Dorothy may have needed her ruby slippers (or silver slippers, for the purists!) to travel from Oz to Kansas, but you don't need your own pair of sparkling shoes to experience the enduring magic of Oz - and it's much closer than you think.
A Brief History of Oz
Written by L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was originally published in 1900 to immediate acclaim, and has become of the most treasured and celebrated books in American children's literature. The book, later to become a series, shares the story of young Dorothy Gale, who is unexpectedly whisked away from her family's farm in Kansas by a violent tornado, finding herself in a technicolor land filled with the most wondrous characters and places - and some frightening ones too.
Already a success, the book's popularity was cemented with the release of the now-iconic MGM film adaptation, The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland as the title character. Oz continues to inspire new works - including Broadway musicals The Wiz and Wicked (based on the best-selling book by Gregory Maguire, with music by Steven Schwartz), and Sci Fi Channel's 2007 TV Series, Tin Man.
Of course, books and movies can spark your imagination - but what if you could experience the magic of Oz in person?
Visiting the Land of Oz
That's the question that motivated Grover Robbins to create the Land of Oz, a theme park in Beech Mountain, North Carolina that opened in 1970. With ski lifts disguised as hot air balloons, visitors were ferried to the top of scenic Beech Mountain - and right into Baum's world of Oz. The theme park was populated by costumed performers, faithfully representing all the beloved characters, and allowed visitors to follow Dorothy's journey from Kansas to the Emerald City along the Yellow Brick Road.The park operated from it's grand opening in 1970 until it's closing in 1980, following a fire that destroyed several buildings, costumes and props that they were unable to recover from.
Today, the park is privately owned, and opens two times a year to the public, for 'Journey with Dorothy Tours' in June, and the Autumn at Oz festival in September. While the theme park attractions are more limited now than during the park's heydey, there's still plenty to enjoy - including musical performances, a petting zoo, the Omaha 'vendor fair' with Oz-themed memorabilia and meet-and-greets with the characters. A small museum on the property displays props from the original park, in addition to movie stills and trivia. And for true fans, there's nothing quite like skipping down the Yellow Brick road with family and friends.
While the Land of Oz doesn't offer the thrills and screams of most modern amusement parks - there are no rollercoasters here! - it is a wonderfully unique experience. The hot air balloon ski lifts are no longer in operation, instead shuttle buses ferry visitors up the curvy, narrow roads of Beech Mountain, as tour guides share an oral history of the original park's creation and the growth of the surrounding area.
Once you've arrived at the top of the mountain, or 'Kansas', you'll run into Professor Marvel, Auntie Em, Dorothy and the farm hands (among others), enjoying several musical performances before venturing into the Gale farm house - and from there, into the twister and out the other side into Oz.
In Oz, you'll 'follow the yellow brick road', stopping for photo opportunities with characters, and seeing the still-remaining pieces of the original park - like the Wicked Witch's castle, Munchkinland and more before arriving at the gates of the Emerald City.
I won't share too many details here, because it really is something to be experienced firsthand, but I will say that the attention to detail and the skilled actors will delight everyone but the most curmudgeonly among us. It's a lovely, unexpected adventure for an end-of-summer family trip.
Other Things to Do in Boone, NC
The Land of Oz isn't the only offering this charming corner of North Carolina's 'High Country' has to offer. Nestled in scenic mountain valleys, just east of the Tennessee border, the surrounding area offers incredible views, outdoor adventures, kitschy roadside attractions and a small, mountain town feel with great camping and good food. If you're in town for Oz, be sure to check out these other local spots that won't disappoint: