Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Land Lost in Time

On Saturday I went to a local attraction that I've been wanting to visit for years. Called Dinosaur Land, this place is an iconic piece of kitschy vintage America. Sporting a huge mouth baring foot tall teeth at its entrance and a monster octopus leering over the fence, the place was daring me to come in, and enter I did.
I paid my $6 and stepped through a wooden door expecting to be disappointed and prepared for lots of feeble critters with gnashing choppers that would frighten a small child but make an adult laugh. I walked around the corner smack into a 60' long shark that was actually impressive enough to stop me in my tracks. The perspective was awesome, setting off his gigantic jawline to perfection.
And it just got better and better from there. The first thing I noticed was the teeth. Wide open mouths displaying many forms of molars and incisors were on display, it was great.  How often can you get up really close to a mouth that size and look in. For those 'selfie' addicts, there's countless possibilities of unique self portraits here.
This Land of Giants opened over 40 years ago, its owner, Joseph Geraci, wanting to imitate some fiberglass dinosaurs he'd seen on a Floridian put put course. He wanted a few outside his gift shop and started creating them in the 60's. They soon became very popular, leading to an actual park of these prehistoric creatures being built. The originals stand on the corner outside the gift shop and the original Dinosaur Land  lettering, fashioned from CA's Disneyland sign, entices people to come in and visit. The park was once an open field but is now filled with tall pines with the heads of a T Rex, a Brachiosaurus or a Giganotosaurus peering through the leaves. The scene of a bloody battle between huge monsters is played out on the grass while others are busy ripping each others necks or catching a Pterodactyl as it flies past. Despite their age, some of these creatures still remain quite fearful and I noticed that many of the visitors were groups of adults as well as families with children.
The Apatosaurus, the correct name for the Brontosaurus, looked pleased to see me. I can't look at one of these without remembering Monty Python's famous sketch.
Some of the earlier models were endearingly cute, looking like they'd been fashioned from a kids comic book. The one immediately above is supposed to be a T Rex, what a cheerful little chap! I honestly didn't recognize any of them but loved them regardless. A couple of adults that I chatted with also expressed a fondness for these originals. I was ecstatic to hear from my friend Bill that he knows someone who's going to be starting work on the plaster restoration of some lucky creatures here.
I was delighted to see that there had been some recent additions, creatures that showed off their brand new gnashers in huge snarls and leered at me with the most expressive eyes.
 There were some other creatures, not dinosaurs, that were spotted about the park. There was a huge cobra rearing up above everyone and a towering 14ft praying mantis. I'm not sure about their significance but strangely they didn't seem out of place. I was also amazed to see a huge King Kong near the exit, which was built after Geraci watched the movie. Complete with a biplane in his hand and emitting a huge roar, folks can sit in his outstretched palm for a photo.
The exit door doesn't lead you out of the park but takes you into another wonderland, the vast gift store. Of course it's filled with dinosaurs in every shape and form, but there's also vintage postcards of the place featuring Joe's family, country and Native American crafts, some very cool t-shirts which are just black ink on white fabric and then burst into color when you walk into the sunshine, (got one of those!), candies, puzzles, footwear, and even wine and beer making equipment.
I absolutely loved this place and will definitely be back for another trip, most likely with some friends who expressed a desire to see some dinosaurs in the 'flesh'. It's not going to be closing any time soon either. Joe died in 1987 but his daughter is continuing to run the attraction, and it remains a popular destination. And of course, I need to take that 'selfie'!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Carrie Furnace, PA

Bill, my friend from Blandy camera club, and I took off Friday to meet DCUE at a paid photo tour of Carrie Furnace in PA. It's been a few years since I'd last visited and at the beginning of the tour we were told of numerous places that we weren't allowed to explore. A few of us had toured the site years ago, and been all over, but unfortunately these folks exclaimed that there were less places we were allowed to access today than before. No climbing up on to those metal walkways looming enticingly above us and no teetering over railings aiming for that awesome perspective looking downward. We were allowed up onto 1 level in some areas and that was it. Even many of the actual furnaces were cordoned off by garish bright yellow chains and painted railings. But the staff were extremely friendly and upbeat, offering help whenever we wanted it and so off we trotted, all rushing in different directions, like ants from a disturbed nest.
Really not sure what this was doing there, another obscure art project? I took a photo, just because it was old and battered, and I liked the yellow.
I spotted this little plastic addition to the site and thought it cute, but then spotted more and more of them on my way round. They lost their appeal, there were too many of them. There were even quite a few wooden benches placed around as though inviting us to sit down and pull out a lunch of sandwiches, chips and pop from our bags. I almost expected to turn the corner and see a couple of elderly ladies with their poodles sitting chatting on these new seats. Or maybe a trash bin next to a bench for those empty chip bags...
There was one part where we could still actually walk amongst the furnaces and towers. It was a small area but my favorite, and wonderful to get up close and personal again, like greeting an old friend.
Maria Caruso, a contemporary ballet dancer, did a photo shoot here and left her shoes hanging afterwards. They're looking a little battered now but everyone took a photo.
The Carrie Deer has been here since 1997, erected secretively by trespassing local artists. The story is here. 
One area I didn't explore on my last visit was around the back of the furnace. There is a wall covered in graffiti and I could stroll all the way down to the crane.
I didn't recall this old train from my last trip either so it was great to explore another new area.
There was a locker room area down below with beautiful rusted doors hanging, the paint still vibrant as it curled and twisted away from the metal.
And here was a tunnel for the coal to be carried in that would power the firnace.
The site is currently being preened for a new TV series, American Ninja Warriors. It did look pretty funny seeing a guy pushing a mower back and forth, seemingly totally out of place, with the huge rusting furnace as his backdrop.
I love this shot I quickly snapped on my phone of a few members.
This was one Lewis took. We all looked so tiny against the background and I wanted to see the people so I cropped it rather severely.
I was glad to see Carrie again but don't think I'll return. I applaud the work being done here to preserve the site but it was starting to have a bit of a 'touristy' feel, which is probably great as it will pull in more of the general public and not just us urbexers. And that's just fine, I'd rather it become a much loved tourist site than see it demolished, we're losing too many of our old industrial sites.
We met for lunch at this dive bar, Emil's Lounge, which has been featured on the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods for their Giant Stuffed Cabbage, video here. It seemed everything was giant in here, a couple of folks ordered fish sandwiches which were huge, with 3 pieces of fish in each, but nobody ordered the stuffed cabbage.
It was late as we finally made our way home from Cumberland Bill and I had to stop abruptly on a dark road as a tiny little dog was trotting down the middle towards us. I jumped out of the car and struggled to see him in the pitch black, we were in the middle of nowhere. We had no cell phone signals and there were no houses. To cut a long story short, I had to take him home until the owner could come and collect, she had no transport that night and we weren't backtracking another 20 or more miles to an area we didn't know. His name was Buddy and he was exceptionally well behaved. Rosie Lee wanted nothing to do with him and Kota simply ignored him. He stayed the night and thoroughly enjoyed his breakfast of scrambled eggs sprinkled with cheddar cheese. I later had to meet up with his owners at a halfway point in Winchester where they told me he was 10 years old. He was obviously very well cared for and it had been by accident that he'd escaped home and started his trek to Cumberland. I handed him over without reservation, he was certainly loved and was pleased to see his mom again. A happy ending!