Texas is not merely a state, but a Republic: it's proud of it's history as one of two independent nations to have become part of the United States. As the largest state in the lower 48 by volume and one of it's most populated, it exerts tremendous influence politically and socially as the true power center of the American South. The independent streak of Texans is known not just nationally, but globally as a symbol of out hegemony. And yet, Texas is hardly some singular entity. It's a diverse state of robotics and tech, of chicano cities, of cowboys with hundreds of wind turbines, of coastline, of plains, of mountains. It has not one cultural capital, but multiple.
Of Texas' great cities, Dallas is most likely to be recognized by outsiders and international visitors. The Metroplex is a vast sprawl of super highways and housing developments that stretches nearly 10,000 square miles and contains the 4th largest metro population in the US (it's the seventh largest CSA, which also shows you how outside of the development, it gets rural fast). As such a hugely populated zone, it's had a long and stellar history of amusements that is exemplified in the first theme park that succeeded after Disneyland (Six Flags Over Texas). It's second most famous amusement zone has some really big stuff - really really big. And you'd expect that with an icon like Big Tex standing over the whole thing. Yes, I'm talking about the State Fair of Texas.
Fair Park is actually home to a huge number of permanent attractions and venues. Among these: the Cotton Bowl, the Museum of Nature and Science, Texas Discovery Gardens, and the African American Museum. Fair Parks is also one of the few major fairgrounds with large permanent rides. The Top O Texas Tower, opened in 2013, is a modern take on the old Willy Buhler Space Towers Intamin sold to so many places (including the still operating Sea World Orlando and San Diego models), built with a larger disc and a larger tower (500 teet!). It's not the only think that riders can take scenic photos from either, with the Big Tex Wheel standing in at over 200 feet and a long time record holder for largest ferris wheel in the US. The Skyway is also there, leading passengers over the midway and saving wear and tear on their soles.
Bigger excitement comes from less scenic attractions: Fair Park has a permanent dark ride called Scary Park. Originally opened as Lumalusion, it's a Bill Tracy dark ride that's seen some freshening up for the 2016 season. There's also an Arrow Log Flume (Sparklett's Splash) and a Dentzel Carousel. And of course Big Tex. He was rebuilt bigger, badder, and fire proof after burning to the ground in 2012. At 55 feet tall, Big Tex is probably the largest thing approaching an audio-animatronic ever constructed.
Staying near downtown, The Dallas Zoo also has several rides of its own: there's an Endangered Species Carousel, a trackless "mini-train", but most interesting is the Wilds of Africa Monorail. Seating is directed to one side facing the exhibits, with rock work, water falls, and of course tons of animals. Slowly moving out to the suburbs, there's all sorts of smaller family geared parks and entertainment centers. Legoland Discovery Center in Grapevine has a somewhat unique driving attraction called Lego City: Forest Ranger Pursuit - it's a combination of the existing Driving School attractions with interactive bits more akin to dark rides. And there's a straight up dark ride too in one of the Kingdom Quest attractions.
Dallas' actually has 5 dark rides in the metro area: 2 at Six Flags Over Texas, the Legoland and Fair Park dark rides, and an original Pretzel located at a small park called Sandy Lake in the suburb of Carrollton. There are several other attractions here, including a train ride, Herschell kiddie coaster, and several small kids rides. Alley Cats in the city of Hurst has a more modern coaster (the ubiquitous SBF/Visa Spinning Model, referenced in nearly every one of these pieces), several other kids rides, go-karts, and mini golf. Mountasia Family Fun Center in North Richland Hills has a similar list of attractions, but subs out the superior spinning coaster with a powered Miner Mike model from Wisdom. On the outskirts of the city, YesterLand Farm is one of the largest in a growing segment of agrotourism parks featuring a mix of kids rides, home built wackiness (Apple Cannons! Duck races!), and plenty of time to engage with domesticated animals. On the opposite end of the spectrum: Zero Gravity Thrill Park. Nothing but ultra high thrill attractions such as America's only remaining SCAD drop (no bungee, no cord, super high liability insurance free fall into a net), Skycoaster, Skyscraper propeller ride, and both a reverse Bungee and standard Bungee jump tower.
It's time to finally start making our way out of the Dallas Metroplex, but before we do, it's important that we mention another strange, Texas-only player. Several other large flea markets have opted to bring in amusement rides, but the three Trader's Village locations in Grand Prarie, San Antonio, and Houston all have some big rides in them. Just no coasters. All three have matching signature 128ft drop towers from Larson, and the majority of their other rides and attractions are also American made (Larson Giant Loops and Star Dancers, Chance Wipeouts, Yo-Yos, and Pharoah's Fury). Heading west, we find the kiddie coaster at Gatti's Pizza in Abilene's Gatti's Pizza location of the primarily Texas-based FEC chain. There's also what appear to be Ride Development Company bumper cars at their locations in Odessa and Midland, making them the only permanent amusement rides in that metropolitan area. For folks in West Texas, anything bigger requires a ride out to Lubbock or Amarillo.
Long known to coaster junkies, West Texas is one of the more remote destinations for unique/strange coasters in the United States. Joyland in Lubbock isn't a big park, but it does have some interesting variation; transportation/scenic rides (sky ride, train), classic flats, and some kinda interesting production model steel (the Herschell Mouse is one of two still operating). Not that far away in the city of Amarillo is Wonderland, a more comprehensive park that has even more unique rides - Bill Tracy's Fantastic Journey dark ride is here, along with the former Mayan Mindbender coaster from Astroworld (Hornet), a wacky Hopkins double looper that was designed on the back of a napkin (Texas Tornado), another near last of its kind Miler wild mouse (Cyclone), a big drop tower from Moser which used to tour with Conklin Shows (Drop of Fear), and a Z64 Zyklon (the big kind) called Mouse Trap.
Houston lost it's big theme park when Six Flags Astroworld was closed and sold for cash in an attempt to stave off what was an inevitable bankruptcy. In the 13 years since, many have come forward talking about building a replacement, but none exists yet. The closest thing to a replacement the Metro area has is a series of amusement attractions constructed by the local restaurant monolith, Landry's. Known outside Houston for chains like the themed Rainforest Cafe and Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Landry's has long partnered with The Walt Disney Corporation, operating several restaurants both in the parks (Yak and Yeti) and outside of them in Disney Springs. There's no "Landry" behind the company, but rather Tilman Fertitta; offspring of the Fertitta crime family that once made Galveston into an illicit gambling and entertainment center. The same Ferittas, in fact, that were behind the construction of many casinos in Las Vegas and became primary owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. From those questionable origins, there is every bit of evidence that they are fully legit and corporatized now, but there's still a lot of love for the people of Houston and expansion in Galveston.
There's an unofficial triumvirate that one can get multiday access for via their web portal: Historic Galveston Pleasure Pier is the newest of the trio, centered by the Iron Shark coaster from Gerstlauer and a Funtyme Starflyer. It has some design elements to evoke classic early 20th century facilities, but in some ways suffers from a gate entry price from really having the kind of crowds that would really make it feel like one. Kemah Boardwalk is the other seaside facility of the three: this time there's an absolutely top flight wood coaster (Boardwalk Bullet) as the signature attraction. There's also a substantial number of Chance's ride catalog here, such as an observation tower and a surprisingly themed CP Huntington Train. Finally, there's Downtown Aquarium: very similar thematically and design wise to the Sea Life and Ripley's aquarium facilities, it also features an outdoor section of rides primarily again of Chance descent. The signature ride here is their train: it goes through a nearby building that has been converted into a huge shark aquarium, and the train has a plexiglass roof to allow riders to see through into the tank from below as it travels a polycarbonate tube. There's also animatronics and....well, that's that for spoilers. Not part of the pass, but still part of Landry's empire, is the River Adventure Ride at the Rainforest Cafe in Galveston. It uses round boats similar to a rapids ride as it traverses a winding indoor path around animatronic animals galore.
(Houston Zoo is also a top shelf facility worth noting, though not a Landry's property. There's a modern carousel, aquarium, and all sorts of other stuff being a big zoo for a big market.)
San Antonio feels like it doesn't belong to the United States at times: The Missions are maintained by the National Park system sans one (The Alamo, which is the most emotionally fraught but also visually the least interesting), there's systems of 18th century aqueducts around, there's the Riverwalk, there's the historic La Villita Arts Community with nearly 30 historic structures, and the natural beauty of the rolling hills around it. As one of the 10 most visited cities, it also has a surprisingly large number of amusement facilities: Sea World San Antonio and Six Flags Fiesta Texas don't really apply for long form discourse here, but they're nowhere near the only options in town. The center of the city itself has some strange gems, in fact.
Take, for example, Tomb Rider 3D, part of a Ripley's complex directly across the street from the Alamo's front entrance. Both nondescript and appallingly tacky at once somehow, it's actually a Sally interactive dark ride that manages to fit in stereoscopic 3D video that is shootable along with some kinda custom bits. It's a nice change from the average Sally Ghost Hunt style ride. Over at the Tower of the Americas, there's Skies Over Texas 4D: standard Iwerks motion base but a Soarin' style film about, well, Texas. A 5 minute walk away is the Institute of Texas Cultures; like the Tower of the Americas, it's a hold over from the 1968 Hemisfair (World's Fair), and there's a projection film that runs in its multi faced ceiling about the multicultural nature of Texas' development. Brackenridge Park is both home to the San Antonio Zoo as well as a lengthy miniature train ride with over a mile of track. Too bad the Von Roll skyrides here and in downtown were both removed in the 80s.
Outside the urban center of San Antonio, there is yet more: Kiddie Park of San Antonio is exactly what it says it is; small CW Parker carousel with "grasshopper" jumper mechanism, Mangels kiddie rides galore, Whip, and what is probably a last of it's kind ride in the "School Bus" - basically a kiddie trolley attraction. Morgan's Wonderland is less classic, but in many ways shoots a lot higher, opting to try and have an entire amusement park that is accessible to every one of its guests regardless of disability. There are no giant rides - one swing attraction actually is built to accommodate wheelchairs, there's a train, there's a ferris wheel, etc. - but everything there is to accommodate everyone. It's an impressive feat, and it's earned them quite a lot of recognition.
Now actually a recognizable city, Austin isn't just a trivia answer to the capital of a state with other important places, but a major metro all it's own with a more liberal flair. Schlitterbahn, the now embattled water park that innovated so heavily, was its prime getaway for years, but with growth comes new operations. Most notable by car is ZDT's Amusement Park, a 10 acre family entertainment facility that gained significant notoriety for building a wooden shuttle coaster, the first in probably close to a century. Switchback has both a forwards lift hill as well as a vertical spike which the ride descends to go backwards. Less impressive, but still "counting" is Austin's Park N' Pizza, one of the increasingly ubiquitous Pizza Buffet + Kids rides that are popping up nationally.
You want dinosaurs? Texas has dinosaurs. How about dinosaurs AND a car wash? Austin has you covered again with Jurassic Car Wash has animatronic dinos that do a program on the top and half hour every day from 10AM - 7PM. Why? Because they can. Heard Natural Science Museum in the Metroplex also has an outdoor walk past big animatronic dinosaurs, should you have not gotten that out of your system at any number of Cedar Fair parks already.
There are actually yet more weird rides on the outskirts: The Fireman's Parks in Brenham and Giddings, Texas both have permanent carousels operating. The both even have incredible origin stories: Giddings's Parks and Rec say there's was the result of a carnival company coming in, not being able to make enough money and requiring a loan, and putting the carousel up as collateral. The Brenham carousel was discovered in a field, abandoned during the Depression. It's Dare-carved horses are rarities among CW Parker machines, and it was basically pure fortune that put it in the hands of the local fair board to restore in 1930. It's operated ever since 1932 as a community run attraction.
Texas, being a notoriously hot state, has a multitude of water parks. Rather than try to list all the big ones (Schlitterbahn! NRH2O! Typhoon Texas!) I prefer to try and focus in on the really unique. There's a connection between social conservancy and libertarian business regulations I don't really grasp, but it means that Texas has a couple really weird aquatics facilities. Chadillac's Backyard has lots of pictures of bikini clad women on it's web page while alternately claiming to be family-oriented (making families?). There's no Whitewater West stuff here, but there's huge slides that launch riders through the air and into the water and party decks. BSR Cable Park gained a measure of fame for their giant ramp, the Royal Flush. Participants are flung into 20 foot deep water through the air at one helluva distance. Oh, and BSR Cable Park also has the world's longest lazy river, well over a mile long. Bring cans of Shiner Bock (glass bottles are strictly prohibited).
I went to this place with local friends and we had a blast at Chicago venues here. The long happy hour definitely ensures a full upstairs, but I'd recommend the quieter downstairs to enjoy your stuffed burger and fries!ReplyDelete