outdoor-world I’ve driven by the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World megastore on the way to the Sierras several times, but only last week did I stop. Wow! Now I’ll never not stop. I didn’t realize it’s not really a sporting goods store, but a themepark.

First you enter a grand lodge with fireplace and old-timey furnishings by the grand stone fireplace. There are mounted heads and fish trophies, and a big stuffed bear. Then you walk through the giant redwood tree trunk and in addition to the shopping you expect to see, fishing gear and outdoor coats and large buckets of cheese puffs, there are countless stuffed bears, antelope, mountain goats and bobcats, set in diorama-like scenes of mountains, streams, and nature. There are huge fish mounted in air-fake pond weeds, then at the back an audacious real waterfall cascading over the stairs to the second floor and into a giant tank of live steelhead. All this in Manteca!

outdoor-world-3OK, by now you get it, and most of you are probably horrified. I do understand what people are talking about when they despise fake entertainment places.

But from the moment I saw Disneyland as a 7-year-old, I was in love. California’s Happiest Place on Earth in 1971 was a paradise of imagination, beauty, and design. You could go from a hut by the Nile to a dusty western town, by way of the Swiss Family Robinson’s treehouse, and end up in New Orleans. It was both seamless and magic. It’s no exaggeration to say that Disneyland blew my mind and changed my life. I realized there are creative people in the world who build their vision and share it. I recognized some murky desire in myself to participate in the shaping of things. Not just useful things, but beautiful, inspiring, entertaining things.

And yes, I realize it’s a long stretch from GE’s Carousel of Progress to a sporting goods entertainment store, but for me the impulse is the same. Those carefully crafted bits of magic always move me. For a second it makes you think you’re in a woodland adventure rather than just picking up a new raincoat and some worms. Being transported by someone else’s perfect vision, just for a minute, connects me to some of my deepest joys and memories.

outdoor-world-kidsEven though they didn’t have any snow disks, and I refused to buy our daughter the very large fish pillow, and they sold as much junk food as anything else, it’s still a stop I’ll be sure to make again. The photo I have where it looks like a bear is about eat the kids is one I’ll never get tired of looking at.