rattlesnakes, feisty iguanas, translucent scorpions, and an enormous anaconda eyed me from their glass enclosures.

“RETICULATED PYTHONS DO NOT MAKE GOOD PETS!” Warned another sign. “THIS SNAKE TRIES TO KILL US EVERY TIME WE FEED IT OR CLEAN ITS ROOM!”

By the time I stepped back outside to see the alligators, I was hooked. The main habitat houses dozens of gators lolling about in the sultry mix of Colorado sunshine and geothermal pools. And while they’re clearly well-fed, that doesn’t void the spooky vibe of walking among them with only a beat-up chain link fence for protection.

But it’s the rescued gators that most folks come to see. CGRP hosts several albinos, a couple former backyard pets and Morris, the Happy Gilmore alligator. Long-lived — estimates place Morris around 55 years old — and weighing between a quarter and half ton, these prehistoric beasts remind would-be gator owners the danger of reality.

And that’s the thing about about this unlikely refuge. Sure, it’s a quirky diversion en route to the more popular Great Sand Dunes National Park. But funny signs and friendly reptile ambassadors aside, it’s committed to caring for unwanted critters and highlighting the challenges of keeping these exotic animals as pets.

The Details

Colorado Gators Reptile Park

9162 CR 9 North

Mosca, Colorado 81146

719.378.2612

Hours vary seasonally so check the website or call.

Prices at time of writing:

  • Children 5 and under — FREE
  • Children 6-15 — $7.50
  • Adults 16-64 — $15.00
  • Seniors 65-79 — $7.50
  • Seniors 80+ — FREE

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