Entertainment: John Muir, You're Going to Disney World!

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, October 1995

Entertainment: John Muir, You're Going to Disney World!

From the marriage of wilderness education and entrepreneurial scheming, a brainchild is born
By Debra Shore

Were you really satisfied with your last visit to a national park? Think about it. They're beautiful, but they do have drawbacks. The smell of RV septic-tank spill in the morning. The tape-deck-wielding smoothie camped next to you. Rampaging grizzly sows that see your tent and Homer Simpsonishly think, "Mmm...meal in a pouch."

Scott Mendelsohn feels your pain. The 37-year-old president of CEI Entertainment Inc. has come up with a bold new plan: The National Park, an educational amusement center modeled after our park-system treasures but homogenized for your protection. When and where will the fun begin? Sadly, that's up in the air. Mendelsohn recently submitted a proposal to the National Park Service hoping to earn its approval for the project, but he was turned down--something about his plan promoting "a thrill-seeking approach...that is inherently dangerous and unlawful."

Uh-huh. Country-music line dancing had its doubters, too, and look at it now. Until the Park Service comes to its senses, here's a sneak-preview of Mendelsohn's plan.

The Attraction: A roller-coaster journey into the bowels of the earth, designed to teach youngsters "why Hawaii owes its existence to volcanoes."

The Action: With an appropriately jarring jolt, your lava-rock-shaped car is sent 100 feet up to the rim of a volcano and then spirals down into bubbling, red-hot magma. Eventually, you're chased out of the hot zone by a flowing stream of lava.

Why Faux Is Beautiful: Real volcanic eruptions emit sulfur dioxide gas and hot lava that can kill instantly. This ride doesn't, so you get a solid introduction to volcanic dynamics with little risk of doin' the Pompeii.

The Attraction: An outdoor water ride.

The Action: You hop aboard a raft and float down Firehole River past fumaroles and hot springs, with an occasional refreshing splash to the face from geysers, including Old Faithful itself.

Why Faux Is Beautiful: Yellowstone's water attractions annually send a couple of visitors to the hospital with second- and third-degree burns. Here, splash all you want. The water is tepid, allowing for full-body thermal hugs.

The Attraction: A hands-on experience for aspiring archaeologists.

The Action: During a guided romp, you explore and climb through a synthetic cliff dwelling modeled after Arizona's Montezuma Castle National Monument, complete with lifelike Pueblo artifacts and native storytellers who provide insights into ancient Indian lifestyles.

Why Faux Is Beautiful: As you're receiving a helpful lesson in cultural sensitivity, you can also be a slob. Pick up pottery shards, rub them between your fingers, taste them, tote 'em home--and you won't get two years in the slammer and a $20,000 fine.

The Attraction: A multistory geologic trek.

The Action: Shuffling on hands and knees through dark, narrow passageways, you'll rope your way past ribbons of polished gypsum, climb huge chunks of limestone, gasp at the enormous stalagmites, and dodge the glowing-eyed denizens of Bat Cave.

Why Faux Is Beautiful: Reach into the darkness. Feel something cold, wet, bumpy, and sticky? That's your child's frozen Heath Bar. Since this cave's ecosystem is decidedly nonsensitive, delicious snacks are vended right outside.

The Attraction: An interactive exploration of the seldom-seen "depths of the Caribbean."

The Action: From your virtual-reality submarine, you roam the sea floor until you encounter a baby manatee trapped inside a sunken Spanish galleon. In a simulated rescue, can you save him--while also staving off sharks, eels, and other "mysterious surprises of the deep"--before you run out of air?

Why Faux Is Beautiful: If you do run out of air, you don't die. Yeah! If you succeed, you get a free merit badge and the chance to buy a videotape to help you relive your heroics again and again.

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