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Park Hoppin’ with Paul Ruben

D Swimming with fishes Return from extinction A

going to go to Pennsylvania’s PoconoMountains, which is best known for its skiing and other outdoor activities. I don’t ski, and I’m not going to stand outside in freezing January temperatures. I had a better idea. I was going to Kalahari Resorts Poconos where they have a giant indoor waterpark to splash around in during the day and adult beverages waiting for me in the evening. I was headed to Kalahari to experience their new underwater virtual reality

snorkeling experience, DIVR by Ballast Technologies. Read about it on pages 46 & 46. Inside the waterpark the temperature was a toasty 84º F (29º C), the perfect alternative for a winter day. While amusement parks may have a variety of low capacity attractions that can be offered for an upcharge, before now waterparks have not. DIVR changes that.

inosaur Kingdom II is a throwback to the old roadside attractions of the mid-20th century, when Americans explored the country in their automobiles. Businesses tried to entice them off the road and to spend a few dollars. A little rain couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for visiting the unusual Dinosaur Kingdom II in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Dinosaur Kingdom II, which opened in 2016 (the first one burned in 2012), is not your usual educational Mesozoic-era walk-through displaying a variety of prehistoric monsters. No, this is a purposely anachronistic mishmash of dinosaurs, civil war soldiers, fanciful creatures, and an imaginary current Virginia town, all emerging from the twisted mind of Mark Cline, an American artist and entertainer. The scenes in the park appear to be ripped from the pages of a comic book, but the comic book was actually inspired by the park and is available in the park’s gift shop.

It transforms any pool into a fantastic adventure where guests can go deep sea diving, flying, or on a spacewalk. It combines the weightlessness of being in water with the immersion of virtual reality, resulting in an unprecedented full-body sensory experience. Ballast’s partner, Sub Sea Systems, is hoping to upgrade some of these systems to the DIVR+ version with thruster and sensory bubble effects. Arriving at the DIVRsite within the

Cline produces his art in foam and fibreglass, creating both realistic and fantasy characters. Characters such as Mr. Slime, one of several mutated amoeboid prehistoric creatures pictured here with me. As you see, Cline mixes art and absurdity.

Kalahari waterpark, I was fitted with a waterproof virtual reality mask, which consisted of two eyepieces, a large screen smart phone, speakers, and an attached snorkel to breathe through while in the water. A very helpful attendant, Nate Olsen, gave me a single-use mouthpiece that I placed on the end of the snorkel, and fitted me with a floatation belt around my waist. Tethered to an anchor at the bottom of the pool, the belt helped me keep comfortably afloat. Kalahari offered three different video experiences, with more planned in the

Inside Dinosaur Park II are more than 25 scenes with about 100 characters. The walking tour starts with a train car and through a colourful spinning tunnel that transports them back in time. On the other side is Extinction Junction, a tiny town filled with mysteries and wonders, including a house tilted at a disorientating angle and mechanical slime monsters that pass behind walls. The story behind the park is an alternate history park where the American Union Army loses the war... to dinosaurs. In 1863, while excavating fossils in Lost Caverns, a family of Southern paleontologists discovered a hidden valley full of living dinosaurs. As the Garrison Family studied these creatures in peace, the Union Army discovered their secret and attempted to use the dinosaurs as weapons of mass destruction against the South. That’s when things went terribly wrong for the Yankees. Visitors are guided along the path showing the grisly defeat of the Union Army by these terrible creatures. A big snake swallows a Yankee soldier whole; an Allosaurus rips a Union officer off of his rearing horse while his hapless companion futilely tries to lasso it. Several dinosaurs were even outfitted with motors and speakers, moving their jaws and wagging their tongues while cinematic music and sound effects are piped in through speakers.

future. In the first I was swimming with ocean fish. I believe this is computer generated imagery, and as I turned my head left and right the scene changed appropriately. Then I thought I would test it to see if my hands and arms would appear if I waved them in front of my face; this is virtual rather than real reality, so they did not. At the end of the video I stood up and Olsen transferred a second, and later a

third video. These were fascinating, too. In one I was floating in outer space at an abandoned space station, watching the planets float by, and in the second interacted with a whale and an octopus back in the ocean. All the time there were four or five other guests in the pool, all tethered in place, enjoying their own adventures. So, what did I learn from this? For one thing, being weightless while

experiencing virtual reality enhances the experience. Second, DIVR is a sure-fire addition to any waterpark, indoors or outdoors. Third, while breathing through a snorkel tube, one should always keep the tube’s upper end above water.

The inspiration for Dinosaur Kingdom, Cline says, came from the 1969 movie The Valley of Gwangii, in which cowboys romp with dinosaurs on the outskirts of a Mexican town. He had originally planned to depict the dinosaurs versus Pancho Villa’s militia, but instead decided instead to play to Southern sympathies by casting the Union Army as the villains. As a result, guests discover Stonewall Jackson battling a vicious spinosaurus. Soldiers get surrounded by deadly carnivores. Visitors see Abe Lincoln after he’s lassoed a pteranodon chewing up the Gettysburg address, and witness a stegosaurus being milked. For fans of prehistoric creatures and civil war history, Dinosaur Kingdom II is pig heaven.

ll the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, so what am I going to do on a winter’s day? One thing I wasn’t going do is to start singing California Dreaming by TheMamas and the Papas. No, I was


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