I have done about a half dozen interviews with various individuals who were involved with creating MGM Grand Adventures now. After asking every single one what they thought made the park stand out from others, I expected to hear attractions like Hollywood Backlot River Tour or Deep Earth Exploration.
However, without hesitation, industry veterans like Garner Holt, Ira West and Rick Bastrup all told me that the biggest attraction in MGM Grand Adventures was Grand Canyon Rapids.
This rapids ride was the largest in the park in terms of budget, size and scope.
Sure, river rapids attractions had existed around the world prior to Grand Canyon‘s opening.
However, this version had a very elaborate theme that included three show buildings where the nine passenger Intamin designed rafts would go inside to experience completely unique show scenes.
For example, the flooded bank put riders right in the middle of a bank robbery complete with firing pistols that were shooting right into the water around them!
For a rapids water ride, the attention to detail is arguably the most elaborate I have ever seen.
For Rick Bastrup of R&R Productions, a fan of cowboys and the Old West, this attraction was a dream come true.
Even the Marshall for the bank scene has quite the resemblance to Rick, don’t you think?
Grand Canyon Rapids wasn’t just a game changer for the industry, but for at least one individual, it was life changing.
Garner Holt, pictured above on the right, is known today as the premier builder for animatronic/robotic figures in the world and got his first big break fabricating all the figures for Grand Canyon Rapids.
Prior to this, Garner had been making figures for a small haunted house he created in a mall located in Southern California as well as some other figures to show the industry what he could do.
Garner had created Wendel, a robotic figure that looked like he was riding a unicycle high above the ground. This contained an illusion where it seemed he had no means of physical support.
So Garner took a VHS tape of Wendel to Fred Benninger, an executive from MGM who was in charge of hiring all the various companies who were going to work on the park. After being so impressed by Wendel, Fred gave Warner the job for creating all the figures in Grand Canyon Rapids.
The way Garner told me the story, he rolled up to the construction offices of MGM Grand Adventures in a pick up truck wearing a suit with all his friends in the back. After he came out of the office, his friends in the truck saw Garner’s face from a distance and assumed he didn’t get the job. On the contrary Garner got the job, but the look on his face was saying, “How the hell am I going to pull this off in six months?”.
The team at R&R Creative already designed everything needed for the attraction in each scene, including the props, figures and scenery along the way.
The real problem was, Garner didn’t have a huge staff to be able to pull this off. However, he had a lot of friends who had helped in in the past to work on the project. He couldn’t afford to keep them on as permanent staff, so many of them came in to work for him after their day jobs.
As Mr. Benninger told him, if Garner couldn’t pull this off, he might never get the chance to work in the industry again. Garner told me he mad a lot of sleepless nights while working on Grand Canyon Rapids.
Not only did Garner fabricate fourteen figures for the ride, he also made most of the major props throughout Grand Canyon Rapids as well.
While transporting the pumping station, seen above from California to Las Vegas, Garner and his crew stopped for lunch at a fast food restaurant. The prop was sitting on a flatbed truck and when he came out, he overheard a couple who had stopped to look at it. The husband was telling his wife that he had heard that you could buy old mining equipment at auctions and he had assumed Garner and his crew had picked it up at an auction!
Not only did Garner finish the job on time, he was the first contractor to get paid on site. Pretty amazing for his first major job as a professional builder of robotic figures.
As a lifelong fan of theme parks, it’s hard to imagine all of these elaborate sets and scenery being scrapped in favor of more pool or convention space for the MGM Grand. However, that is how Las Vegas works. They are always looking for newer and better ways to bring in the bucks.
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