Roadside Attractions Update: A Tale of Two Attractions

If you’ve read my blog before, you already know I favor odd little places.  The true “roadside attraction” is disappearing faster than pay phones and drive-in theaters.  Today, I’m providing an update on two special places in the Front Range foothills.

Heritage Square

The lift is all that remains of Magic Mountain

The lift that serves the Alpine Slide (Magic Mountain in distance)

One of the oldest theme parks in the country.  Local businessman Walter Cobb conceived of Heritage Square and hired the “Master Builder of Disneyland,” C.V.Wood, to design and develop the park.  Wood replicated many of the elements that he first used at Disneyland’s “Main Street U.S.A.” in designing the core of Heritage Square.

It debuted in 1957 and lasted 2 years before going bankrupt.  The associated ski hill, dubbed Magic Mountain, only lasted one full season.  Magic Mountain was the very first ski resort west of the Mississippi to use artificial snowmaking.  It was fairly successful, but was dragged under by the failure of the park.  I placed a cache at Magic Mountain as part of my Lost Ski Area series, and you can find a more in-depth discussion at http://www.cacheology.net/lost-ski-areas-the-struggle-for-snow/magic-mountain-1956-to-1957/.

Heritage Square was resurrected in 1970 and today consists of the original two-block Victorian village, a kiddie amusement park, an older kids’ attraction (Miners’ Maze), an Alpine Slide, and until very recently, a dinner theater.  About 4 or 5 businesses have persevered on its’ main street, including Notz Landing (a 50’s-themed ice cream parlor) and a variety of gift shops.   The entire block north of the main street is eerily abandoned

I visited this place often when my kids were small.  It was cheap and uncrowded, making for an outing that was thrilling for the kids while relaxing for the parents.  By the time the kids got too old for the motorboat ride and merry-go-round, we started taking them to bigger parks like Elitches and Water World.

A Summer Day in the Victorian Village

A Summer Day in the Victorian Village

Heritage Square was purchased about 10 years ago by Lafarge, the company that owns the large aggregate quarry to the south. (The quarry has already consumed about half of the former Magic Mountain ski area.)  Lafarge bought it to serve as a buffer between their operation and the neighborhoods that have steadily been encroaching.  They claim they’ve consistently lost money and the repairs necessary to keep the Victorian village habitable are too costly.  They plan to terminate all of the leases at the end of 2015.  In all likelihood, the site will become an office park.

This is the last season you can visit this unique, underutilized attraction.  I returned recently on a summer weekday.  The parking lot was half-full and the stores had modest foot traffic.  The amusement park and Miners’ Maze looked like they were doing well.  In fact, it looked about as busy as I remember it to be.

The point of this post is not to blame Lafarge for its’ business decision.  It is to let you know this place is about to fade away.  If you ever visited, go back and take one last ride on the Alpine slide, or grab some ice cream at Notz Landing.  Browse the shops and pick up something unique for a Christmas present.  Do it now – your business will help ease the bittersweet end of an era for those merchants who have stuck it out this long.

And while you’re there, don’t forget to visit my cache!

Tiny Town

100 years and still going strong.  Tiny Town celebrated its’ 100th anniversary on July 4th (http://www.columbinecourier.com/content/tiny-town-marks-enormous-milestone-100-years).  Some of you may be familiar with Tiny Town, which is off Highway 285 in South Turkey Creek canyon.  Tiny Town was built in 1915 by a Denver businessman who had his workers build 1 inch to 1 foot-scale houses out of moving crates to amuse his children.

If anything, Tiny Town has had a more turbulent past than Heritage Square.  It has withstood three floods, a fire, and a long period of neglect in the 1980’s when it was closed.  It was during that time that I first visited, with a friend who grew up in Littleton and had visited many times as a child.  We jumped the fence (trespassing, I admit) and wandered amongst the chest-high buildings, surrounded by waist-high weeds.    It looked so lost and forlorn.

tiny town_2012_082

Giant Race Ransacks Tiny Town!

Flash forward a decade and Tiny Town was back – just in time for me to visit with my young children.  With its’ $2 admission, big-band music on the loudspeakers, ice cream, and train rides, it was a relaxing respite from the grind of raising little kids.  Probably my favorite place to take them.

Like Heritage Square, Tiny Town has a shelf-life.  About the time the kiddos start playing Little League and attending grade school, they lose interest in riding miniature trains and crawling in miniature houses.  My last visit was on the dark day the Hayman Fire blew up (June 9, 2002).  My wife was tutoring at a house nearby so I took the kids there.  It was more than a little unsettling, suddenly seeing a towering cloud of black smoke erupting from beyond the ridge.  The fire ran an astounding 17 miles to the northeast that day (towards us).  In reality, it was still 20 miles distant, but it seemed a whole lot closer.  We didn’t stay long.

Fortunately, the Hayman Fire didn’t get much closer and Tiny Town has thrived in the last decade or so (other than a train derailment in 2010 – not sure if the NTSB got involved).  It’s great to see this place doing so well.

Of course I placed a cache here:  http://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC507W5_lilliputian-village?guid=d343ce43-f155-4746-ad10-a89468ea6874.  It is a pleasure reading the logs from people’s visits, some who reminisce about past visits (often decades earlier), some drawn here for the first time.  That is a big part of the reason I do this this blog:  to bring my fellow geocachers to the best places I know, for their enjoyment, and (hopefully) for the benefit of the folks who work so hard to keep these enterprises going.