Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, put a fresh spin on its river rapids ride this summer. New animatronics, theming, sets, guest-controlled geysers, and a chance encounter with a Sasquatch all enhance the park’s 2019 update.
Last autumn, Knott’s retired its “Bigfoot Rapids” river rapids that first debuted in 1988. Interestingly enough, a Bigfoot creature never appeared in the former ride—until now. The ride’s reopening as “Calico River Rapids” comes with a new story that makes better use of its setting in the Ghost Town section of the park and the addition of fresh characters.
“It felt right to add a story behind the attraction to invite riders to uncover a world that was not there previously,” says Diana Bahena, a public relations representative with Knott’s. “‘Calico River Rapids’ now has a connection to the town of Calico. The best part about this ride is that riders will be able to discover new features each time they climb aboard, as no ride will ever be the same.”
The spinning nature of the rafts provides different splash points and different vantage points of new animated scenes along the course of the ride. Garner Holt Productions has completed major retheming projects for Knott’s in the past, with refurbishments of the park’s “Timber Mountain Log Ride” flume and “Calico Mine Ride” dark ride. Bill Butler with Garner Holt’s creative group describes “Calico River Rapids” enhancements as one of the “crown jewels” of Ghost Town.
“There are 22 new animatronic figures and six new special effects elements, including a guest interactive water-explosion-plunger-box effect,” says Butler. “The ride path itself is unchanged, but the landscaping was heavily modified to include new berms, over 200 new trees, hundreds of new bushes, dozens of new show lighting elements, and upgraded network show communication and audio systems.”
A new backstory involves the tale of an excursion through California by John Potts and John Colter, part of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition. Potts and Colter establish a trading post and supply company that outfits settlers, which becomes the town of Calico. The ride starts at the trading post, which also serves as its loading station. Guests board six-person rafts and begin the journey by passing under a wooden trough attached to a water tower, where an animatronic woodpecker is tapping away. The woodpecker poked several holes in the trough, leaving riders to get wet by the leaking water. Other wildlife, some of it “perilous,” punctuates the ride.
“The attraction is filled with scenes of realistic, indigenous wildlife; some of it dangerous, and some of it whimsical,” says Bahena.
At a turn in the river, a large grizzly bear catches a fish—right before riders get wet again from a leaking water tower trough. At another point, an animatronic bear cub plays a game of Whack-A-Mole with five prairie dogs that keep popping up. A sharp bend brings riders upon Potts’ and Colter’s cabin, with an animatronic mountain lion stalking the river nearby.
A new feature just may come back to haunt onlookers. Park guests observing the ride from a walkway can detonate dynamite props, blasting riders
with water from the river’s edge. However, the water blasts can backfire and soak the troublemaking onlookers.
The finale carries riders into a cave, where they see glowing eyes and hear disturbing sounds.
“The ride’s biggest highlight is this surprise finale where guests might just come face to face with a creature that has been rumored to wander in the backwoods of Calico,” says Bahena. Indeed, they’ve encountered the Sasquatch that never made an appearance on “Bigfoot Rapids.”
“Ken Parks, our vice president of entertainment at Knott’s, talks about how when he was younger, he visited the attraction and was disappointed to find that during the ride, there was no encounter with Bigfoot,” explains Bahena. “For ‘Calico River Rapids,’ our team wanted to right this wrong. The creature is simply another part of what makes the Western wilderness so mysterious, wild, and dangerous.”