Thursday, February 19, 2004

Introducing ThePlaceWhereWeLive Tourist Attraction R e v i e w s

(Last Post from the West Coast!)


Like screws in search of giant red magnets, we all, at one time or another, wander the map looking for stuff to do. Maybe that's why they call them tourist attractions. The term captures the "if we market it, you will come" mentality that permeates the travel industry.

ThePlaceWhereWeLive's Tourist Attraction Reviews, introduced today, will help you figure out who stinks and who smells nice. Does the attraction exist to suck the wallet out of your pants (which, granted, you might be inclined to enjoy), or might the attraction be an overlooked gem steeped in rich history, intrinsic
value, or wacky motives that somehow work?

You need to know. We will tell you (on a completely haphazard schedule). We will award attractions a self-explanatory OK-GO! or Lame-O! rating. In rare instances, a tourist site may be designated A-Gem-O! in which case you should log off and get packing.



From their website: "Ascend two and a half miles to a pristine wilderness aboard the World's Largest Rotating Tramcars."

Some reasons why Palm Springs Aerial Tramway has been deemed OK-GO!

1. It grew out of a local guy's wacky dream for the public good. The tram was built because Francis F. Crocker thought it would be a cool idea, literally, if he could ride out of the hot desert and up onto the snow-capped Mt. San Jacinto on a blistering summer day.

Crocker dreamed this in 1935, and he held tenaciously to his vision until he rode on the tram's inaugural trip in September 1963.

2. Profit never motivated Crocker. To this day the Tramway remains a non-profit organization operating as a public corporation of the State of California.

Because the tram needs to maintain financial self-sufficiency, it does have commerical aspects to it. I counted two gift shops, two cafes and a fancy restaurant designed to "attract" people to the mountain. They also took our photo at the bottom of the mountain in order to sell it to us at the top. Plus, admission fees weren't cheap ($20 adult, $14 child).

However, the place felt down-to-earth like other national or state parks we've visited. I could not detect any ersatz ploy by an offsite corporate marketing department. It felt like a state park facility, which we consider a compliment.

3. Only audacious engineering can shimmy two tramcars up and
down a mountainside, and the tramway organization acknowledges this accomplishment.

They document the technology for the public and try to teach about its challenges. For example, they carved a big window in the top mountain station so you can watch the massive concrete counterweight rise up and down as the tramcars slide along the cables. Or, before boarding, you can feel one of the steel cables they use to hoist the tram cars. They're the width of a shower rod but four kabillion times stronger.

4. As a result of building the tram, Crocker and his accomplices created a
13,000-acre public park on the top of the mountain called Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area.
It's the real deal with hiking trails, beautiful vistas, and friendly rangers. Thus, the "attraction" brings you to a destination with intrinsic value -- a stunning nature preserve that you otherwise could never have reached.

5. You enjoy splendid views on your way up and down in the tram car, and
you pass more than 8,000 feet of rocky mountainside, giving the ride intrinsic value, too.

6. As the brochure reports, Palm Spring's tram is the largest rotating tramcar in the world. That ain't nothin.

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