The Horrors of Disneyland

Disneyland

“The tranquil water-way leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky–seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.”

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was on my mind as we made our way from one attraction to another at Disneyland. Your first assumption is that the Magic Kingdom is all sweetness and light. After all, it bills itself as The Happiest Place on Earth.

But that can be misleading. Walking through the cheery front gates onto a bustling Main Street inevitably leads you toward a darker subtext of the Disneyland story.

And that realization really hit me for the first time on our most recent visit. I’ve been to the park dozens of times as a visitor, and I worked there for a year during high school, but for some reason I never truly noticed all the death and fear that makes up the place.

The first thing that clued me in were the skulls. They’re everywhere! Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Indiana Jones Adventure, Pirates Lair, Peter Pan’s Flight. Piles of them! The Disneyland Hotel even had a gigantic skull-shaped rock to slide through at their pool before they remodeled and ripped it out.

If it’s not skulls, it’s scares.

The Matterhorn features two appearances by a ferocious demon-eyed Abominable Snowman. Alice in Wonderland is like some sort of freaky LSD trip. Indiana Jones almost drops you off a bridge into a pit of fire. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride actually concludes by sending you to hell, complete with blasts of hot air and a face-to-face meeting with Satan himself.

And then there’s the dead come to life.

The classic Haunted Mansion features a killer bride who wants to rip your still-beating heart from your chest. There’s a graveyard of ghosts and ghouls popping up from underneath their headstones, eager to come home with you. And then there’s that poor sap who is about to be buried alive and pleads with you to help him escape from his coffin. When I was a young boy, I kept my eyes closed the whole way through the Mansion. Sometimes I’d even plug my ears. That place was the stuff of nightmares to me.

There’s only one truly innocent ride in Disneyland — It’s A Small World. But the case could be made that cruising through room after room of unblinking, perpetually smiling, singing dolls is actually kind of creepy. You can very well imagine the place to be populated with the offspring of Chucky and Annabelle.

Okay, okay, don’t get me wrong. I love Disneyland.

In fact, I love the place so much I would make it an annual vacation destination if allowed by family and finances. I love every ride at Disneyland, and so do my kids. We’ve been to the park five times over the past ten years, and always for multiple days because you just don’t rush through it.

And those scary rides? They’re the best. Every time we visit, those are the rides we rack up the frequent rider miles on. Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder, Indiana Jones, Snow White. We get off and get right back on. The spookier it is, the more we want to ride it. During our last trip, my son and I set a personal record for Pirates of the Caribbean. 10 times in a 10-hour day.

We always have a blast being scared and bedazzled by the skulls and snakes and man-eating whales. Part of the magic of Disney is knowing that the things that frighten are just for fun. I’ve never seen bigger smiles on my kids’ faces than when they’re jumping out of their seats after something has shocked them silly.

Of course, as you get older you start to think that the best ride is in the little circle at the end of Main Street, next to the statue of Walt and Mickey. There you can find a lovely green bench, from which you can comfortably sit and watch the crowds go by. The way tourists act and dress might just be scarier than anything else you see in the park.

An undead pirate on the Pirates Lair

An undead pirate at the Pirates Lair

A denizen of the Matterhorn

A denizen of the Matterhorn

Skulls everywhere!

Skulls everywhere!

All photos by Idaho Dad

Be Good To Your Feet

feet-002Five years ago I was getting ready for my first long-distance walk, an 84-mile excursion in England.

And it was scaring me, because I knew something was wrong with my feet. I had broken in my new boots, but they still didn’t feel right.

This wasn’t new to me. As a kid, many decades ago, I hiked monthly with my Scout troop. My boots back then were stiff and unforgivable, with soles that felt and weighed like concrete. Every nail, eyelet, and grommet would stab into my feet with each tortuous step on the trail. We wore thin cotton socks that soaked up sweat like a sponge. It wasn’t a matter of getting blisters, but how bad they would be.

Back to five years ago, it was clear to me that boot-making materials and technology had changed dramatically since the 70s. My new Merrell boots were light and flexible, and I had the best synthetic moisture-wicking socks you could buy. But something was still wrong.

Thanks to the Google, I figured out that boot companies tend not to put much effort into their insoles. The manufacturers just assume that any serious walker is going to replace them with a pair suited best for their type of feet.

I had no idea there were so many types of insoles out there. Oh, I soon found out, trying out three different brands before finding one that fit me and my Merrells best.

Just before it was time for me to board a plane for England, I settled on a pair of gel insoles from Dr. Scholl’s. They weren’t perfect, but they helped.

And then security at the airport tossed them out. They weren’t allowing gel insoles on planes back then.

So, I ended up in the middle of London in a mild panic, until I came upon a backpacking store near Victoria Station. They took pity and introduced me to the Spenco Polysorb Walker/Runner insoles that saved my life on that trip.

I walked those 84 miles with confidence and comfort. I became a believer in quality insoles, whether you’re hiking, walking, running, or just standing on your feet for hours. Continue reading

Somewhere In My Memory

Alnwick Castle Memories

Try to remember what you had for dinner on the 16th of July this past summer.

Now try to remember what you were doing on the afternoon of June 5, 2012.

Anything?

If you can recall the details of those days, you must keep a daily diary, or you have a photographic memory. Or, maybe you looked it up on Facebook just now.

Most likely, you were traveling. Continue reading

10 Cool Things For Kids in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the crown jewel of our National Park System. It was the first of its kind, and remains the most unique and diverse wilderness experience that you will find in this country.

It’s also an extremely cool place for kids.

But with almost 3500 square miles of lakes, geysers, canyons, and hot springs, there’s too much to see in one short stay. So, after four visits to Yellowstone, and consultation with my own children, I have compiled the following list of park sights and activities that will make your family trip an especially memorable one.

Ten Cool Things For Kids (and Grown-Ups) in Yellowstone National Park:

1. Dragon’s Mouth Spring

Dragon's Mouth Spring

How can you resist telling your kids that a dragon lives in a cave near a mud volcano? It doesn’t take much imagination to think that this cavern, with its growls and thumps, and spitting steam, might just hold a real dragon.

2. Fishing Cone

Yellowstone Fishing Cone

It’s probably just a tall tale, but the story goes that the early trappers and explorers would catch fish in Yellowstone Lake, swing them directly into the Fishing Cone geyser just off shore, and have a meal of boiled fish in just minutes. “Hook and cook,” they called it. Like the dragon cave, another cool sight that will fire up the imagination.

3. Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn lobby as seen from Bat's Alley; Jim Peaco; October 2003

What kid won’t love the largest log hotel in the world? Just walk inside the 100-year-old Inn’s lobby, with its four stories of lodgepole pine balconies and 500-ton stone fireplace, and your kids might just want to sit for awhile. Preferably in one of the many handmade wood rocking chairs. Better yet, stay in one of the Inn’s rooms. Prices are reasonable, and the food in the dining room is first-class.
Continue reading

Sleeping in the Trees

Treehouse

I had a treehouse when I was a kid. And I’m pretty sure I slept in it once or twice.

As a grown-up, the idea of sleeping in the trees, on the bare wood floor of a drafty, spider-infested, rickety old treehouse, doesn’t sound so appealing.

Ah, but what if you could find some relative luxury up in those trees?

That’s what you’ll get at the Out ‘n’ About Treehouse Treesort, in Takilma, Oregon. Continue reading

Food, Glorious Food

Early on in our trip planning, it was suggested by some that the Boy Scouts would seek out any American fast food they could find in London.

The food situation was one of my biggest fears, right after one of the kids getting run over by a black cab.

You take a group of teens thousands of miles across the ocean to a foreign land, and then spend your breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Subway, McDonald’s, and Pizza Hut.

No thanks, I can eat that back home.

I told them how it was going to be. We would seek out British food at British restaurants and at least try to sample the traditional dishes of the country, whether they liked it or not.

Why travel if you refuse to try something new? Continue reading

Where’s the Fun in Fundraising?

I need $20,000.

Who doesn’t?

I’ve been trying to raise it as part of a fundraising campaign for the past 10 months. This is something I have no experience with, so it’s been interesting, to say the least.

Sometime about a year ago, I was attending my son’s Scout meeting when the parents began to talk about the need for some sort of high adventure trip for the older boys.

For some reason, people looked at me. Why, I don’t know. I’m not an outdoorsy person, and I’ve never been on a “high adventure.”

This is what I told them. And then I hesitantly followed with the word, “However…”

Because, in fact, I had been on an adventure of sorts, and very recently. As some readers may recall, back in the summer of 2010 I set out for a very long walk across England. It was a charity walk, raising money for the Joseph Salmon Trust. Good fun for a good cause.

I hadn’t really thought of it as being something a bunch of Boy Scouts from Idaho would do. But once I started talking about it, I could see a bunch of parents becoming very interested. Once the boys heard about it, well, that was it. There was no way I was going to get out of walking that wall again.

Which is funny, because at first I wasn’t too keen on several aspects of a return trip to Hadrian’s Wall country. The biggest was the cost. But the thought was that by setting a date for two years in the future, there would be plenty of time for all participants to raise the money through Boy Scout fundraisers.

The other thing I wasn’t looking forward to was getting back in shape for an 84-mile walk. But it’s good for me. Having a goal gets me to the gym.

However, I quickly learned that the only thing I really had to fear was the fundraising. As I said, I’ve never done this before.

And it’s hard. Annoyingly, unpleasantly, frustratingly hard.

We’ve sold popcorn, honey, and BBQ dry rub. We’ve had car washes and pancake breakfasts. There have been yard clean-ups and chili feeds. And all of that just in the first year.

I’ve learned a few things about fundraising. First, working for the money is so much easier than trying to sell stuff for the money. I’d much rather haul dirt in a wheelbarrow than stand in front of a store pleading with people to buy a bag of caramel popcorn.

Second, I’ve learned that you can easily get burned out on fundraising. Two years of doing it is a year too much.

But we’ll keep marching on. Because the boys are more than eager to make the trip, to visit the birthplace of Scouting, and to walk the path of the ancient Roman Centurions.

When I do stop and ask myself why there’s no “fun” in fundraising, I think about these boys who are looking forward to the adventure. It’s one that most of them would not have a chance to do otherwise.

Some of these kids have never even been out of the state of Idaho before, let alone on the other side of the world. It will be a life-changing trip for them. I try to remember that when I’m arranging yet another table sale or calling around to see who needs their yard weeded.

By the way, anyone want to buy some lovely creamed honey or tasty BBQ dry rub? Need some dirt moved? How about a nice plate of all-you-can-eat pancakes and sausage?

Hey, I’m trying.

A Grizzly Discovery

Storm Point Trail, Yellowstone

We’re back from a family vacation in Yellowstone National Park!

In the week leading up to our trip I’d grown nervous about the weather forecast, which had called for rain and thunderstorms. But the skies stayed mostly sunny while we were there.

And by “mostly sunny,” I mean that we’re all now sporting hot red sunburns on various parts of our bodies because we weren’t quite prepared for that big bright thing in the sky that has been hidden away for most of winter and spring.

The first sunburn of the year always signals the beginning of summer, so that’s one positive about it.

Yellowstone River

Our time in Yellowstone was great fun. The kids had been there before, but it was nine years ago and they don’t remember it. They’ll have a hard time forgetting this visit, as we explored almost every inch of the place from morning to night.

My son had a goal to spot every mammal known in the park. He almost did it too, getting up close and personal with a wolf, fox, marmot, pronghorn, and black bear, as well as the ever-present bison and elk.

We hiked miles and miles throughout the park, including the quite lovely 5.2-mile Fairy Falls Trail. If you visit Yellowstone, I highly recommend getting off the beaten path and away from the hordes of tourists.

Another cool trail, and a much shorter one, is the 2.3-mile Storm Point Trail, which leads you through open meadows to the shore of Lake Yellowstone, and then back through dense forest.

The area is a great place to find Yellowstone’s vaunted wildlife, especially Ursus arctos horribilis, more commonly known as the grizzly bear.

We didn’t really want to make a grizzly discovery on our hike, but the recently posted sign at the trailhead informed us that there was a good chance we would.

We went down the trail anyway. Bear spray in hand. Imagination on overload. It’s amazing how closely a shadowy, swaying fir tree can resemble an attacking mama grizzly! Multiply that tree by a thousand along the trail, and you can guess how much fun I had on the hike. I’m still shocked that I didn’t spray myself in the face at some point.

In the end, you have to realize that the danger from animals at Yellowstone is very small. There have been 5 or 6 bear fatalities in the park over the last decade. Out of 30 million visitors!

You should be more worried about getting smacked in the head by a German tourist with a 600mm lens trying to snap a photo of a chipmunk.

Actually, what I really should have been concerned about carrying around with me was not bear spray, but sun screen. Those burns will kill me before a grizzly does.

Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone

Olympic Summer

I could tell the kids were ready for summer to be over. They were wandering aimlessly around the house, just begging for someone to sit them down at a desk and teach them something.

But we couldn’t let summer come to an end without our traditional August road trip. One last blast of vacation fun before hitting the books.

We set out for an old favorite, the Pacific Coast beaches of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where the kids always love to build driftwood forts, dig in the sand, and explore the tidepools for sea creatures.

It’s a place to exercise the legs and clear the mind. If I ask my kids to go for a walk around the neighborhood, they’re good for a mile before the complaining starts. But on these vast expanses of sand? They’ll go 3 or 4 miles without even missing a skip.

I don’t know of anyone, of any age, who can’t help but be mesmerized by the beautiful beaches of the Olympic Peninsula. If you plan to go, check out the Kalaloch Beaches, Ruby Beach, and Rialto Beach. You can hit them all in one day, or just pick one and explore it to its fullest.

It’s a great place to ring out the summer and steel yourself for the coming season of books and calculators and reports.