Miniature World

I have a love for trashy tourist destinations. I’ve enjoyed Wall Drug, I’ve enjoyed House on the Rock, I looked on in horror at the hundreds of dingy water parks and dinosaur playgrounds that lined the highways surrounding Mount Rushmore, but I never thought I would find such an awesome display of tourist luring so close to home.

I had a few friends up for the weekend and we wanted to play a round of minigolf. I had no idea where I could find any minigolf in Bellingham, so we hit the internet and found Miniature World, a “family fun center” in Birch Bay, about twenty minutes north of Bellingham. We were pretty excited, but when we found out that not only could we enjoy minigolf and go-karts, but we could partake in the train ride through the “Forest of Imagination,” we had to go.

The minigolf was excellent, and the go-karts made me feel like an overexcited ten year-old, but the train ride was something else. We sat down in rickety hand-built train cars and moved slowly through the park—around the go-kart track, through the middle of the minigolf course, and into the forest. The “Forest of Imagination” basically consisted of plush toys and lawn ornaments arranged in an aesthetic manner. Exposed to years of sun and rain, they had faded and become dingy; the effect was very disturbing. Look kids, there’s Bugs Bunny, bleached by the sun, with his lower half covered in mold! There’s a teddy bear in a door with a nail through its hand! The little boy on the train car in front of us got more and more nervous as the ride went on, and really lost it when the train passed through a tunnel and wheeled past a four foot tall Yoda doll with half of its rubber face hanging off like an exit wound.

What is it about these roadside amusement parks that entertains me so much? I think they’re part of that old American road culture you don’t see so much anymore—they’re dirty, they’re fun, they’re local flavor. Little roadside amusement parks are the intersection of screwing tourists for all their worth and making children happy. Miniature World’s train ride may be the product of a horrible misunderstanding of what makes children happy, but it’s an entertaining one. Like House on the Rock, Miniature World’s “Forest of Imagination” is the product of one man’s imagination. Don Giffen built the train, laid the tracks, set up the scenes in the forest, and does all the repairs himself. Don Giffen is Miniature World, and he is also that fascinating kind of entrepreneur—the kind who buys up a plot of land and says “I’m going to build something entertaining and totally fucked up here.” If you’re near Bellingham and you want to explore an interesting little piece of local culture, or you have a child you want to disturb, swing by Miniature World. Here’s one last picture of the train ride: Richard Nixon riding in a car with some kind of giant white monster.

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~ by Ian D. on May 27, 2008.

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