The Show Me the Coasters tour covered nearly every major coaster in six states. Three of them (Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri) were states I'd visited on previous trips. The other three (Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) were completely new to me. As I started this tour (and thus this report) with an overview of all three main parks of Wisconsin, the final two sections will be single reports covering two or three parks in the remaining states. First up, the last new state of the tour...Iowa.
Show Me The Coasters
Part 7: Coasters of the Corn
Beautiful downtown Des Moines was our resting place for the night after a three hour drive from Kansas City. Our group, now reduced to three, squeezed into a single room at a nice Holiday Inn with a great view of the downtown skyline. Thanks to a full day, everyone was worn out, and the next day would be yet another lengthy one. Once morning came, we enjoyed our last included hotel breakfast of the tour and then set out for park number one of two that day.
Located about twenty minutes east of Des Moines lies Adventureland, a medium sized park that is often forgotten about in enthusiast circles. Despite being right off the main highway, I somehow missed the turn for the park and had to double back. What distracted me? As we arrived, an ominous storm cloud was directly overhead, and based on the wind I was prepared for a tornado to touch down at any time. Despite this threat, we joined the steady stream of cars proceeding into the parking lot. After paying parking for the first time this trip, we parked and approached the entrance to...Disneyland?
Adventureland opened in August 1974, though due to tornado damage during construction most of it was not ready until the following season. Interestingly, members of the Disney company assisted with planning of the park, and much of their influence shows in the original sections. The entrance looks very much like Disneyland of the 70s, with a train station greeting guests as soon as they pass through the gates.
Beyond one of two tunnels, a short main street (perhaps a third the length of Disneyland's) leads to the central hub of the park, from which guests can journey to one of a dozen themed areas throughout the park. Theming is mostly light, but takes the form of various architecture designs on buildings throughout the park.
No castle lies at the center here, but a bridge over a moat leads to Space Shot Midway, where our day would begin.
With many of the larger rides closed (presumably due to wind), we made our way to the park's only operating coaster, Underground. Built by Custom Coasters International, this indoor coaster is more of a gravity powered dark ride than a true roller coaster. After a pre-show with a basic animatronic and hard to hear audio, we boarded a typical wood coaster train for a ride through a haunted mine. This attraction is a coaster by virtue of being gravity driven, but even Fire in the Hole was more thrilling. With a total elevation change of thirteen feet and two lift hills but no drops, it was as much a coaster as the Calico Mine Ride in my book. Interesting for sure, but with super basic scenes and very little in the way of story it was largely lost on me.
As the coasters still had yet to open, Andrew and I decided to sample a few flats. My favorite of these was Sidewinder, a small pendulum ride that had some decent force to it. The ride is nowhere near as thrilling as the models now synonymous with Six Flags, but it was still quite fun.
We also rode a top spin style ride called Splash Over that was so extreme it nearly killed me (okay, not quite, but it was the closest I've come to vomiting from a ride in years).
Across the way, we could see Monster cycling with riders, so we immediately made our way to the ride. Unfortunately, this would end up being the busiest park of the tour, and Adventureland's operations are so slow I can't imagine any of their rides get more than 300 riders per hour. Therefore, Monster ended up being a bit of a wait. However, as the older sibling of HangTime at my local park, I was quite excited to check this one out and didn't mind watching car after car maneuver the twisted course. Eventually, we reached the platform, boarded the train, pulled down our lapbars, and were off.
My first reaction upon hitting the brakes? Why didn't Knott's clone this thing! Monster was one of the biggest surprises of the tour and instantly earned a spot in my top 20 steel coasters. While it lacks the holding brake found on HangTime, the ride begins with a 133 ft. vertical lift leading straight into a beyond vertical plunge. What follows is two minutes of inversions, airtime, curves, and more hangtime than a ride named for it, all negotiated on wheels that are smooth as silk. Now, I will give HangTime credit for having a little more variety in its elements as most of Monster's were loop variations, but in every other category this ride exceeded expectations. Absolutely a fantastic ride, and reason enough to recommend a detour to Adventureland for anyone traveling within an hour of Des Moines.
With the headliner complete, we headed over to the County Fair section to take on Tornado, the park's original coaster. This classic out and back woodie runs along the shore of a lake in the center of the park, with a series of hills designed to produce airtime. There is some floater air on a few of the hills, but unfortunately many of the valleys are full of jackhammering. On a tour that included numerous wood coasters, this was not the one I'd expect to provide the roughest ride, but unfortunately that was the result. It was still okay, but Adventureland needs to do some major trackwork to get this coaster back in good shape. On the plus side, this ride had some of the best operators in the park, ensuring every train went out full and keeping guests entertained while waiting for it to return.
Half the coasters down, we turned our attention to those that remained. We first approached Dragon, but despite seeing testing earlier we found a couple ride ops chilling on a bench out front. When asked whether the ride would be opening soon, they replied something like this: "It's ready to go, but we need to wait for the head of maintenance to sign off on the ride. He usually shows up around noon." Okay...it's that kind of park. We took that as a check back later and moved on.
Over on the Boulevard, we spotted the park's new for 2019 coaster, Phoenix. A stock Maurer spinner, this ride is one I've experienced at several other parks. Unfortunately, it was still under construction, so we wouldn't be getting to ride this one (like Maxx Force, it opened about a week after our visit).
Hoping to find another open coaster, we ventured all the way to Outlaw Gulch, a western themed area located in the very back of the park, in hopes of riding their CCI woodie, Outlaw. As we approached the ride, it quickly became obvious we wouldn't be riding this one either...carpenters were set up on the first drop repairing sections of track.
Disappointed, we headed next door to ride Saw Mill Splash, a spinning raft ride that is part flume, part rapids, and part waterslide. It was fun, though nothing to write home about.
As we were starting to debate whether to cut our losses and call it a day, we spotted a train climbing the lift of Dragon. Like moths to a flame, we headed straight for the coaster to discover a three train wait. This double looping coaster built by Hopkins is incredibly bizarre, with a 90 ft. drop into back-to-back loops and a couple minimally banked helices. The ride was not good, and definitely sits near the bottom of my list. That said, it has a certain quirkiness to it that elevates the coaster slightly above mediocre stock models like Vekoma boomerangs and Arrow corkscrews.
The coasters complete, we turned our attention to a few remaining flat rides. I insisted that we ride the Space Shot for comparison purposes with others on the tour, and I'd say this one may win my pick for best standard space shot (it was my favorite drop tower of the tour). While it only offered a small amount of floater airtime, it was still more than I've gotten on many other rides of this type.
We also took the time to ride the Sky Ride, a Ski Lift International chairlift gifted to the park from the 1974 World's Fair in Spokane. I always love a scenic skyride, and while I do prefer the gondola style rides this may be my favorite chairlift-style skyride. Not only does it provide transportation across the front half of the park, it threads directly through Monster, giving ample time for some very interesting photographs.
All the priority rides done, we braved the 45 minute wait for a second ride on Monster and then headed out of Adventureland. Overall, I enjoyed the park, but it's not somewhere I feel the need to return to anytime soon (even though I did miss two coasters).
The park is nicely landscaped and has more theming than many small parks, but offers little in the way of noteworthy attractions. Aside from Monster, nothing at the park really stands out as unique or better than similar rides elsewhere, and operations throughout the park were on the slow side.
That said, if I were to randomly find myself in Des Moines again, I'd definitely stop by to check out Outlaw and Phoenix, as well as grab a couple more rides on Monster. It's definitely an enjoyable park, but not one to go out of the way for.
Adventureland Coaster Rankings:
Our initial plan had been to remain at Adventureland until approximately 2 P.M., but we ended up departing slightly ahead of schedule. Yes, we would be returning to Minneapolis that evening, but that was only four hours away and hardly necessitated such an early departure. Instead, we had a second park to cram into the trip, one that would take us three and a half hours out of the way.
Following an adventure trying to find a Taco Bell in rural Iowa, we took a route consisting largely of two-lane state highways out to the resort town of Lake Okoboji. Here, on the shores of Cass Bay, was one of the biggest surprises of the tour.
Arnolds Park, a tiny park in the resort town of the same name, was the sole reason for our detour. On paper, the park doesn't look like much...a few acres of lakefront property containing numerous old-school attractions not found in any park one would consider modern. The place has been in operation since 1889, and much of the park feels the way parks from that era should...slightly janky rides, homebuilt structures, little theming or sense of planning anywhere.
The park's new for 2019 ride, still under construction at the time of our visit (it opened in mid-July), is a used Herschell Mad Mouse dating back to the 1950s. But this is not the only coaster on the property.
Running a perimeter around much of the park, Legend is a classic wood coaster from 1930 that is recognized as an ACE landmark. Those who are used to the more well-known ride at Holiday World will find this one a bit unimpressive...at 63 ft. tall, it is a family coaster in all respects. But make no mistake...a family coaster this may be, it is still an exceptionally fun ride.
At $8 a pop, we each purchased two rides on the coaster. Approaching it, there is no mistake that the park takes great care of this ride. Much of the track and structure is clearly fresh wood, making this one of the smoothest traditional wood coasters I've ever ridden. In addition, the ride has been fully modernized when it comes to safety systems, with magnetic brakes and an automated control system.
Very impressive for a non-profit park that relies on donations. The coaster itself is not extreme, but does have some decent floater airtime over the hills and, as mentioned above, is smooth as glass.
Beyond the coaster, the only attraction we did was something called the Bug House. This was essentially a haunted swing dreamed up and built by the park's maintenance staff. You enter a small room and sit in what feels like a porch swing, then the room spins around you with flashing lights. It was ridiculously hokey, but surprisingly very effective.
Rides done, we wandered the area for fifteen minutes or so and then stopped inside a local soda fountain for some root beer floats. All of us arrived at the same conclusion...this was truly a hidden gem of a park, and we were glad we made the detour to see it. Anchored by a solid traditional woodie and complemented by a dozen or so interesting attractions, this is one to consider for any enthusiasts that happen to vacation out in Iowa's great lakes. Sure, Arnolds Park lacks the spectacle of larger parks, but it holds more charm than many and is run in a way that's clear those in charge care. It is one of a kind, and in the modern world of themed entertainment that is something not often said.
And thus the Iowa day of our tour concluded, and the last long drive of the trip began. We spent much of the 3.5 hour drive to Minneapolis reflecting on the parks we'd visited over the past week. Two Six Flags properties, two Cedar Fairs, Herschend's original park, and a handful of independent parks thrown in for good measure. We still had a couple to go, but one thing was clear: The initial impression of this tour had been that it would cover Silver Dollar City and a bunch of neglected, out of the way parks that most enthusiasts rarely visit due to poor reputations. The truth was that these parks were largely underrated parks, all providing an enjoyable day out and, despite their flaws, all worth taking the time to visit.Tweet
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