What’s 9 feet long, weighs 600 pounds, has 80 razor-sharp teeth, and wants to kill you? Why, the alligator that you’re holding in your arms, of course. Few adventures can match the thrill of grappling with a prehistoric beast to see who comes out on top, and who will give up a pound of flesh. Not all who try to wrestle a gator walk away unscathed—most folks who’ve tangled with alligators for a while have the scars to prove it, and possibly a missing finger or two.
Think you’re ready to wrestle with one of nature’s most successful meat eaters? Then head to Monte Vista, Colorado, where alligator wrestling lessons and other thrills are available at Colorado Gators, described as the home of the biggest gators in the West. While there are still plenty of places in the swampy South to watch alligators and the men and women who wrestle them, none can provide you the up-close-and-personal intimacy of grabbing your very own carnivorous reptile that Colorado Gators offers every weekend (Fri–Sun). Be sure to sign up at least a week in advance, and wear clothes that you won’t mind getting muddy—or bloody. You’ll start the 4-hour course handling smaller alligators, gradually working your way up to the big 9-foot (12m) beasts.
Heated by geothermal waters, the attraction was originally founded as a tilapia fish farm, and alligators were brought in to act as “garbage disposals.” (The site is still an active fish farm, providing fish to Denver-area restaurants.) Gators have now been joined by emus, tortoises, pythons, and other exotic animals that were either abandoned by their owners or retired from Hollywood careers—one gator named Morris has starred in several movies and television programs.
If you’d rather leave the gator wrangling to others, you can still get your hands on a number of other reptiles (including baby alligators) in a 3-hour reptile handling program. Other species thrive here, too—because the site is home to a geothermal wetland, it acts as a kind of bird-watcher’s paradise for a number of rarely seen bird species.
Gator Farm Alligator Wrestling ( 719/378-2612; www.gatorfarm.com).
When to Go: Year-round.
Denver (250 miles/40km).
$ Best Western Movie Manor, 2830 U.S. Hwy. 160 W. ( 719/852-5921; www.bestwesterncolorado.com). $ Monte Villa Inn, 925 First Ave. ( 719/852-5166; www.montevillainnbudgethost.com).