Nov 052007

Z and I have decided to cancel (or rather, postpone once again) our 2008 road trip. The plan was two weeks in the Southwest – Arizona, New Mexico, Grand Canyon, Four Corners, Meteor Crater, etc. Instead we’ll be visiting Astroland at New York’s Coney Island for a week (or so). The trip to New York is too expensive in terms of both gas and time to make it a road trip in 2008. With two full years of anticipation for this grand two week road trip why would we up and cancel it? One word: history.

Here’s a bit of that history, courtesy of Wikipedia

The original Switchback Railway at Coney Island was the first roller coaster designed as an amusement ride in America. It was designed by LaMarcus Adna Thompson in 1881 and constructed in 1884.[1] It appears that Thompson based his design, at least in part, on the Mauch Chunk Switchback Gravity Railroad which was a coal-mining train that had started carrying passengers as a thrill ride in 1827.

For five cents, riders would climb a tower to board the large bench-like car and were pushed off to coast 600 ft down the track to another tower. The car went just over 6 mph. At the to of the other tower the vehicle was switched to a return track or “switched back” (hence the name.)

This track design was soon replaced with a oval closed-circuit ride designed by Charles Alcoke and called the Serpentine Railway. In 1885 Phillip Hinkle developed a lift system which appeared in his ride called Gravity Pleasure. The Gravity Pleasure also featured cars in which the passengers could face forward instead of in the awkward bench-like seats of the first two roller coasters.

Not to be outdone, in 1886 LaMarcus Adna Thompson patented his design of coasters that included dark tunnels with painted scenery. Thompson built many more roller coasters across the country which were called “The L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway.” Some of these operated until 1954

Fast forward to 1926 and switching sources to The Cyclone page at Astroland’s website we find-

Brothers Jack and Irving Rosenthal commissioned Vernan Keenan to design, and Harry C. Baker to construct, a monumental wooden-tracked twister, which was forced to be exceptionally tight and steep because of the small ground space that was available to them. Construction then began on a site historically significant in the world of roller coasters — the Cyclone occupies the space, which contained the world’s very first roller coaster, LaMarcus A. Thompson’s Switchback Railway, as well as the world’s first successful looping roller coaster, Loop The Loop. With power supplied by the Eisenberg Brothers of Brooklyn, signs from Menheimer and Weiss of New York City, steel from the National Bridge Company, also of New York City, and lumber from Cross, Austin & Ireland, located in Long Island City, the Cyclone quickly became Coney Island’s number one attraction, a status it maintains to this day.

Why the rush to make a pilgrimage to Coney Island,the Cyclone, and the space of the first roller coaster? Because Astroland has been sold to a developer and, the way things look right now, not only will the Cyclone be torn down, but the land that held the first coaster will soon hold condos and or businesses instead. All that will remain is a plaque indicating this historical spot. Z and I are both fans of such plaques, but this will be her first opportunity to have experienced the commemorated item before it’s gone forever.

Oct 152007

Z and I went artichoke hunting on Saturday morning. But we weren’t just hunting any ol’ artichoke… We were hunting the World’s Largest Artichoke! And we found it in Castroville, CA outside the Giant Artichoke Family Restaurant.

I’m a big fan of cheesy tourist trap attractions such as this, but must say this one was rather disappointing. First of all, it’s simply not that large. Sure, at 20 feet tall it’s bigger than the average artichoke you’d find at your local grocery store, but it doesn’t compare to such things as the World’s Largest Hammer in Eureka, CA which we visited on our last major road trip. It’s also not an entire artichoke, but the rather the back half appears to be absorbed in the building, though when exploring inside there is no artichoke apparent. The greatest disappointment, though, was the lack of information about the artichoke itself. All we could find was a small paper taped to the produce stand’s counter with a couple of sentences of history.

I ate an artichoke omelet (which was excellent) and Z had the artichoke scramble for breakfast. Although the food was very good the service was mediocre at best and the prices were exceedingly high for the quantity and quality of food provided.

Thrilling photographs of the World’s Largest Artichoke (and the neighboring produce stand) can be seen here.

Sep 152007

Well, it didn’t take long for someone to cast a pretty heavy vote for a so-cal road trip. A friend linked me over to a California travel blog with a few articles on things to do in Southern California. It was the reminder of the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits that really cast the big vote.

Rancho La Brea is one of the world’s most famous fossil localities, recognized for having the largest and most diverse assemblage of extinct Ice Age plants and animals in the world. Through windows at the Page Museum Laboratory, visitors can watch bones being cleaned and repaired while outside the in Hancock Park life-size replicas of several extinct mammals are featured.

Like many young boys I was a pretty obsessed with dinosaurs for a while and the Tar Pits was a dream destination of mine back then. Sure, Z isn’t nearly the “future paleontologist” that I was, but I still think it’d be a pretty unique experience for her. Besides, I’ve been dying to have her experience the buskers of Venice Beach as well.

Sep 142007

South seems more and more likely to be the “destination” of our next journey with San Diego, CA as a possible spot to relax for a few days before heading into the overheated desert of the Southwest. Or, possibly as a cool down on the way back. After all, what better way to ease back into reality after the grandeur of the Grand Canyon then to give Z her first surfing lessons on the very same beaches I learned myself?

Yeah, I spent my high school years in north San Diego County, so I could show her the school that made me what I am today (despite my parent’s expectations), wander the beaches I explored in my youth, visit the future site of the world’s first Nickelodeon Resort (built on the site of the Naval Training Center where my father worked while I was in high school), and visit the current site of Legoland (a site I visited when it was a “future site” as well).

Sep 132007

The tale of my first road trip with Z, Seven Miles From Gorda, has been getting a lot play lately – it was in the latest Postie Carnival 12 and took second place in Brat Shannon’s latest contest. This, of course, has me jonesin’ for another trip. With Rover’s mechanical issues it’s certainly not going to happen soon, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start planning.

I’m thinking it’s time to up the ante. I’m considering starting to lobby for a full two-week trip with Z as soon as she gets out of school next summer. We both really want to go to Alaska, but the U.S. Government refuses to give me a passport, so I’m not allowed to leave the country. Not even for the short skip across the edge of British Columbia it takes to get to Alaska. So, despite the heat, we’ll probably be heading south.

There’s a lot that can be explored in the Southwest – Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon, Four Corners, the London Bridge, the Manzanar Internment Camp, and theme parks galore. Of course, I also really want Z to experience the Republic of Molossia, which is north of us. So many choices, so little gas.