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A happy Humpty Dumpty was put back together by Roger Tofte, according to the sign.

A happy Humpty Dumpty was put back together by Roger Tofte, according to the sign. This is no hollow claim, since some unruly guests knocked Humpty to the ground last year, and Mr. Tofte was forced to prove that he could indeed put the egg back together.

For Tara’s 18th birthday celebration, a trip to the Enchanted Forest  was requested. We went last year and loved it, so I was on board to visit again!

This enchanted theme park has moved through too-uncool-for-middle school, and has become a hip place to go, if you are a teenager. It is clearly designed for small children, with some great additions since the 1970s that will entertain the parents, but what keeps this place well worth a visit is that it slightly misses the mark, and crosses the Uncanny Valley. What I mean is, it’s just on the other side of cute, and has turned creepy in a most delicious way.

Tara and birthday friends inside the mouth of the witch. The trail continues inside, with scenes from Snow White inside.

Tara and birthday friends inside the mouth of the witch. The trail continues into the throat, with scenes from Snow White and her evil witch stepmother.

The kids peek into the windows of the tiny house of the Seven Dwarves.

The kids peek into the windows of the tiny house of the Seven Dwarfs.

The second floor of the little house holds these darling beds, a tiny rabbit, and a squirrel doing some housekeeping.

The second floor of the little house holds these darling beds, a tiny rabbit, and a squirrel doing some housekeeping.

It is so much like the idea of Disneyland that I am amazed no one has sued. Thank goodness, because the Enchanted Forest, south of Salem, Oregon, is a high-quality theme park that’s a blast for the little ones, and genuinely amusing for everyone else. All that – for an entrance fee of $10.99, and tickets for the rides at $1 per ticket.

The park is a true family effort, envisioned by Roger Tofte, supported by his wife and children, and opened in 1971. A son grew up and learned animatronics, and built for us the awkward, jerking, breathed into life-sized beings across the park. One daughter wrote and directs the comedic plays that show at the theatre, and she also wrote all the music heard in the park, which is always played on pipes.

Hansel and Gretel couldn't resist this place. Neither could Tara.

Hansel and Gretel couldn’t resist this place. Neither could Tara.

This is by far the most frightening thing in the park: animated witch beckons Gretel into the furnace, and creaking, hesitant, animatronic Gretel slowly turns her head back and forth in a

This is by far the most frightening thing in the park: animated witch beckons Gretel into the furnace, and creaking, hesitant, animatronic Gretel slowly turns her head back and forth in a “no.” Life-sized Hansel crouches in an iron cage at her feet.

It begins just past the entrance, where guests walk along Storybook Trail through a real forest, and find miniature and life-sized creations from children’s faery tales and Mother Goose rhymes. You can stand on the trail and look, but if you get close and go inside or peek in windows, that is when the real treat begins. Or the real heebie jeebies, as the case may be.

There is a Western-themed town, which is hilarious, filled with more animatronics, and named Tofteville. The kids got a big charge out of the drunken walk, where you enter a building, and follow the path out on a floor balanced on springs. There is no way to keep steady.

I think I may just love Pinocchio Town the best, a European-style village that has several animated faces that peer from shutters two stories above you that swing open. The characters gossip loud enough to hear, about different storybook characters. You can enter a doorway and follow a path through multiple buildings, peeking into holes in walls, and holes in cheese, and reading about puppetry around the world, and controlling a miniature train on a track through snowy Alps. Through one curtained window is a kaleidescope, that simply turns as long as you stand there. One window reveals a fabulous 10-foot-high Rube Goldberg mechanism that runs balls through a wire obstacle course. And who can stand resist the singing blackbirds baked in a pie?

Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing.

Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing.

Peek through one of the holes in an enormous piece of Swiss cheese, and you can see the home of the Three Blind Mice.

Peek through one of the holes in an enormous piece of Swiss cheese, and you can see the home of the Three Blind Mice.

Where will this lead us next?

Where will this lead us next?

Gossips in Pinocchio's Village

Gossips in Pinocchio’s Village

These inviting structures hold picnic tables, where people can eat the food they brought in, or buy from the vendors.

These inviting structures hold picnic tables, where people can eat the food they brought in, or buy from the vendors.

Rip Van Winkle sleeps on a hil

Rip Van Winkle sleeps on a hill

Jack and Jill run down the hill

Jack and Jill run down the hill

Little Red Riding Hood knocks on the door, but the wolf has already eaten Grandma

The wolf listens eagerly to Red Riding Hood’s knock.

The Crooked Man invites visitors to walk through his crooked house.

The Crooked Man invites visitors to walk through his crooked house.

Mrs. Pumpkin Eater is trapped.

Mrs. Pumpkin Eater is trapped.

The Europen-style village

The European-style village

Mad Hatter and March Hare have tea, while the Cheshire Cat looks down, grinning

Mad Hatter and March Hare have tea, while the Cheshire Cat looks down, grinning

I haven’t shown any photos of the rides, but I think I’ll save those for another day. There were too many fun photos in this post to bog it down further.

In 1960s, Roger Tofte seemed to be the only person who could see the final version in his mind’s eye. He was the target of many jokes and whispers that he had some screws loose.

Mr. Tofte can laugh at them all today, though I imagine he’s too sweet to do so. Both times we have visited the park, we have spotted him moving around, quietly under the radar, passing through doors that say “staff only” and happily waiting for toddlers to pass before he drives through on his scooter.

The Western town, named Tofteville.

The Western town, named Tofteville.

In Tofteville, a barber and his client appear startled to see me.

In Tofteville, a barber and his client appear startled to see me.

A dentist in Tofteville, getting some unruly teeth in order.

A dentist in Tofteville, getting some unruly teeth in order.

Our camp, looking south

Arno and Diego join me on the rock

I’m loving my morning ritual of sitting on the rock with my camera. I love our little campsite here. First thing after morning cleanup, we headed into the park and found a trail. Miguel was feeling even worse, and elected to stay in the truck while the rest of us hiked. We left windows open for him. Diego and Tara were less than inspired about hiking in the sun, but they were forced to endure the happy enthusiasm of Arno and I who felt FINALLY released on a trail to do what we had been so looking forward to.

A rock near the Squaw Flat Trailhead

We chose the Squaw Flat Trail and walked out into the desert sun. The trail was fascinating for a nature- and desert-lover like myself. Diego even became interested in desert flora along the way, taking photos with my camera. Tara had energy that belied her consistent complaints about heat. She kept getting ahead of us on the trail so that she could find shade, then sit in the shade and wait for us to catch up.

Our desert trail stretches out before us, with the destination ridge on the horizon.

Diego and Tara turn to violence

We crossed an actual creek with water in it, went through a forested area, crossed an open plain, and yes, scaled the inevitable slickrock path to the top of a saddle in the distance. The kids had been going along ok and then Arno points out across the wide desert and says, “See that ridge on the horizon? That’s where we are going.” Which, of course was followed immediately by the kids whining about what evil torture we were forcing upon them. I still have some things to teach Arno about the psychology of kid-rearing. Don’t ever point waaaaay off in the distance and say “We’re going there.” There is only one possible reaction, and it’s not a good one. He followed my lead and we did not discuss distance again. We got to talking and pointing things out and telling stories and before the kids knew it, we were there!

View south from the top of the ridge

Multicolored layers visible in Needles

Indian Paintbrush in foreground, growing out of the biological soil crusts that form in the shallow layers of desert dust

Everybody had sunburns by that time, even though we had applied sunscreen. But I consider it an expected side bonus of springtime. Pain followed by itching and lizard skin. It’s my Spring ritual. The return trip was still enjoyable and a little cooler, since clouds had moved in.

We found Miguel in decent shape, still in the parking lot. Back at Hamburger Rock we made another tasty lunch and made plans for the afternoon excursion. This time Miss T wanted to stay at camp and read her book. She might also have been hankering for some non-boy time.

Dirt road to our next adventure

We left her there, and Miguel, who had finally rested enough to feel somewhat human, wanted to come along. We left on a dirt road from behind the Needles Visitor Center along Salt Creek. It is a designated four-wheel drive road and the truck has 4WD. We decided to try and find this overlook point that a woman at the Visitor’s Center had told us about. There is a wide spot where we were told to pull over, and then we wandered around till we found the trail. A little way down the trail there was a sign. Good call, that. The sign was not visible from the road, and probably keeps many people away from this spot.

Keep your children under control!!

Diego and Arno peer into the chasm

We found an incredible canyon that simply drops away into a chasm without any warning. Well, ok, there was a pretty clear warning. But it’s the sort of intense drop-off that a person isn’t prepared for, even after she just read the warning sign about possibly losing errant children over the edge.

It’s a good thing we were paying attention. The ground remains perfectly flat right up to the edge, and then it drops instantly 800 feet or so. Wow! What a sight. Not even brave enough to stand at the edge, we laid on our bellies to look over the edge. There is a tiny alkali creek trickling into the vast crevasse. We stood at the edge and watched gusts of wind blast the creek right back up on top of the ledge! Not even enough water power to make an effective waterfall.

This Google satellite image helps me illustrate the drop off

We walked back to the truck up the creek. The high mineral content of this water caused deposits to collect on the creekside until it looked like a recent snow had come through. Blades of grass, the gravel on the shore, and rocks at the waterline were crystalline white and sparkling when the sun made its tentative bursts to life.

Mineral deposits look like fresh snow

Arno at the top of a rock

My camera did not capture the brilliance, but trust me, the scene was beautifully captivating. There is something about white that transforms a landscape. Arno had not been on this road before, and it was his idea to try it. It was an awesome sight, and with no real hiking, a good thing for Miguel to do while he remains miserably sick.

On the way back, we stopped by some rocks that were calling to Arno, and he went off and climbed to the top, while the rest of us scrambled around and enjoyed the scenery. Diego and I took more photos.

Back at camp Diego and Arno tossed a football from rock to rock above the campsite while there was still sunlight. The strains of a violin wove through the night air, and Tara went off to investigate. She found another teenager girl camper who was practicing her violin, so the girls spent the evening together.

Sun sets on the rocks and tents

I was fussing by the fire when a blue light lit up the sky. I looked up and witnessed my first bolide. A marvelous brilliant burning blue orb – as big as the moon in the sky! – went shooting from north to south. Near the southern part of the sky, there was a burst and the blue turned green, while two red sparks flew off on either side. Then it went blue again and finally burnt out at the southern edge of the sky. I was shouting, “Look up! Look up! Look up!” in hopes that someone was nearby and would also spot it. Tara and the girl and Diego were on top of the rock, and got a brilliant view. Arno, the degreed astronomer, happened to be inside the truck cap, buried in camp gear digging for something and didn’t manage to get out and look at the sky till it was all over. Dang! After my description though, he is the one who told us what we had just seen. A bolide, he explained, is a shooting star, only a big one. “Baseball sized,” he said. “I’ve only seen that a couple of times before.” Well, I felt a little better since he had seen one before. It was a first for the rest of us.

North Six-Shooter Peak in the setting sun, viewed from my rock perch

 

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