Rocky Mountain kitsch: a Colorado ‘gator farm
I very nearly made this post “In praise of place: Ouray and environs (Part 6),” but decided, geographically, that would be one Hell of a stretch, because the area documented is a couple hundred miles (by paved road, anyway) from Ouray. Still, since I always approach from the east, and routinely visit this locality on trips to Ouray, it’s tough not to include it under the titular Ouray umbrella.
For those who are into tourist kitsch, the Colorado Gator Farm is one of the kitschiest places imaginable — not to mention exceedingly “organic” in scent, if you take my meaning.
Still, it’s a fascinating success story: Here in the middle of the arid San Luis Valley, only a stone’s throw (make that a catapult’s hurl) from Great Sand Dunes National Park, is an operation that has found a way to raise tilapia for the restaurant trade, dispose of the non-filet fish parts (by feeding them to the gators), and leverage the tourism angle to broaden their income stream. Free enterprise at its most creative!
When you pay your couple bucks to enter the grounds, you’ll have access to a fabulous terrarium/cage/botanical garden arrangement resonant of burbling water in cisterns full of various reptiles; turtles and snakes behind glass; tortoises roaming freely about; and vegetation streaming downward from the top of the greenhouse into which you eventually walk.
Just outside, you’ll come to the several acre area composed of the gator ponds. Hopefully you’ve saved some of your bucket of chow to hurl out into the muddy, roiling water, where alligators may or may not languidly approach the presumably nutritious flotsam and lazily chomp it down. (They’re pretty well fed, one gets the impression.) More often on a summer’s day you’ll find the gators relaxing on a mud bank, seemingly asleep. “Do Not Disturb” signage is entirely unnecessary.
If you’ve reached the end of your driving stamina by this time, I strongly suggest checking into the nearby Movie Manor Motel (at Monte Vista), where you can open your bedroom curtains after dark, turn up the piped-in sound on the wall panel, and watch a movie projected on the drive-in theater that adjoins the property. Pretty clever idea — and they’ve got an excellent restaurant, too. (Belgian Waffles for breakfast!)