Here are my thoughts on my recent visit to Knott's. Kind of a wordy-essay thing. Thank you for reading.
Having been born and raised in Orange, CA, the theme parks have always held a special place in my heart. Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm were a yearly treat my mother would bestow upon me and my brothers for a schools years worth of good behavior. These parks were built upon the imaginations of two great people name Walter, who took farms south of Los Angeles and created mountains and lands of past eras. My own family has also left its mark on both parks. My Grandfather was an immigrant from Mexico, and after working as a migrant worker, settled down in Orange County and worked construction jobs which landed him work in both parks. Disneyland was the holy grail of theme parks; it was the park that reminded me of its presence at night, when the booming of the fireworks would echo through the hills but for the most part, was unattainable. Knott’s Berry Farm was the historical park, where you could go and learn about California and the Wild West; the one we took school trips to, to learn about the gold rush and Native American traditions. And Knott’s was also the affordable park.
After visiting Knott’s almost every year in elementary school with my family, my last visit was around 2002 when Perilous Plunge and Xcellerator made their debuts, and you could tell that the park was shifting gears. The constant commercials for the new ‘extreme’ rides and what my friends had told me about how the park had changed, kept me away until this past weekend. As an EMT my boyfriend gets free admission in December and January, and we decided to make the trip to the park instead of our usual weekend trip to the Disneyland Resort. Pulling up on Knott Ave, I started to get excited. It had been almost 10 years since my last visit to the park and even though I had avoided it, I couldn’t help but think of all the fun my brothers and I had here. We took the slight left turn, went under the tunnel to the parking lot (Oh! The tunnel! I remember walking through you tired out from a day of play!), paid our parking and parked. I excitedly led my boyfriend back under the tunnel and to the front gate, telling him stories of the fun and how exciting the ghost town and camp snoopy are. He warned me not to get my hopes up, because the park may have changed more than I was expecting, but really how much could it have changed? Just a few new thrill rides right?
We took our first step into the park, where I remember being greeted by a fun water tower with a dancing cowboy and cowgirl on top, and on hot summer days, we would run through it to cool off. Well it was still there, maybe lacking the energy of children running around due to the cold January day, but the spectacle seemed to be caught up in a web of the steel pylons that make up the extreme roller coaster, Silver Bullet. And these obnoxious pylons quickly became the main theme of the day. Things were worse than I had imagined, and walking through the ghost town made me even more emotional, I was not prepared. The day quickly became not one of enjoying the sights of my childhood with my partner, but one of me telling him stories of the glorious past. Look, there’s the Native American stage, where dancing performers would wow us and tell us stories to the beat of the drums-now with a large metal pylon bursting from the ground not too far from the stage. The atmosphere was all off too, walking around a ghost town made from buildings plucked right out of the boom town of Calico in the California dessert, while listening to the Cranberries and Nickleback , and the screams andthunderous sounds of the coasters. The buildings looked tired, the life sized dioramas inside some of the buildings looked worn and forgotten. Luckily, as I was on the brink of crying, I heard an announcement for the Mystery Lodge show. One of my all time favorites! It surely must still be amazing!
I dragged my boyfriend over and prayed in line that the show would still be everything I had remembered it to be. And luckily it was. It is a really great show, wonderful themes and such care were taken in making that show, and I am glad that at least one thing has lasted. Big Foot Rapids was closed, which was sad because it was one of my favorite rides, but still took the time to explain to my boyfriend what the ride was, and how fun it was, but what was that wooden shack thing intruding on the pristine landscaping of the ride? To my surprise (though I really should not have been surprised) it was a newer ride, The Pony Express, another steel intruder fitting with Knott’s new Thrill Park persona. Needless to say I was upset that a ride that looked like it wasn’t even that great, had taken up real estate in the Bigfoot Rapids. Whatever, let’s just move on. Here around the corner are the bumper cars and the snoopy theatre, still looking exactly the same, except more rusted. Everything was rusted, worn and unloved looking. I was growing weary of this place, it was not the place that I had enjoyed so much as a child.
We made our way to the heart of the Thrill side of the park. It was crowded, not so much with people, but with a web of steel supports. The air thick with a cacophony of sounds, shudders, and screams. I grew weary of the area and we quickly went on Jaguar (a childhood favorite) and made our way to camp snoopy. I felt like nothing had changed! The same old stuff from over 10 years ago! And look! They still have the Huff and Puff ride! Oh man! That was the highlight of my childhood and of that day. Sadly, it seemed like the caves were closed off and no longer in use, and the feeling of being in a forest was gone due to, yes, even more new screaming coasters. We had made the full circle around the park. I was weary, wasn’t there a lake in here before? What happened to the white chapel along the water? Why are the teepee’s trapped under the steal too? And you can’t enter them anymore? Why is this silver bullet ride so damn MASSIVE? Hell! That ride seems to be everywhere! So many questions, so many hurt feelings. It was all really silly of me to be feeling like this. I mean for the past decade I had known about the selling of the park from the Knott family to the Cedar fair people, I had seen from the freeway how the skyline of the park had changed. From the parachutes tower with the big ‘K,’ with Montezumas revenge peeking out back in the day, to the mangled mess of steel, more similar to what you see when you drive by Six Flags Magic Mountain.
The temperature was quickly dropping. We had only been in the park about three hours but it felt like I had been walking around all day. Who knew getting emotional over a theme park would make you more tired than the actual theme park. I told my boyfriend that we would go home after we ride the Calico Mine Train. I remember that one being fun. And it was just as I remembered it, tired looking of course, but the whole park has that tired feeling to it anyways. Towards the end of ride, we felt rain drops and sure enough, when we got off the ride, it had begun to drizzle.
Now this next part may sound cliché but it summed up how I felt after my short visit here. The drizzle was getting a bit more aggressive and the sun had gone down, but I had to make one last stop. There used to be a graveyard around here in the ghost town. With funny things written on the headstones, and a beating heart, we would play around these graves as kids, being kind of afraid that maybe there were real bodies in these graves. Now where was it… Boot Hill! That sounds about right, there was a cemetery on boot hill, the last thing I wanted to visit before leaving. I skipped up to the entrance; it was dark, barely even lit, a bit eerie. And right there, in the middle of this beloved fake graveyard, the one thing that been inescapable all day, and steel pylon. Right there, emerging from the ground almost taking up a grave, desecrating what I felt was the last holy place in this poor tired, confused theme park. I didn’t think anything could have upset me that day, but this one took the cake. The drizzle was on the brink of becoming a full on rain, I took a quick walk around the graves, it was much too dark to decipher what they said, and it seemed like the beating heart grave was no longer beating. I took a deep breath, touched one of the headstones, said a quick prayer/farewell (mind you, I am not a religious person) and walked away. My boyfriend was waiting for me at the entrance of the graveyard; he hadn’t even entered, but had left me to grieve on my own. He grabbed my arm, told me he was sorry and we quickly made our way out of the moist, cold park, through the side exit gates, across the street, under the tunnel and into my waiting warm car.