August 2004

On August 22, Karen and I drove six hours to the little town of Elysburg, PA, to visit one of our favorite parks, Knoebel's Amusement Resort. Our plan was to camp two nights at Knoebel's Campground and the third night stay in the park's new "Dream Suite." Our trip down Route 54 took us through the heart of small villages that were frozen in time, town centers that looked as if they hadn't changed since the early 1900s. We passed many coal sellers and some excavation operations. As we turned on to Route 487 to the park, traffic was bumper to bumper. It was about noon on a Sunday, and the weather was perfect. But I was surprised that the park was going to be so crowded.

We turned off Route 487 before the park and took the road to the campground. We passed by the Knoebel Lumber Company and then turned right across the ancient narrow covered bridge. The big Twister wooden coaster was to our left. A stone bridge spanned miniature railroad tracks. We drove by the camp store and pulled up to the camp office. Our check-in time wasn't until 3, and there were still campers at our designated spot. So we decided to park the van and walk around the park for a few hours.

As we walked back toward the park, we stopped next to the Twister, with one of its heavily banked turns inches from us, and watched a train blast by. Being able to stand so close to that coaster, I was really able to appreciate the extreme forces the ride had. We continued on back across the covered bridge that crossed a wide peaceful stream and stood in front of the Vekoma Whirlwind coaster, mostly hidden behind large trees. The Flyers were to the left, the popular spinning ride with cars that have a big moveable wing in front. This one was unique because of the odd engine, apparently the front of an old tractor, radiator and all. As the cabs spun around, suspended by cables like a swing, the gas-powered engine throttled and made a revving and putt-putting sound like an old airplane trying to take off.

Near that was the quaint Stony Gables, a fairy-tale cottage made entirely of small stones. Originally an actual cottage, it was converted into a candy shop. As we ventured deeper into the park, we were stunned by the crowds. Everything had long lines, from the rides to the food and even the games. And as we approached the Hand Stamp booth, I suddenly remembered that on weekends Knoebel's didn't offer a pay-one-price option. The booth was closed. So the mobs of people in the park were all buying tickets and paying for each ride separately. And none of them seemed to mind. The cost per ride was quite reasonable, from 60 cents for a kiddie ride up to $3.00 for the Scenic Skyway.

We've never seen another park like Knoebel's. There was no traditional midway. The park was basically a giant picnic grove filled with tall trees. Wherever there was space between the trees, a ride or concession was placed. The park rested in a sort of bowl, surrounded by mountains. Two streams cut through the middle of the park. Many small bridges spanned the streams. Knoebel's has seen several floods over its 75 years, and markers throughout the park reminded guests of the high-water levels. We got lost time after time, wandering as if we were in a maze. But we didn't care. It was just so much fun being there. (We later saw a t-shirt for sale that read, "Lost at Knoebel's -- Don't find me!")

We were feeling a bit hungry from our long ride, so we headed over to the pirogi stand. It was underneath a large circular wooden canopy, like a giant carousel top lined with colorful lights, that slowly turned. There were two other similar structures nearby that had heavy wood picnic tables beneath them. One of them was turned by wooden gears that drew their power from a water wheel on the Old Mill, a nearby ice cream stand. We each got some pirogis and some tri-taters, which were like large three-sided tater tots. They were quite good.

We resumed wandering about, stopping in to check out the many gift shops. Knoebel's probably had the largest variety of unique gifts I've ever seen outside of Cedar Point. From puzzles to license plates to snow globes to keychains, there were coasters, carousel horses, bumper cars, ferris wheels...dozens upon dozens of appealing items. It was a little frustrating for me, since I collect t-shirts: there were so many wonderful designs that I would have gone broke buying them all.

Pulling ourselves away from the gifts (saving shopping for later), we ended up at the far corner of the park in kiddieland. There at Totem Treats was our long-lost friend, Cheese on a Stick. We each ordered one. It was made fresh, and had an interesting consistency. The corn meal batter was less sweet, and the melted cheese was mozzarella (instead of the standard American). It was good, but not what I was expecting.

We hiked back to the campground. Our space was empty so we parked our van there and set up our tent. The little streets throughout the camp were named for states. We were on Texas Avenue, section 31. There was a large wooden platform on which to pitch the tent. It cost slightly more ($30) but was much better than the first time we camped here, when our spot was rocky and slanted. We also had a picnic table and a fire ring. Our site was about ten feet away from the Twister's tunnel, which dove underneath Texas Avenue. The ride's tall folded lift hill and the tops of the giant helixes loomed before us. As I set up the tent, the two trains thundered through their course over and over, riders screaming in terror. The crew must have been incredibly efficient, because the trains never let up. No sooner had one train barreled though the tunnel than the other was going up the lift hill. It was music to my ears.

Since we were spending three days here, we were in no hurry. That felt good. We were able to just walk around in the park and soak up the sounds and smells without feeling like we were going to miss something. I pursuaded Karen to take a ride on the Haunted Mansion, considered by many to be the best dark ride ever built. She isn't a big dark ride fan, but she humored me and went along. I've been on it several times before, but I still find new things to see on it. The track had some really surprising and unsettling hairpin turns, in complete darkness. There still were the ride's trademark simple-yet-effective stunts, including one of the best finales of any dark ride (one often imitated but never equaled). I ended the ride grinning ear to ear. Karen screamed a lot and swore she'd never go back on it.

We walked over to Knoebel's Carousel Museum, which I had never seen. There were lots of unique gifts there, including a stunning afghan that was embroidered with scenes from the park, matching pillow, a working roller coaster toy and dozens of miniature carousels. One was especially interesting; it was an ornate cylinder about eight inches tall that looked like an old italianate gazebo. It was encircled by archways made of mirrors. As the cylinder spun, music played and the mirrors pivoted open like doorways, revealing carousel horses inside. The doors then swung shut in the opposite direction, reverting to the mirrored archways. It was fascinating to watch. The adjoining museum itself was a bit crowded. There were many old rounding boards hanging on the walls, all lit up. Taking up the center of the room, roped off, were dozens of carousel animals made by various carvers both famous and little-known. Among them were a tiger, a lion, an ostrich and a tiny elephant.

Next we headed over to Knoebel's mining museum. Sitting outside to the right was a gigantic 10 ton chunk of coal. Behind that was an old yellow coal train that used to bring miners down into mines. It was a little eerie to look at. The cab where the miners sat, which was about four feet high, was completely enclosed except for small square windows on the sides. Miners evidently would sit hunched over on wooden planks inside the cab. The windows cut into the front of the cab looked strangely like a smiley-face. To the left of the museum was a display where people could pan for "gold." A long wooden trough with flowing water served as the stream. Guests could purchase a little square box with a screen on the bottom, filled with mud chips. By washing it in the stream, their "gems" would be revealed. The museum itself did a good job of capturing the working conditions of Pennsylvania's coal miners. There were dioramas, which vividly convey the danger and claustrophobia. There was also a video playing about coal mining.

Behind the museum, a new section was added for Knoebel's 75th anniversary. Inside were displays of old arcade machines and dozens of photos depicting the history of the park. What I found most impressive were two displays that were suspended high up toward the ceiling, on opposite walls. One was a section of a Big Eli ferris wheel, with two of the ride's cabs. The other was an old ride I remember from my days at Mountain Park. It was basically a large square metal cage hanging from two counterweighted arms. One or more people would stand inside the cage and begin rocking it back and forth like a giant swing. Because of how the arms were attached, the cage would always remain upright. Eventually if you had enough strength and endurance, you could get it to make a 360-degree arc over and over. Since there were no restraints inside, lots of riders would get banged around, and eventually the ride was deemed too much of a liability.

As we passed by many of the game booths, Karen noticed that all of the signs in the park were done in bas relief. For the Derby Race, a three-dimensional horse and ride protruded from the sign. For the Whirlwind coaster, the track jumped out of the sign. Most impressive was the Twister sign above the ride's entrance: two giant hands were grabbing hold of a trainload of riders and the track and twisting it.

I had been hearing for years how good Cesari's Pizza was, but had never tried it. So we stopped there to eat. There were long lines, but they moved quickly (as all lines at Knoebel's did). The pizza lived up to expectations and was quite tasty. We then walked around some more, stopping near the Phoenix to listen to one of Knoebel's six (!) band organs. It was a large Wurlitzer and it sounded great.

Since the Skyway was an extra charge whether or not we had a hand stamp, we decided to take a ride. It was placed in an unusual spot, right at the front of the park and across the street from a mountain. Once seated, we were immediately lifted up over Route 487. For some reason, that was a really unnerving experience, having traffic zooming past below me. The ride appeared to be patterned after the Sky Ride at Lake Compounce. It had the same style chairs (although these were much more colorful). And it did pretty much the same thing. After we had crossed over the highway, the ride took us steeply up the side of the mountain. Below us was a crisscrossing path made of timbers and crushed stone that followed the entire length of the ride. It looked as if they were still working on it. The large iron posts that held up the cable weren't set into the ground vertically. They were set perpendicular to the slope of the mountainside. They looked really odd, as if they were about to fall over. The ride was very peaceful. At the top of the mountain we got a glimpse of another mountain range in the distance before turning and heading back down.

The view on the way back down was really impressive. The Twister was plainly visible. The Phoenix was mostly hidden by trees. The northern stretch of midway with Powersurge and Skloosh was easily visible, because there weren't any trees there. But other than that, I would never have realized there was a park below us. Other than those few rides and the distant sounds drifting up, we could have simply been staring out at a dense forest.

We wandered into another gift shop and bought a few items including dozens of postcards. I'd never seen a park with so many different types of refrigerator magnets! Then we stopped by the Old Mill. Karen got a waffle cone with vanilla ice cream. I got a caramel sundae with butter pecan ice cream. It was incredibly delicious, with the tastiest whipped cream I've ever had. With full stomachs and tired feet we headed back to our tent and rested up for our next full day.

The night was chilly, but we had thick sleeping bags and blankets. In the morning, campfire smoke hung thick in the air around us. Maintenance crews were walking the tracks of the Twister, tapping the wood with hammers. Shortly, the familiar clatter of the chain began and a test train ascended the lift. The rising sun bounced off the dense structure.

We washed up and headed into the still-sleeping park. There was a little mailbox outside the General Store. We dropped our postcards into it. A park employee stood outside the park office with a little crank-organ, turning the handle and playing tunes as a small stuffed monkey sat on top of it. We walked over to the International Food Court for breakfast. On the way, we passed by the beautiful ranch house that sat opposite the Phoenix. We wondered who lived there. There were many homes and cottages scattered about the property as if it were a small town.

Karen ordered french toast, eggs and home fries and I ordered pancakes and home fries. We each got orange juice too. The total came to about eight dollars. The food was delicious. The home fries were a mix of sliced and shredded potatoes and onions. This is something that Six Flags has to learn: if you serve delicious food and keep your prices reasonable, people will eat there. Knoebel's allowed guests to bring picnic lunches, but I never saw many people doing that. With food so good and so inexpensive, why bother?

We walked around the quiet, empty park. The hand stamp booth opened and we each bought the "Basic plus wooden coasters" option for $29. Then we headed for The Phoenix. Although other wood coasters had been relocated years before Dick Knoebel moved The Rocket from Texas, this reconstruction still ranks as probably the most famous rescue of a ride. Fortunately, it also was one of Herb Schmeck's greatest designs. It was sort of an early version of the Crystal Beach Comet (now the Great Escape Comet), but without the severe lateral forces of the latter ride. The Phoenix was about one thing: air time. I don't think there's ever been another coaster built so well for that purpose.

The station was spacious and not too crowded. We waited for the front seat. Even though they were running only one train, their ride cycle time was quicker than other parks that run two trains. I wonder how the ride operators dealt with the clatter behind them. The old giant flywheel, spun by a huge leather belt, turned constantly, pulling the lift chain. It was fascinating to watch, but the noise was deafening.

I noticed that there were no station gates. Guests were asked to stay behind the yellow line on the floor, and they obeyed. Each PTC train had seat dividers, but there were no seat belts in the train, just single-position lap bars. And Knoebel's has historically had very few problems. All over the park, signs were posted warning riders about Pennsylvania's rider responsibility laws. Basically, if you did something stupid on a ride, the park wasn't repsonsible. Maybe that has helped. Guests generally seemed well-behaved, and the park was able to keep the rides comfortable and uncomplicated. In a few minutes, we were seated in the cushy train and quickly dispatched. The ride operators weren't overly friendly; they seemed cooly efficient and unobtrusive.

Our circuit began with passage through one of the longest and darkest tunnels ever added to a coaster. There wasn't a glint of light anywhere inside, even in broad daylight. It also helped that halfway through the tunnel was a sharp right-hand u-turn that caught unsuspecting riders by surprise. The lift hill was swift, capped by the ride's signature cupola. The first drop was speedy and smooth. There was a pop of air time on the first turnaround to the left. We dropped down diagonally, crossing the structure over two small speed bumps that sent us out of our seats. We crested the second turnaround with more air time and made a u-turn to the right, over the tunnel. We plummeted down to the right of the lift hill and then flew up into an amazing double-up/double-down hill and then into the third turnaround. We hardly touched our seats. Then we dove into the most potent part of the ride, a series of four speed bumps in a row that get each got more powerful than the previous. We flew up into the curving brake run. I would guess that Knoebel's rarely has to replace the upholstery in their trains, because very few people actually end up sitting down. The more I rode this, the more I concluded that The Phoenix was probably the greatest air time machine ever created. As a bonus, it was beautifully maintained. The natural wood structure had weathered to a deep brown with a hint of green here and there. It blended in well with the thick forest around it.

As we walked away, we stopped in front of the station to look at the Phoenix model behind glass that's been a fixture there for many years. The track on the model had begun coming apart. There was another bigger model in its own free-standing display case to the left. That model was built by some local students for a class.

Our next stop was the Antique Car ride. Typically, these rides have some of the longest waits at amusement parks. Many places have too few cars on the track and only one or two operators. If fifty people were in line, and each one got their own car, you would wait about an hour to board. But at Knoebel's there were four operators who moved the cars with clockwork efficiency through the long station. It was like an assembly line, with the crew rotating non-stop from the front of the queue loading passengers, to the back unloading them. Even with the queue line half-full, we waited just a few minutes for a car. The were quite a variety of autos, appearing to be from different manufacturers. Some had open tops, some were Frambour taxis, some were fairly typical Model-T style cars. Ours had a fairly low top, and I had to hunch down to see. The ride was long and pleasant, meandering over multiple levels through the structure of The Phoenix as the train roared by. There were a couple of elaborate home-made bird feeders placed inside the Phoenix structure. One had a sign painted on it: "Hungry Beak Cafe -- Chippies eat free."

The weather was turning a bit more humid, so we decided to cool off on the flume ride. Another Arrow Dynamics creation, this one had comfortable boats that didn't slam against the edges of the trough. They sort of gently bounced from side to side. The ride started with a small lift and drop into a tunnel, followed by a brisk twisting trip through the woods. A long lift deposited us in a slow-moving trough where we made a gradual left-hand u-turn into one of the steepest drops on a flume ride. As with most Arrow flumes, the plunge produced a big splash that kept us mostly dry.

We walked toward the Haunted Mansion, and I took another enjoyable ride. Karen opted out. Then we walked to the other end of the park for another Cheese on a Stick. (Heck, nobody in New England sells them so we had to get our fill!) We stopped by the Band Shell to watch the Walten's Magic Show. It was cute. An elderly couple (the husband was 70 years old) performed magic and acrobatic feats. The wife stood on a ball and spun plates on sticks. The husband held himself up in the air with his index finger. (It was a pretty convincing illusion.) They also had three little poodles that performed various tricks. It was good family entertainment. There were also various bands playing there, usually leaning toward country-western. Most of them were decent but one band was pretty terrible, with the lead singer apologizing repeatedly to the audience for her poor singing.

The south section displayed the only attempt at theming in the park. It was sort of set up as an old western town, with a wood carving shop and rustic buildings. There was a large antique steam-powered tractor that was running. It had a big flywheel on its side. A thick leather belt stretched about twenty feet in front of it to a makeshift woodshop, where it turned a giant sawblade. A park employee would drive a modern tractor over from behind the woodshop. The tractor's scoop would be loaded with raw lumber. He'd dump the lumber into the shop, get out of the tractor and then saw the lumber up into small pieces. The old S&J carousel was to the right, with its many lights reflecting in the stream behind it. Its flywheels and gears weren't covered by scenery and were plainly visible, spinning rapidly.

There was also the Ole Smokey train, a curious little ride. The guage on the train was extremely narrow. Only on person could fit on each of the old wood seats bolted onto the flatbed cars. The seats had backs that could flip from one side of the seat to the other. So a passenger could sit facing front or back. The small engine was powered by coal-fired steam. Buckets of fresh coal sat by the station, which was only slightly bigger than the train. The circuit took passengers north behind the kiddie rides and over the boat ride. The track circled back on itself so the train came barreling back through the station at full speed. It was a bit unsettling, flying though such a tight area so quickly. We then made a big circle through a wooded area alongside a stream and then returned to the station. That was one of my favorite train rides. It wasn't very long, but it certainly was unique.

Though not formally called "kiddieland," that whole area of the park had nothing but kiddie rides. There were classics, such as the old Cadillac cars, and rarities like the old "Paddy on the Railroad," where kids sat on a small flatbed car and cranked handles to power themselves around a tiny train track. We decided to take a spin on the old boat ride. A wide concrete trough filled with water formed a long oval near the highway. Two person gas-powered motorboats (complete with an exhaust pipe sticking out of the back) chugged their way slowly around the loop. The boats had a single car-like steering wheel, and they were almost impossible to maneuver. They had an incredibly slow response. So if you were heading left and turned the wheel right, the boat would keep going left for a couple minutes and gradually begin turning right. The result was that the ride attendants were kept really busy chasing wayward boats that would end up going the wrong way or simply end up stuck against the trough. I steered our boat. We basically bounced off each side of the trough through the entire trip. There were a couple of bridges that were so low we had to duck down to get under them. We also passed underneath the High Speed Thrill Coaster (a fairly standard steel kiddie coaster), which occupied the same area.

We were next door to the Skooters, Knoebel's famous Lusse bumper cars, so we had to take a ride. One thing that I noticed about this ride that was different from other bumper cars was that the ceiling was solid steel plating. Normally, a steel mesh is used for the ceiling. The smell of graphite hung heavy in the air. The contact poles didn't arc much on the ceiling. The cars had solid rubber bumpers instead of the inflated inner tubes most modern cars have. We had a long fun ride. The cars ran very fast and smooth.

Next we stopped by Playland, the big arcade. We spotted a Lord of the Rings pinball machine. We played a couple games; it had a really good layout. Then we stopped for an early supper at the nearby Oasis restaurant. It had a quaint rustic interior. The service was friendly and the food (vegetable lasagna) was delicious. And as always at Knoebel's, we didn't pay an arm and a leg for it.

Then we took a walk back to the campground and got some firewood for the evening. I had reserved Knoebel's new "Dream Suite" for our final night, so we decided to go find where it was. After hiking to the opposite end of the campground, our hearts sank. The "Dream Suite" was an old trailer next to the park's recycling dump.

We walked back into the park and lined up for the Twister. This massive coaster was built entirely in-house from the original Mister Twister plans the park bought from Six Flags Elitch Gardens. John Allen's masterpiece, which the original Elitch management tore down, was long hailed as the greatest coaster Allen ever designed. I never got a chance to ride it. I did ride this Twister last time we were at Knoebel's (when the ride was new) and I really enjoyed it. But what Knoebel's created has aged into one of the most intense, unpredictable and nerve-rattling rides I've ever experienced. The coaster's signature giant tilted double-helix wrapped itself around the station, which was a long ornate wooden S-curve. The PTC train had seat dividers and individual ratcheting lap bars. The park was running only one train, but as usual it was dispatched efficiently. We took the front seat. The train left the station and picked up sudden speed, turning sharply right and then heading up the first lift hill, directly underneath a second lift hill. Right when it looked like we would collide with the track of the second lift hill, the train dove down to the left and circled around to the right with enormous speed, and then engaged the second lift (which was powered by a second motor that sat at the top of the hill). We crested the top and there was another swooping turn identical to the one after the first lift hill. That curve was one of the best-known features of the original Mr. Twister. The train plunged down a steep drop into a tangle of timbers, and then rose up to a quick turnaround to the left. After that, everything was a blur. The train thundered through its course relentlessly. Most of the changes of direction came at the tops of hills, so they were completely unexpected. The ride left no time to breath. We blasted through the helix so quickly that we never realized where we were. The short tunnel (next to our tent) was very effective. And among the rapid changes of direction were several potent pops of air time. We returned to the station exhausted. Twister was an amazing coaster, but not one that I wanted to ride repeatedly. In fact, we only rode it once during our entire stay. The folded lift hill, the only one I know of, was lots of fun. The layout was ingenious. But it was like riding a runaway wild horse. I preferred the controlled air time of The Phoenix.

To unwind, we walked toward the big Shoot-the-Chutes ride, oddly named Skloosh. We passed by the Crystal Pool and the small waterpark, which were packed, and The Loaf, another terrific piece of Knoebel's architecture. I assume at one time fresh bread could have been purchased there. Now it was selling frozen yogurt.

It seemed like not one building in the park was a plain structure. They either were painted with murals, or they had bas-relief elements on them. A giant viking statue stood guard outside the Skloosh station. The splash from the boat was enormous, reminding me of Canobie Lake's Boston Tea Party. The water often sprayed out onto the midway in the front of the ride. We got a ride in the second seat and ended up completely drenched, laughing hysterically. The exit bridge crossed right over the splash zone. The park had strapped foam mats to the bridge railings, I assume in case anyone was knocked off balance by the force of the water.

We walked past the extreme north end of the park, where the picnic pavilions were. The Zamperla Rocking Tug was there. It was a strange ride, looking more like a giant shoe than a ship. The shoe would start rocking back and forth, like a normal Pirate Ship ride, but then it would beginning gently spinning around as it rocked. I was amazed at how whisper-quiet the machinery was. As we stood watching the ride, a man approached us. We were wearing our twin Apollo's Chariot shirts from Busch Gardens. The shirts had the letters "AC" on the front, with wings coming out from the letters. The back featured a winged horse. The man stared at us with a smile and said, "I like your shirts! Where did you get them?" We replied that they were from Busch Gardens. The man had a confused look on his face. "Busch Gardens? I didn't know they were into that sort of thing." We didn't know what he was talking about and told him so. "Well," he asked pointing at our shirts, "what does that stand for?" We flatly responded, "Apollo's Chariot. It's a roller coaster." The man looked crestfallen. "Oh, I thought it stood for 'After Christ.' Sorry." Religion was apparently a big thing in that area. Towns we passed through had multiple churches along the same small streets. Knoebel's Campground advertised church services for multiple denominations.

We boarded the Giant Wheel for a pleasant bird's-eye view of the park. Again, the trees were so thick we really couldn't see much. The restaurant Casa de Refrescos even had trees growing out of its roof! After that we took a relaxing trip on the 1 1/2 Mile Train. As the name implies, it gave a pretty long ride. They ran two different trains. One resembled an old G.E. Streamliner kiddie train. The other looked more like a C.P. Huntington. The track ran under the structure of the Twister, traveled through a long tunnel (under the camp road) and then rambled through an undeveloped heavily wooded area. It made a wide circle around a clearing where corn cobs had been placed on platforms. As we passed by that area, a doe was standing there having a snack.

After that enjoyable ride, we began our shopping spree. We stopped in to several gift shops and stocked up on many items, including that beautiful afghan. We brought everything back to our van and returned to the park as it was getting dark. Lights danced over the coaster tracks and neon flashed on the buildings. It was a sparkling world of color. The Paratrooper ride looked like an enormous pastel flower. We took another delightful ride on The Phoenix and a nighttime ride on the Antique Cars.

We returned to our tent and got a nice blazing fire going ... after several attempts. The wood was a bit damp. Then we threw in a campfire color stick and stared at the crackling surreal rainbow of hues. We watched it for a long time and then went to bed. Already our last day at the park was approaching.

The night was warmer, and the next morning we packed up our tent. The humidity was already heavy in the air. We headed for the International Food Court for another good breakfast. We played the Derby Race game and lost to a little kid. We played some Skee-ball. I used to be really good at that game. But I was a bit rusty and scored laughably low. Then as the park came to life, we got a hand stamp and took a morning ride on The Phoenix followed by the Antique Cars. That time Karen drove and I got to sit back and enjoy the view. We stopped at the nearby gift shop and I stocked up on t-shirts. We walked around the park enjoying the sights. The park's heavily shaded mini-golf course looked inviting. We wanted to play, but kept putting it off till later. As it turned out, we never played. :-(

We brought our gifts back to the van. There were still a few hours before we could move into our "Dream Suite." Karen suggested going for a ride. So we hopped in the van and headed out along Route 61. It was refreshing to not be confronted with Wal-Marts and McDonalds. We traveled a rambling twisting road with little but scattered houses and open land. We rounded a corner between two mountains and came upon a vast coal excavation operation. The entire side of one mountain was being mined.

About an hour later, we returned to the park. Our "Dream Suite" was ready. With some trepidation, we drove over to it and parked. I let Karen enter first. The trailer's door was accessed from a tiny wooden deck. She unlocked the door and opened it, revealing a screen door without a handle. She wrestled with it for a minute and finally was able to open it. As she entered, there was noticeable disappointment in her voice. "Oh my ... oh my..." There was a small entryway. On the left were two little cushioned chairs and a counter with a microwave. On the right was a tiny kitchenette with a sink, stove and refrigerator. The countertops were all jet black. The floor was glossy black tile. On the right past the kitchenette was a small bathroom with a dark green curtain. As Karen examined that, I walked to the left past a narrow opening and saw the rest of the trailer. The black disappeared and was replaced by red carpeting and cream-colored walls. There were mirrors everywhere. To the right as I walked forward was a large red heart-shaped jacuzzi surrounded by a semi-circular array of mirrors. Just past that was a closet door that hid a sauna. And at the end of the trailer was a circular bed surrounded by mirrors, just as the park had advertised. On the bed was a heart-shaped pillow embroidered with "I love you with all my heart." Across from the bed was a small electric fireplace. It was a complete surprise. Karen was relieved and delighted. It really was romantic. There was also the welcome addition of air conditioning. There were a couple of bees that had gotten in. I took care of them, and then we brought our suitcases in and got settled.

We went back to the park and strolled the grounds some more. We took another ride on the Skyway. We knew our stay at Knoebel's was coming to an end and we didn't want to leave. We would be quite happy living there for the rest of our lives, nestled into one of those quaint cottages by the trickling stream. Karen and I shared a delectable ice cream sandwich, made with fresh hot waffles. Then we walked back to spend a relaxing evening in our "Dream Suite."

This was one of our most memorable trips. There was no rushing, no urgency. It was what a vacation should be, a way to escape the hectic pace of our day-to-day lives and unwind. Knoebel's was extremely clean without being sterile. The employees were friendly without being intrusive. The park had enormous charm and a lot of character. It felt like the Shire in "Lord of the Rings," an innocent place that hadn't changed in centuries, a place of laughter and peace and childhood dreams. And that's what amusement parks are all about.

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