April 23, 2005

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    Why would anyone take a seven-hour drive from Phoenix to Albuquerque (with gas at one gas station at $3.09) to visit an amusement park with so little room they're practically cramming their new-for-2005 attractions over queue lines?

   The New Mexico Rattler.

   Custom Coasters International's last roller coaster almost wasn't built. The company went out of business as they were building this coaster that would put Cliff's Amusement Park on the map. Construction was halted, but Cliff's picked up and contracted some of CCI's engineers and some in-park consultants to finish the ride. It was finished and opened in late 2002.

   Thank God they finished the ride.

   Bryan and I got to Cliff's at 12:30 and proceeded to the green employee gate. Bryan called ahead to ask for discounts and said we'd be reviewing the park, and the person he talked to was the operations manager. Her name was Holly. Somehow she allowed us to get into the park for free, get free wristbands and ride Rattler before the park opened. Sweet. She said we might have to duct tape our cameras to our wrists, but she later said that wasn't necessary.

   She called a supervisor over, and the supervisor led us up the exit ramp of Rattler. The ride had cycled a few times already. We got in the station and were asked what we were doing. A maintenance man finished checking the restraints, and they let us sit wherever we wanted. One guy at the ride told us the back seat was the best, so we went there first. Four employees hopped up front to test ride. We left the station and headed up the lift hill.

   The lift hill is speedy because only one train runs. It doesn't slow down at the top; you just go right over. The first drop twists to the right and into a tunnel. It jumps into a double up with the second part banking and turning to the left. The best hill on the ride is next. After the turnaround, the train soars up and over a short hill for great airtime in the back. This drop has netting above it, so it adds to the thrill.

   We're met with another double up. The first part of it is about 5 feet high, and it takes you into another airtime hill. Then the ride starts focusing on the lateral forces. Two quick, turning hops prelude a high turn before the 100-foot-long underground tunnel. After the tunnel the ride rises into another high hill that has a pop of airtime at the peak. It drops below the structure and into a ground-level turn. It flies over two small hills that provide a bit of airtime, then it drops down a short drop that's got some funky banking at the end of it. Instead of smoothly banking, it slightly jolts to the right. It gives a little surprise.

   We enter the finale that most CCIs seem to have: a helix. It's small and moves up and down a couple times, but it's got enough force to keep you on the side of your seat. The end of it levels off on a small decline, then it takes a sharp turning drop to the right into the brakes. The brakes are significantly higher than the station, so the right turn into the station offers some laterals, and you enter it at maybe 15 mph.

   Amazing. This coaster has everything you want. It's only 80 feet tall, but it packs a punch. It's got airtime, lateral Gs, one spot that mixes airtime and laterals, a tunnel, a helix finale and an all-around out-of-control feeling. New Mexico has a winner on its hands. New Mexico Rattler was my 99th roller coaster, and it became my fourth-favorite wooden coaster. 10/10.

   We ended up riding New Mexico Rattler two more times before the park opened. We rode our first ride in the back, then we got two rides in the front seat.

   The other coaster at this park is Galaxi. I've ridden one of these before at LeSourdsville Lake. It's a fun coaster with a triple helix. While climbing up the lift hill, 26 cents slid on the ground to my seat, so I picked them up. My 100th coaster paid me. The triple helix is the highlight of this ride. It seems impossibly long. The exit of it has a rough transition into a small hill. None of the brakes were on throughout the circuit, which was nice. 6.5/10. Here's my face after my 100th coaster.

   We headed to the YoYo next. There wasn't a line because everyone was being seated. We walked through the short queue and hopped on. I pulled my bar down and bucked it along with the seat belt. Bryan didn't notice the seat belt, so I pointed it out to him. Before he had it buckled, they started the ride! They didn't even check to see that we were seated properly. They just started the ride!

   YoYo is really cool. It's built over water, so when the seats are at their maximum tilt, you're over water. It has some good tilting action. You come really close to the seats in front of and behind you when it's tilting. 7/10.

   We rode Rattler again in the back seat. There was a little line, but it wasn't bad. This ride is so much better in the back when the train is full of people. We were flying all over the place. Outstanding!

   We got in line for the Tilt-a-Whirl. We thought we'd figure out a good pattern of movement to get our car to spin around a lot, but we ended up getting a terrible ride. We didn't spin around once! We got close a couple times, but no matter how we moved around in the vehicle, we couldn't get it to spin around. That was sad. 3/10.

   We headed to the bumper cars. These things are great! They're the best bumper cars I've ever ridden. They have good speed, and when idiots aren't clogging up the course, you can get some really good hits. While riding one or two kids would not know how to turn or get out of a jam, so everyone would get clogged in one area. That sucked. These cars are speedy and a lot of fun, though. 9/10.

   It was time to eat, so we stopped at Coyote Cafe and got food. I got a hot dog, fries and a drink. It was only $5.33, too. Pretty reasonable prices for an amusement park.

   After eating we headed to the other side of the park where Sea Dragon was. We waited for a couple cycles, which was a little more than 10 minutes. This line is shaded, unlike Rattler's. There was a bee flying around the line, though. I noticed that around the park. There seem to be a few bees, but that's probably because people spill soda and stuff, and the sugar attracts the bees. We ended up riding near the middle, which was kind of lame. It's got some good swings, but when it's at the peak swing is when it's the best. The tires that push the ride actually drop and let it coast for four swings. I'd never experienced that before. Watching the other people's reactions is always fun. 7/10.

    We got in line for YoYo again. There was a bit of a line, but these things can seat a lot of people. We got on after the cycle was over. While waiting in line we noticed there was a shoe in the water. Some poor sap on the ride had a loose shoe, and it flew out and landed in the water. As we were riding and tilting, I said things to the girl in front of me. I asked her to not come close to me and why she was doing that. I think I scared her.

   Rattler again. We can't get enough. The line was building up by now, so we decided to hop in the line for the middle cars instead of the back. They split the line up for the front and back car only and the remaining middle four cars. There was a bit of a wait, but it was OK. We got the fifth car in the back seat. The airtime's great there.

   We rode the bumper cars again. As we were waiting in line, I saw a girl climbing a tree, so I took her picture.

   We had pretty much done all we could do, so we decided to get a final ride on Rattler. The line for the back looked to be at least 45 minutes, so we hopped in the middle. We waited about 25 minutes to ride. We talked to a guy in line who noticed we had ThrillNetwork shirts on. We talked to him about some coasters we'd ridden and how great Rattler is. While riding, I turned my camera on me and shot some pictures of Bryan and me.

   We headed to the gift shop outside the exit of Rattler where we ran into Holly again. She asked us how our day was, and we told her it was a blast. We looked at shirts in the shop and found a good Rattler one. It's black with the logo on the front. We both picked one up and went to the register. Bryan's shirt didn't have a price on it, but mine did. It said it was $17.50. The cashier didn't know the price because Bryan's didn't have the price on it, so he just sold it to him for $7. Bryan noticed that mine had the price on it, so he took off in case the guy told him to pay full price. He charged me $7, too! Great!

    We head out after that. We exited the park and saw a crazy golf cart. We drove to the Taco Bell parking lot next to the park and took pictures of Rattler. We got lots of good shots. They are listed at the end of this trip report.

   Cliff's is a nice little park. If it was in Arizona, I'd visit it often. Cliff's has a real winner on their hands with Rattler. It's an outstanding attraction, and I hope they maintain it well. They're adding three rides for 2005: Falling Star, which was under construction when we were there; Musik Express, which was open; and Cliff Hanger, which is the same type of drop ride Castles n Coasters has. Cliff Hanger will be a great addition to the park. The one at Castles n Coasters is the best drop ride I've ever ridden.

   Thanks to Cliff's and Holly for an outstanding time -- especially for the test rides on Rattler.

More images of Rattler:

The first drop* Heading down the drop* Headchoppers
The lift hill Entering the helix Entering the brakes
The logo on the side of the cars At the top of the lift Entering the tunnel

*1600 x 1200 resolution

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