Subscribe for 17¢ / day

Although says the origins of Mickey Mouse are "unclear," the inspiration for Walt Disney’s iconic figure is, in fact, quite clear. It's a cactus, plain and simple. That explains the big ears. And in the time since he launched his animated film juggernaut, an entire chain of events has been unleashed, perhaps described as the dance of a sidewinder snake in and out of the dreamscape of the American imagination.

It is no small thing to look at a cactus and envision a mouse. It's positively anthropomorphic. Heat stroke will do that. Altitude, too, if you are not careful. Disney was an ambulance driver in Europe by Armistice Day during World War I, and there are legends of morphine use. He was a drinker and a heavy smoker, but that could hardly explain what he did in the making of Disneyland, thinking of it as a kind of futuristic embodiment of what is now a global meme for the implied perfect experience of getting away from it all. By absorbing the entire American experience and bringing it right back home to you on a zillion or so acres of electro-kinetic fun with moving parts, plus plenty of room for parking. You get the trains moving through Victorian-age architecture, old gold and silver mining cars gone wild, the log flumes, the daring exploits of gravitational overload, ducks and dogs that talk, bears that jamboree, dinosaurs that blink, the biz!

Can we just set aside the overculture of Disney now as a symbol of American imperialism? Let's just let the French think that for the time being.

Few things, however, can be more dizzying than simply standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Which is more to the point: Disneyfication was at first, to the very naval core of the idea, northern Arizona-ified. The theme park that truly exists is natural. The Disney crossover from dream into reality essentially morphed the experiential history of the western United States onto the vast acres of Anaheim, Calif. But in recent years the mindset of Disney is bouncing out into the boonies again.

One can only guess what hallucinogens were in play to even consider putting a gondola from some isolated high desert plateau down thousands of feet to an even now cold and ravaging river. It was a remarkable idea, to say the least, but the public debate got it right; it was a very Disney thing to imagine. The proposed Grand Canyon Escalade was no small thing, considering they had the funds and backers to build it. And it was a very practical thing to dismiss by a resounding “no” vote.

But before Walt Disney wrought all of that on which the tide is now turning, there were already things like the Verde Canyon Railroad. By the time Disney was a teen that world was well beyond mere imagining and almost passé as the 1900s became the century of the automobile. Snaking back into the Verde Canyon, there is only one railroad there for a reason. Lowell Observatory, on the other hand, was most certainly the seed of Disney's futurism, at least in the broad swathe of his times. The tram up the slopes of Snowbowl are yet again an example. The rush of rafting through the canyons, another.

There comes a point the number of amenities available on these delicate landscapes, fragile ecosystems such as they are to human intrusion, are now sufficient. No more are needed. Hard enough, in fact, to keep the ones available up and running (see: ski industry).

Nothing less than great fabled Flinstoneland of "Bedrock City," which has been out there where the streets have no name to the left of the San Francisco Peaks since 1972, standing as a monument and testament to the American idea of “build it and they will come.” Just 30 miles from the Grand Canyon's South Rim, the six-acre tourist attraction includes concrete houses suitable for Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble from the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series from the 1960s, a giant brontosaurus slide and statues of the show’s characters. Owner Linda Speckles put the place up for sale at $2 million several years ago, but so far no takers. With the owners intent on preserving the roadside attraction, still doing brisk business as of last weekend, there remains a hold out for the right buyer.

The fact is, northern Arizona is pretty Disneylanded out.

President Theodore Roosevelt, on the importance of the national park for preservation, stated, "I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, or hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it."

Obviously, that advice wasn't followed. But it's time to print it again. In case the current administration reads it.

As the late Edward Abbey wrote, "Growth for its own sake is the psychology of the cancer cell." Maybe Mother Nature is theme park enough, with those bells and whistles just whispers in the much bigger winds of change.


Load comments