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Misty memories of Wet ’n Wild

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Wet ‘n Wild back in the day
Photo: Marsh Starks
Dayvid Figler

There are more than 21,000 people in a Facebook group called “Bring Back Wet ’n Wild to Las Vegas.” Their posts relate an abiding love for summers gone by, and demand answers regarding its disappearance. Harry Reid might make political hay out of his rival’s role in the demise of the beloved water park.

As the story goes, sometime around 2004, Wet ’n Wild’s landlord, the Archon Corporation (of which GOP candidate Sue Lowden is a principal) decided to end the lease, with the pipe dream of building a 3,250-room “megaresort” on the site just south of the Sahara. Thus began the dismantling of 27 acres devoted for 20 years to fun and flip-flops. (It’s now an asphalt lot for construction equipment.)

I remember when Wet ’n Wild was built. My senior year in high school. There were already a couple of watery attractions in town—the relatively quaint Roulette Rapids and Hydrotubes—but both were quickly dispatched in the same way Walmarts wipe out Piggly Wigglys. Wet ’n Wild was a monster on the horizon. The rides so much ... higher. The promised good times so much ... greater. The curious apostrophe so much ... ungrammaticaler.

Originally touted as a tourist destination, it morphed into a local favorite. A friend was a lifeguard, meaning I got comped into the land of Surf Lagoon, Raging Rapids and the vaguely anti-Semitic-sounding Der Stuka (I was intent on avoiding that one).

Oh, the smells (hot dogs, chlorine, foot fungus), sounds (incessant little-kid screaming, hits of the ’80s), sights (anti-sexy, sexy red lifeguard one-piece bikinis, the clock on top of the Sahara like a countdown to how much time was left to “hook up” with girls our age).

For those of us with one toe in college, Wet ’n Wild was a last dip in childhood—unbridled amusement, cool waters in summer sweat and a pickup spot rolled into one sprawling paean to aquatic (mis)adventure. It was a place where harassment of fat tourists floating slowly down the lazy river and face-firsters who’d lose their trunks down the steeper slides was tacitly endorsed.

The only time I dared attempt the 76-foot Der Stuka, I hummed the song “Helter Skelter” as I rounded the seemingly interminable steps into the sky. At the top of the slide, I stopped and turned and looked out at my city, as though I was for that one moment the king of what I surveyed. And then with arms crossed over my chest, I headed for the bottom.

But now it’s done. The sights, sounds and seasonal jobs (sometimes more than 600 each summer) are all gone. The no-brainer of a refreshing respite from the pounding reality of the desert life, a gathering place for local youths, a monument of swirling nostalgia to be handed down from the preceding generation, now floats down the lazy river. You know, the river where supposed progress is a better bet than anything to foster a sense of community amongst the kids who someday will be charged with maintaining the city. That is, if they all don’t just move away when they can. Ah, if only that was a real political issue …

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