Sunday, September 11, 2005

+ a few gravities

A few weeks ago, I went to Six Flags Over Texas with my sister. I hadn't been there in years and was seriously jonesing for some coaster airtime. Having grown up in Dallas, Six Flags was a yearly summer ritual sorely missed.

We went on a weekday after school had started for the youngsters so as to avoid the crowds. Still, we were astounded to find the park practically empty. We never waited more than a minute or two in line for any ride. Gloriously, I rode most of the rollercoasters several times in a row. With so few people, there was no reason for the staff to make riders leave after one circuit.

In four hours, we had criss-crossed the park, riding everything we wanted to multiple times. My sister was great in that, while she didn't accompany me on most of the big coasters, she never complained about waiting while I rode them again and again. She's cool like that. We ended up going on rides we didn't really care about just for the hell of it. Same time next summer, definitely.

Fairly early on, I wanted to get over to Judge Roy Scream. It's a wooden coaster built in 1980 tucked away on the edge of the park. It's not as intense as some of the other coasters, but it's still my favorite. In general I find wooden coasters inferior to steel ones. They're slower, can't incorporate looping elements, and tend to bang the rider around. Judge Roy Scream overcomes these drawbacks though. It has the rickety, sway-and-creak quality of wooden coasters that makes up a large part of their charm, without the furious jostling of the loathsome Texas Giant (also at Six Flags Over Texas).

You pull out of the station and take an immediate right to begin ascending the first hill. The clickety-clack of Judge is especially beautiful. To the right is an artificial lake and the rest of the park which you can contemplate as you ride to the top, then it's up and over. Two hills and five camelbacks later, you're done. Elegant and absolutely wonderful.

My favorite part of any ride is that floaty feeling in your stomach as you plunge downwards at 22 MPH every second, cancelling gravity, before pulling up and doing it again. Judge Roy Scream's series of five camelbacks is pure "airtime" heaven. I rode it six times in a row, mostly in the front car. I told ride-operator Jessica, "It's probably just the endorphins, but I think I love you."

I had another great ride on Shockwave. Built in 1978, it's notable for it's double loop at the bottom of the first hill.

The loops are great and riders are under significant positive Gs during them. I didn't ride it at night this time, but after dark it's lit up with lights all along the sides of the track which is particularly cool as you go through the loops. They're fun, but I like the drops. Airtime is best.

After a couple rides, I came back into the station and saw that not only was there was no one waiting, but the other six or so people on it with me were getting off. I moved up to the front car and rode it out of the station alone.

What a glorious experience it is to ride a coaster alone in the front car. As little as possible between you and the track. No one screaming or whoooo!-ing. Swinging back and forth between positive and negative Gs. Slowing exhaling through the drops with my arms in the air. Sublime.

(Click on the coaster photos (by Joe Schwartz) for more)

The last great ride I went on was Titan. This was a new one for me as it was added in 2001 after my last visit. As space in the park is somewhat constrained, they took out some parking to accomodate Titan.

I got a little nervous on the loooong ride to the top of the 255" tall, first hill. The drop is a monster that bottoms out in a tunnel. Aside from it's height, what makes Titan interesting is the two helices you go through practically on your side. One spirals up to the third drop, the other spirals down near the end. While pulling 4.5 Gs, you can look over and see the ground turning underneath. It's intense.

On my way out after a second ride, I went over to the booth that shows pictures of the riders right before they enter the tunnel at the bottom of the first hill. The girls in the front were screaming with eyes shut tight. The guys in the middle had their fists in the air with "YEEARGH!" expressions on their faces. In the back I wore a serene, Buddha-like smile. Enlightenment through acceleration?

Running out of things to do, my sister and I decided to go on Yosemite Sam's Gold River Adventure. It's terrible. Since he says it better than I ever could, I'll quote Kevin Tuma's review from Theme Park Insider:

"Once this ride was great dark ride, called "the Spelunker's Cave". It was a fascinating, mystical water ride filled with animated elflings, that started from a tropical cave's mouth and ended in an alpine snow flurry. Then along came Bugs Bunny. The original ride was destroyed in order to make a corporate franchise ride. It's pretty darn awful too--it does Bugs no favors."

As a child too small and fearful to ride the coasters, The Cave was a favorite of mine. I practically fall into a nostalgia fugue state remembering the feel of the tub as it traveled along, the cold air, the musty smell, the reverberating music, and the slighty sinister Spee-lunkers [the "correct" spelling].

Here's a in-depth description of the ride with pictures. For those who actually remember riding it, a righteously geeky fan has sonically recreated the experience.

It used to be weird and unique, now it's loud and trademarked. Sigh.

The day ended with my sister and I riding the Texas Star Carousel. Not an exciting experience mind you, but a nice digestive at the end of the day. Like having Armagnac and chocolate at the end of a meal. Which I've only done once aboard an Air France plane from Rome to Houston, but still.

Six Flags Over Texas, I will see you again at the same time next summer with as many friends as I can drag along.


  1. Holy SH*T! As soon as I am up at campus tomorrow I am totally gonna listen to the sonic recreation of "the Cave." Plus, I am so glad that there is photographic documentation of those freaky pig-elves!! I fondly remember the Cave as one of the rides reserved for needed "air-conditioning breaks" on sweltering days at the park. It was always so cold in there. I also remember seeking air-conditioned darkness on a ride called the "Roto-Disco" (in the "50s" area.) Wasn't it a "Scrambler/Sizzler"-type carney ride indoors with strobes ... or am I mixing the Disco up with the Fair's "Mind Scrambler"?

    Sorry, but you have started me on a nostalgic flight of amusement park fancy. I will take off from work next year.

    - Carole

  2. I am so glad you wrote about the Judge Roy Scream. My parents took me and a friend to Six Flags for my 11th birthday. I was afraid to ride the roller coasters due to a hellacious experience at Astroworld a few years previous, but I didn't want my friend to think I was a chicken. The Judge Roy Scream seemed the most benign, so I picked that one.

    On that first big hill, I was shocked to discover that what had been terrifying at seven was exhilarating at 11. We rode it over and over, and I always make a point to ride it when I go there. I think that really was the best birthday ever.

  3. Yay! Amusement park happy memories! After my 3 AM post above, I needed something warm and fuzzy.

    As Carole states, the Roto-disco was a "Scrambler/Sizzler-type carney ride indoors with strobes." By the time my sisters and I rode it in the early to mid-80s, it was slightly seedy and played songs like Cyndi Lauper's "She-Bop" so loudly that parents rarely entered and so became a make-out spot for teenagers.

    Oh, I just found of treasure trove, a Six Flags over Texas Former Employee Forum.

  4. Great stuff. My amusement park memories are mostly tied up with the various Disney parks in Orlando, but Six Flags in Dallas is where we always went for school trips. Good times. And you're absolutely right about the Texas Giant. HATE.

    And in related news...Astro World in Houston is closing.
    Can't say I'll miss it. Even the godawful Fiesta Texas is nicer than Astro World.

  5. That's too bad about AstroWorld. I've heard from several people about how icky it is, but having never been there, I really wanted to go there at least once to ride everything.

    In particular I wanted to ride the Ultra Twister which is barrel-roll coaster. Oh well, maybe they'll move some of the more unique rides to another park.