Five Socially Awkward Ways to Ride Rides at Walt Disney World

For all of Disney’s talk about personalizing your vacation, going there is a surprisingly homogenized experience.

To the average guest, all lines are an hour long, the A/C never works, and everybody’s kid has to go to the bathroom at exactly the same time—right around the time you’re about to board Space Mountain.

The Magic Bands come in the same five colors. The restaurants all serve the same dubious hot dogs. You can pick three customized FastPasses, but you’re going to pick the same three everyone else picked, and be just as mad when you end up with the Tomorrowland Speedway.

To get a unique experience, you have to work at it. Do a scavenger hunt. Secretly wear your cactus underpants into the park. Try to ride all 46 rides in a single day.

When I first moved to Florida, my siblings and I would play a highbrow game at Magic Kingdom where we would all start in one location, dispatch ourselves to 3 separate restaurants to collect a paper napkin, and then meet in a predetermined place. The goal was to see who could make it there first.

To make it challenging, we would do this during Wishes.

But as awesome and totally normal as that games sounds, there are actually less pleasant ways to experience the parks. These things can turn a fun night out into an exercise in social awkwardness far beyond the usual hell of waiting in a never-ending line next to a thousand never-showering tourists.

Here are five of the most awkward ways in which to ride rides at Walt Disney World.

I have done all of these.

The Longest Ride Ever

No, not when a ride breaks down. That wouldn’t be awkward. That would be awesome.

It happens every day, and Disney simply evacuates you, along with all twelve-hundred other guests in the car.

But in 1990, during my first visit to the Disney MGM Studios, I had the most painfully awkward GMR experience of my life—even worse than that time a couple years ago when I’m pretty sure my “Gangster” thought she was auditioning for the Juliette Lewis part in The Other Sister.

The park was brand new, and as you might recall, there were not a ton of rides—unlike today where guests can choose from an expansive smorgasbord of over four rides! The Great Movie Ride was the premiere attraction, much like it is today for people who have not seen a Great Movie since 1982.

Being the crazy theme park commandos that we were, my family closed the park down. As closing time neared, the women in our party wanted to shop for souvenirs on Hollywood boulevard, as women are wont to do. But my dad and I thought we could squeeze in one last ride.

Great Movie Ride.

And there was literally no one else in line.

Being by yourself on a ride is fun. I have done this many times on Haunted Mansion, Pirates, etc. But I have never forced a Cast Member to give me a personalized version of a 20-minute travelling theater show. Every canned joke. Every tired bit of movie trivia. All with impeccable delivery and expert timing.

At least she got a break halfway in, when another Cast Member had to take over and pretend to be a gangster in a shoot-out for my benefit.

By the time we reached Munchkinland, we had caught up to the first car (the “cowboy” car), which was completely empty, except for the third tired Cast Member driver who had to deliver his lines to a robot witch.

Three Cast Members, all of them forced to remain 20 minutes past quitting time so that I could up my ride count.

Our regular guide was gracious—and exceedingly pretty, which you would think would help the awkwardness. But it didn’t.

The gangster guy seemed annoyed beyond all belief. He did his lines, but he wasn’t about to do any interaction with us in character.

The guy in the other car was practically asleep on his feet and was about thirty yards away. So he was my favorite.

Anyway, all the women were royally ticked off at us when the ride ended, because this was before cell phones and we had disappeared for twenty minutes in an empty park.

Disney Will Use Body Types From Fifty Years Ago to Determine Capacity

This is the first case of cruel Cast Member-ness on this list. They take sadistic pleasure in this. Cast Members, you know you do. You are denying it while giggling through your teeth. It’s not funny to the rest of us.

Anyway, let’s state something that is patently obvious to anyone with one working eye and a rudimentary understanding of the concept of volume:

Barnstormer is a kiddie ride.

We know this not because it is 30-seconds long and stars a silly cartoon dog, but because the seats in the dog’s airplane are approximately the width of a flatbread pizza, and roughly the same height.

As I have experienced many times while riding with my son, my knees must turn sideways in order to allow them to get low enough to fit under the lap bar. My son is five years old and the car is barely big enough to hold us both. The lap bar is useless, but it’s okay because my son is wedged in beside me like a tube sock in a drafty door frame.

So when the Cast Member says the official capacity on this thing is 3 adults, they are most assuredly lying.

I was with my family again, and I don’t remember which combination of three of us got assigned to the same row. But I do know we are all adults and none of us are Keira Knightley.

60 painful seconds later, they needed the Jaws of Life to extricate us from the vehicle.

Now you may think that this is my fault and not the Cast Member’s, because what were three adults doing in line for Barnstormer anyway?

But I never said we didn’t have a good reason.

But we didn’t.

Awkward Configurations on Already Awkward Rides

If you’ve seen the WDW46 video, you know Ted and I had some fun with some of the kiddie rides. “Just two guys in their forties riding Dumbo… Nothing wrong with that.”

But WDW46 was completely crazy from the get-go, so a few uncomfortable moments on the rides weren’t going to bother us. Dumbo, Carpets, Triceratops, the aforementioned Barnstormer… Strap us in, take our little plastic counting chip, and start those bad boys up.

But the best had to be Small World.

Ted and Shane in a Small World boat by themselves is fine. No big deal.

Ted and Shane in a Small World boat with a few other guests is even better.

Ted and Shane in a Small World boat with one other random dude who looks like a serial killer is surreal. Which of course is exactly what happened.

I suspect a little bit of Cast Member cruelty again. It’s after midnight, it’s raining, two crazy guys are minutes away from riding every ride at Disney World in a single day. Hey, let’s stick them in the boat with the lonesome stranger on the off chance that this viral video they’re shooting will help the FBI identify their bodies later!

To maximize the awkwardity of the situation, they sat Jeffrey Dahmer in row one, and Shane and Ted in row two. Because that’s what will look creepiest later when the security tapes are played back on Unsolved Mysteries.

Here for the first time is photographic proof of awkwardness on WDW46

Here for the first time is photographic proof of awkwardness on WDW46

Be A Rebel. Look Stupid.

I began this post talking about how sometimes you have to work at finding ways to make the parks new, fresh, different. A lot of times you can do this on the rides that have some “interactivity” to them.

You can try to set a speed record on the Tea Cups, or watch Captain EO without the glasses, or listen to the Mandarin version of Spaceship Earth while channelling Walter Cronkite.

But if you want to really feel conspicuous, you should search for a new angle on Dumbo.

I don’t know why I decided to do this. I think that by the time I was in middle school, I had reached the stage of my parkeology career where the normal Dumbo experience was just not cutting it. To give myself a new experience, I opted to go the whole ride without touching the lever.

Like, ever.

Basically that left my Dumbo skimming along through a concrete ditch for several cycles, giving me the same viewpoint as if I had simply crawled around the ride on my hands and knees.

The first time around, I was smirking at how clever I was. The second time around, I was starting to notice a few stares. The third time around, I hung my head in shame.

I think I made it about halfway through the ride before succumbing to social pressures and making my Dumbo fly. It’s one thing to not touch the gun in Toy Story Mania, which can be done in relative anonymity. It’s another thing to have everyone in line wondering if A) your Dumbo is broken, or B) you are auditioning for the Juliette Lewis part in The Other Sister.

Just like this static Dumbo photo op, only in a circle!

Just like this static Dumbo photo op, only in a circle!

Single Rider Line is Like Speed Dating When You Are Married

Now we come to another bit of Cast Member cruelty. The torturing of single riders.

Single Ridering is awkward enough. It’s a kind of Russian Roulette, only there are no empty chambers. You bypass longer lines, but as a consequence, you are stuck next to strangers for a rather intimate journey through darkness, danger, and disco yetis. Nine times out of ten, the guy next to you on Rock ‘n Roller Coaster is either the World’s Most Talkative Disney Nerd, or a grandpa who is a catapult launch away from losing his Dole Whip, along with his dentures.

But the worst—by far the worst—are the teenage girls.

There is nothing to make you feel like the world’s perviest creepazoid than when you get stuck with the odd girl out from the travelling cheer squad.

Nothing you do can diffuse the awkwardness of the situation. Nothing you can say that won’t sound skeezy. You can’t ask if she’s enjoying her day. You can’t ask if this is her first time. You can’t jokingly ask if it’s okay if you scream.

All you can do is plant yourself in the farthest corner possible and twist your head around so that you are not in any way looking at her. Keep your head that way the entire ride, no matter what it does to your neck. Then do your level best to keep your Dole Whip and your dentures from coming out.

The only exception to this rule is if she starts talking to you first. Then fake a panic attack and bolt from the ride.


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And Shane would personally love it if you checked out his thrilling pirate adventure novel Johnny Shipwreck. Available on Amazon!

The Day Parkeology Ran Out of Ideas…

Well maybe it’s not that dire, but we have always tried to keep a unique angle on Disney around here.

That’s not to say that we don’t love what the many (many, many) other Disney sites provide. In fact we can’t get enough of it. But lets be honest… the world does not need more of the same.

There are Disney sites to cover all possible interests and points of view:

The Disney news sites give you minute by minute updates covering all of the major mega events. Yes, a new slightly paler shade of yellow is now being used on the Fantasyland garbage cans and the news sites are onsite live to give you a 200 image photo report of the big news (jokes on me… the Fantasyland garbage cans are lavender… not yellow you fool).

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199 additional photos available…

There are the various Disney trip-planning sites. These are invaluable sources of such insider tips as “Head back to the hotel around lunch time for a quick dip in the pool.” They also offer details on various ways to steal fountain drinks from the resorts (and ways to justify it as being OK, if you need that sort of thing). Indeed they also provide inaccurate ride wait times and host annual debates about how the admission prices have gone too high.

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OK, this has nothing to do with the post. I found it when I was looking for “Disney Fountain Drinks,” but come on… what the hell are we doing to ourselves folks? Should we just hook up intravenous bags of gravy and call it quits?

Some of our favorites are the Disney history sites… we love them. These are the places to go to learn how stupid you are for not being born at the right time. You can be taught how you are too young to appreciate when Disney parks were really great, or determine that you are too old to understand why removing the Big Ass Hat was the worst thing that has ever happened. These sites also provide grainy video and photos that may make you wonder if “If You Had Wings” was really as good as all the old timers insist it was.

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This was awesome and if you disagree then you are an ignorant slut.

There are also the “bad boy” sites. These are the fringe sites where bloggers act like they are too rebellious to actually enjoy Disney on anything more than an ironic level and that they go to the parks mostly to get drunk (because Disney is the best place to do that obviously). If you are lucky you may get to see someone venture backstage (SHOCKING!)… good times.

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TUNNELS! There are tunnels under the Magic Kingdom!!!! I need a drink. Of course the history sites will correct us and make sure we understand that the Magic Kingdom is actually the second story and these “tunnels” are at ground level… oh shut up.

Of course there are the expansive wastelands of the Disney boards where people go to argue, flame each other and try desperately to force their opinions on all others… that sounds like fun.

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Not that type of message board…

Then there are the official Disney sites set up to pump out press releases and tell fans why removing beloved rides is actually a good thing and that new baggage handling procedures are much more interesting than new rides ever would be.

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The official site also promotes wholesome entertainment like Miley…. never mind.

There are even sites that are so crazy and so “out there” (often created by those who are insanely over the top in love with one singular aspect of Disney) that they seem to exist only to make us feel better about ourselves… surely we are not as freaky as THEY are!

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If you really could fly, would you choose to hover 10 inches off the ground out back by the tool shed?

The point is that Disney is very well represented on the World Wide Web… and the truth is that Parkeology, for all of our snarky remarks, is actually a bit of all of the above rolled into one. We certainly talk about new rides and old rides. We delve into history and you are damn straight that our point of view based solely on our opinions and informed by our ages is THE correct view and all others are wrong… and if you tell us you like the freaking hat you may have a fight on your hands. We wander around hotels looking to links to the past, we occasionally venture to places we maybe shouldn’t, and we do stupid things all the time.

So sure… we are a bunch of hypocrites who condemn others and then do the exact same things ourselves… But at least we admit it!

But what does any of this have to do with running out of ideas?

Well, my friend, today is when we cross the line into perhaps one of the lowest forms of Disney web site: The Cute Zone.

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You know… these are sites that feature saccharine sweet essays about how adorable that newest Cinderella shower curtain is. They tend to focus on the characters and are run by people who consider the Disney stable of princesses to be core home decorating options. They may have blogs discussing where and when to meet college kids dressed up in foam costumes (i.e.: character meet and greets) or breathlessly talk about the new Mickey shaped cupcake now available on Main Street.

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We have generally shied away from this zone because well… you know… it’s creepy. But all that changes today, baby!

As weird and odd and even uncomfortable as some of these things are, they can also actually be interesting on several levels. First of all on just a surface level that new Mickey cupcake may be delicious, or at least look good enough to trick you into thinking it is delicious (it’s probably not). On a deeper level it can give some insight to the culture Disney are marketing to and how far people are willing to go to continue the fantasy… not just going on rides, but dressing as their favorite characters, living in homes decorated with them and even eating as them.

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Nothing creepy here at all.

So now that I have tried in vein to justify this post I’ll just get to the point: We wondered if Disney has done such a good job of convincing us how essential it is to own things shaped like Mickey Mouse that maybe it was possible to go an entire day at a Disney resort eating only Mickey Shaped foods (I told you right up front that we were running low in the ideas department).

For our test we chose Tokyo Disney Resort because it is the epicenter of cuteness and caters to a generally wealthy and Disney obsessed fan base that are seemingly happy to spend more money than necessary on anything molded like a mouse. If this can be done, Tokyo is the place to do it.

And to be clear we are not talking about eating 16 Mickey ice cream bars and calling it a day. We want legit meals and we don’t want to repeat any food items… so you get ONE Mickey bar a day… sorry.

Breakfast:

Well this is a slam-dunk and the easiest of all the meals. You can grab Mickey shaped muffins and the very cleverly named “Meat Patty Danish” to start the day. If that mystery meat Danish does not sound too great, how about a Tuna and Corn version to get things off to a good start?

L1030078L1030079L1030081L1030082If none of that appeals to you, they offer several other pastry options as well:

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I think the Mickey Shaped Waffles are probably the way to go though… they are a classic and there is no arguing that they look like Mickey (in mini size as well nonetheless)… so breakfast is covered six ways to Sunday.

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Plus with the strawberry and cream sauce you can pretend Mickey has some sort of horrible puss oozing disease… a breakfast tradition is born!

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Lunch:

The most classic lunch item of all theme park foods is probably the burger so a Mickey Shaped affair fits the lunch bill just fine. The bun, the patty, and the cheese are all Mickey shaped. If you have a picky eater maybe you prefer some Mickey shaped chicken nuggets. They have you covered as well.

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Nothing says Disney like a “Mickey Bread Sandwich”

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A rare case when the actual product looks better than the advertised version… the Japanese tend to under-promise and over-deliver in general.

Maybe you need a little extra something, How about a Mickey steamed bun? This is a traditional Chinese dish generally found as part of a Dim Sum meal but increasingly becoming popular as a savory snack. Often stuffed with pork or other meat, Disney offers a teriyaki version complete with a tiny bow tie.

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Should you prefer a sweeter rendition you can pick up a Minnie Mouse version filled with Strawberries and milk.

Minnie Steamed Bun

Delicious Pepto Bismal flavor.

Snack Time:

OK, have your freaking Mickey Ice Cream bar now… of course they have them, they also have a cool Orange sherbet bar with great detail.

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Actually less of a bar and more of an ice cream sandwich here.

MM Orange bar

Frosty delight. They should make one in the shape of Walt’s head.

Or how about a hot pretzel?

Mickey Pretzel

Or a Brownie?

Mickey Brownie

Or a Cookie?

MM Cookie

Or Churro? (One of the more clever ones)

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And it’s like three feet long!

Frankly there are too many various sweet treats to list… Rice Krispy bars, candy, chocolate, candy apples, Jell-O… if it can be shaped like Mickey and eaten as a snack, they have it.

Dinner:

We are in Tokyo so lets go traditional Japanese… I’m not totally convinced that this counts but clearly that tuna has been scooped into a Mickey shape on purpose… so I’m accepting it. And there is no arguing that the dessert item is full on Mickey head (and gelatinous. They love gelatinous textures in Asia).

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The kids meal has a throwaway Mickey carrot… it’s something at least.

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Or you could eat this instead:

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I’m not even sure where to begin with this…

But lets say you want to fly half way across the world and then eat Mexican food for some inexplicable reason. No problem. This fajita plate may not be 100% Mickey shaped but the rice is trying really hard to carry the load… we will give them a pass here.

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Make a run for the border

They are so into Mickey shaped food that you can buy fake Mickey shaped food Merchandise.

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Well the U.S. parks have these… so we win on the food merchandise front! If you consider your car smelling like a turkey leg “winning”.

Well we did it!  Not only did we complete the challenge but we have made it through this post about adorably cute Disneyfied food as well. We will also post a 45 minute video covering the day’s meals and set up a separate Official Parkeology Mickey’s “Three Square Meals” challenge page for those interested in attempting this on their own. We will need to see time dated photos of each meal for verification… but for now I’m breaking out the Mickey cookie-cutters and going nuts on some bologna.

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You’ll never know what hit you.

 

Michael Eisner and the Lost Cliffs of California

In 1996, Disney CEO Michael Eisner conceived of a new type of vacation.

It was based on his own childhood memories of Camp Keewaydin, his wife’s love for the creepy hamlet of Chappauqua, NY, and other playgrounds of the rich and famous. And so a corner of Walt Disney World was set aside for this new enrichment program.

They called it the Disney Institute.

Situated on 40 acres of prime resort territory, the Institute consisted of a series of bungalows along a picturesque lagoon.

Nestled among the lush green “thinking gardens” and serene gazebos were facilities of every kind. Kitchen classrooms, Performance theaters, Art studios, and…

A rock-climbing wall.

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Seen here in this weathered map rescued from the Peruvian jungles. That spidery icon in the middle is the ancient Mayan symbol for “Tourists Looking Silly.”

Of all the disparate elements in this one-of-a-kind vacation destination, the rock climbing wall was the pinnacle of the Institute experience. Forget mom’s all-day wine class/drinking excuse, and dad’s overwrought attempt to bring Streetcar to life on the stage. Here was the one offering that seemed to jibe with Disney’s adventurous outlook on life.

Predictably, they trotted out pictures at every opportunity. And it looks like they had a favorite model.

Predictably, they trotted out pictures at every opportunity. And it looks like they had a favorite model.

A brief perusal of the marketing materials of the time reveals nary a one that does not feature some stock photo of this towering slab of unscalable rock. It was rumored to be a cliff out of its element. A monolith to human brilliance.

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Early Disney Promotional Material

This rock wall was so incredible, Disney took the time to carve out a literal segment of a California mountain, just so they could mold the perfect rock-scaling experience. Or at least someone in Imagineering told Michael Eisner that’s what they did.

This Newsweek article is indicative of the literature of the time, which plays up Disney's attention to detail about this breathtakingly-rendered fake rock. No word yet on the fate of the sand-sculpting pit.

This Newsweek article is indicative of the literature of the time, which plays up Disney’s attention to detail about this breathtakingly-rendered fake rock. Parkeology is also intrigued on just how state-of-the-art you can get with sand.

Then the state-of-the-art sands of time erased it from existence.

In 2015, Parkeology in conjunction with the Society of Budget Sherpas mounted an expedition into the wilderness of Lake Buena Vista in an effort to discover the remains of this hallowed tower.

It’s exact location is unknown. But ancient maps of the Disney Institute place it on the Northeast corner of Willow Lake, in a plot of open wilderness between the resort and Lake Buena Vista Drive.

Today, this land houses the Carousel complex, a series of hotel rooms and amenities. And an additional man-made lake, not shown on the map above.

And according to Google Maps, an intriguing vacation hotspot known as the "BBQ Grill Area"

Google Maps also shows an intriguing vacation hotspot known as the “BBQ Grill Area”

The open wilderness from the days of the Institute has vanished, and with it the Lost Cliffs of California. There is no sign either of the amphitheater that used to stand in this spot. All we have is an odd, flat berm that blocks the view of the road from the hotel.

Thinking that the berm might hold the ruined bleachers of the amphitheater, like an old Roman Coliseum, Parkeology summited the hill. What we found on the other side will shock you.

Shade.

Shade.

A few candidates stand out as potential sources of the lost cliff’s location. This “Thinking Garden” is unusually square, dotted with angelic statues, reminiscent of an ancient cemetery.

Ponder life, death, and your FastPass+ Selections at the Thinking Garden!

Ponder life, death, and your FastPass+ Selections at the Thinking Garden!

Stranger still is this Carousel gazebo, listed on the map as a barbecue area, in spite of only a single pathetic, rusted grill apparatus. The two-dimensional cut-out horses circling the gazebo outnumber the barbecuing tools 4 to 1. Parkeology attempted to mount these horses to see if they would lead us to the secret rock wall, but the horses are unfortunately stationary and we found the two-dimensional saddles to be extremely uncomfortable.

Nearby is a quiet fountain, whispering like the ghosts of the past.

Climb the rock... climb the rock... Only there will you achieve enlightenment.

Climb the rock… climb the rock… Only there will you achieve enlightenment.

It seems that the lost cliffs of California have vanished, crumbled into dust like the mudslides of their homeland.

Or more likely, the structure sank into that retention pond like the lost city of Atlantis.

But as Parkeology made its way around the Carousel area, we could not help but notice the strange chunks of rocks that dotted every cluster of shrubs and marked every twist and turn of the sidewalk.

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These rocks are oddly flat on many sides, with notches resembling intentional hand holds. Presumably they are decorative, excavated from the site of the hotel, but they are very different from the fossilized corral often turned up in the Florida beds.

Could these fragments of hand-cut rock be the last remaining pieces of the lost cliffs of California? Or is it merely coincidence? You be the judge.

It is strange that the highest concentration of these flattering slabs exists mainly in the area around the Carousel buildings. As one moves deeper into the resort, into the more historical district, the granite slabs begin to disappear.

The indigenous Floridian rock, found closer to the main buildings--Proof that nobody in California would ever think to model a section of Floridian cliff for a rock-climbing wall.

The indigenous Floridian rock, found closer to the main buildings–Proof that nobody in California would ever think to model a section of Floridian cliff for a rock-climbing wall.

Perhaps underneath one of these solemn chunks of hardened matter, a belay line is still anchored to the core, or a plastic foothold is still chiseled into the side, waiting for the day when the rock will turn over and all will be made known.

But until then, we have only our memories of a bygone era. A time when man could dream of a vacation to touch the sky… and scale the Cliffs of California to make it happen.


If you would like to receive Parkeology updates via email, please sign up for our email list! We also invite you to Like us on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter.

And Shane would personally love it if you checked out his thrilling pirate adventure novel Johnny Shipwreck. Available for Amazon Kindle!  (formerly titled The Raiders of Castillo del Mar).