Our fearless test subject braves the wilds of Great America.
Our fearless test subject braves the wilds of Great America.

Here's Your Stoner's Guide to Great America

Here's Your Stoner's Guide to Great America

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This article is more than 7 years old.

This article originally published in 2015.

This weekend, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead celebrate the band's 50th anniversary with a pair of shows at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. And though the concert itself should provide more than a few trips down amnesia lane, everyone knows where the real action is at a Dead show: out in the parking lot.

Funny thing about Levi's Stadium—it shares a parking lot with Great America, the amusement park currently celebrating its own milestone anniversary of 40 years. And it just so happens that it will be open all day during the Grateful Dead shows and “fully staffed,” according to a park employee.

“We're expecting a huge crowd,” attested the employee, who asked not to be named. “It's going to be crazy.”

The Dead's fan base is an adventurous bunch. Deadheads also, generally and historically, like to maintain a certain state of mind. And though there are plenty of leisurely rides at Great America to enhance the stoned experience, there are also a few guaranteed vibe-killers in the park from which to steer clear.

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I recently spent a day at Great America with Cassie, a 28-year-old who showed up for the occasion in a vintage Mouse/Kelley Grateful Dead T-shirt. On the way there, we listened to the Dead's set from 6/10/1973 at RFK Stadium, and talked about her seasonal trimming job in Humboldt County while looking up the smoking sections scattered around the park. In other words: she proved a perfect test subject for the typical stoner experience at Great America.

So here, Deadheads, without further ado, is your guide to 10 rides at Great America, each of them tested by a very stoned fan and rated on a scale of one to five Dancing Bears.

Delta Flyer.
Delta Flyer.

Delta Flyer

There's no better way to see Great America than high in the air, and for those who didn't grow up in the Bay Area going to the park every summer, the Delta Flyer is a smooth tram ride that offers a good introduction to the lay of the land. Hum a little bit of “Catfish John” (“Walking in his footsteps in the Sweet Delta Dawn”) and map out your day. Said Cassie, de-boarding the gondola: “It was fun to start the day off like that.”
Dancing Bear Rating:
GAB5

Psycho Mouse.
Psycho Mouse.

Psycho Mouse

“This is a very aesthetically pleasing ride,” said Cassie, waiting in line and staring into the roller coaster's mouse-themed design. But the ride, similar to Goofy's Sky School at Disney's California Adventure, was decidedly un-mellow. “It was kind of aggressive, and jarring,” said Cassie, after being jolted back and forth on the Psycho Mouse's sharp turns, high above the Earth. “But come on, look at that mouse! He's so cute!”
Dancing Bear Rating:
GAB3

The Grizzly.
The Grizzly.

The Grizzly

Built in 1986, the Grizzly was Great America's first all-wooden roller coaster, giving it an organic feel and a beach-boardwalk look. For those who like to zone out on how things are made, the ride's complex construction opens up the imagination to questions of design and engineering, and indeed, Cassie lingered an extra minute examining the interlocking wooden pilings before climbing aboard. This one was a winner: “It wasn't scary at all,” Cassie said. “It was just fun, and not horrifying, and I like the sound it makes.”
Dancing Bear Rating:
GAB45

Barney Oldfield Speedway.
Barney Oldfield Speedway.

Barney Oldfield Speedway

Your basic, anyone-can-drive-a-car attraction, complete with superfluous steering wheel and lazy pace. In addition to its close-up views of the Grizzly, this ride also happened to provide the best employee-watching of the day. “New Speedway Boogie” would've made a good soundtrack to this ride, except as Cassie noted, “I don't think 'speed' is really an issue.” The cars drive slowly, and the boarding area is filled with constant, noxious exhaust -- not the type of fumes a Deadhead wants to inhale.
Dancing Bear Rating:
GAB2

The Demon.
The Demon.

The Demon

The grand old dame of Great America's roller coasters, the Demon is now 35 years old, its double-loop and double-corkscrew the same as when it opened in 1980. I'd guessed it would be too harsh for Cassie, but afterward, her flushed face told a different story. “That was incredible! It almost makes me want to lower the scores of all the other rides, it was so great!” she said. The ride is angular and unpredictable, the thrill-ride equivalent of Ornette Coleman playing with the dead at the Oakland Coliseum, but ultimately satisfying. “This one had the fear,” Cassie said, “but I liked it.”
Dancing Bear Rating:
GAB5

The Rapids.
The Rapids.

Logger's Run

You'll want to cool down with some ripples in still water, and Great America has an entire waterpark called Boomerang Bay, if you bring your swimsuit. We didn't, so we confined ourselves to the water rides. Whitewater Falls was exhilarating, but short; the Rapids (pictured) were only slightly rapid, and too tame. Also, both aforementioned rides allow random spectators to shoot water at you from a cannon, which is a serious bummer. The winner of the three was Logger's Run, which lifts high above the park and rushes down in a thrilling descent. And you can't argue with Cassie's logic: “I like that you're inside of a log.”
Dancing Bear Rating:
GAB45

Gold Striker.
Gold Striker.

Gold Striker

This gigantic wooden roller coaster is like “Dark Star” from Europe '72 played at 78 rpm: it's long, it's fast, and the twists and turns are wild and unpredictable. Gold Striker was also Cassie's favorite ride of the day, owing to its height (108 ft.), speed (54 mph), and nonstop thrill factor. “It just doesn't let up!” she said afterward, smiling and out of breath. We rode it twice and it was insane both times, from the initial drop through the tunnel to the beast at the ending of the wood. One word of advice from Cassie, though: “It definitely takes your stomach to the breaking point,” she says. “Don't go on it after eating curly fries.”
Dancing Bear Rating:
GAB5

H.M.B. Endeavor.
H.M.B. Endeavor.

H.M.B. Endeavor

So, this was a bad idea. The H.M.B. Endeavor is a classic county-fair pirate ship ride, except that instead of simply swinging back and forth, it actually goes all the way upside down. And. Just. Stays. There. After hanging upside down for five or six seconds, there's a huge rush of blood to your head, and not the good kind. Nauseous afterward, Cassie reported: “I felt freaked out on it, to be honest. I was very aware of this tiny shoulder harness being the only thing keeping me from imminent death.” Stay away, Deadheads.
Dancing Bear Rating:
GAB2

The Vortex.
The Vortex.

The Vortex

An upside-down ride whose schtick is that riders stand up instead of sit down, the Vortex is little more than a gimmick. It felt punishing. “I have a serious case of sea legs,” said Cassie afterward, “and a headache.” However, the ride's rating was bumped higher by the fact that Cassie saw a Nirvana video playing on the “Fun TV” screen in line. Go figure.
Dancing Bear Rating:
GAB3

Carousel Columbia.
Carousel Columbia.

Carousel Columbia

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After a long day, there's no better way to bid goodnight to the park than a ride on this, the tallest carousel in the western United States. We climbed aboard the upper deck, hopped on some horses, and turned on our love light for a nostalgic spin to childlike innocence. With the twirling nature of the ride and the noodling organ music, there's probably no finer way to chill out before a Grateful Dead show.
Dancing Bear Rating:
GAB5