Anything to bring in the tourists


I’m often amused by the ingenious, sometimes wacky, ideas that town boosters come up with to lure visitors.
A good example in Texas, tending toward the ingenious, is Wichita Falls, a north Texas town known for summer temperatures over 100 degrees. Imagine the brainstorming session as townsfolk looked for a way to celebrate Wichita Falls’ centennial in 1982:
Hotter n Hell logo“I got an idea. Let’s have a 100-mile bike ride at the hottest time of year, the last Saturday in August, appeal to the macho element in cycling, and call it the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred.”
Bingo! At a time when snakes and lizards stay under their rocks, 1,200 riders turned up for the first Hotter ‘N Hell. It now claims to be the largest single-day 100-mile bicycle ride in the nation, with nearly 12,000 participants last year.
Actually, the ride was dreamed up by Roby Christie of the Wichita Falls Bicycle Club, and the name was coined by Mark and Jo Alice Davis, now of Weatherford, Texas. Roby is still involved in the planning for this year’s ride on Aug. 29. It is, indeed, an impeccably planned event. The rest stops, for example, resemble MASH units, with doctors, nurses, a triage system, cots, IV stations and tubs of ice.
Hotter N Hell ridersI did the ride once — I believe in 2000 — when I was in pretty good shape after a ride in the Colorado Rockies. The official temperature was 104 degrees. I hit the wall in mile 86, reported to a rest stop and was told by a nurse to lie on a cot and cover my chest with ice cubes.
I felt better after a while and got back on my bike for the last 15 miles, almost due south into a searing southerly wind. It was like riding into the gates of Hell. I turned around, went back to the rest stop and waited for the sag wagon.
Other ideas to lure visitors to towns that would hardly qualify as tourist destinations tend toward the wacky. There’s the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kan.; the world’s largest Lincoln statue in Ashmore, Ill.; the Alley Oop Museum & Fantasy Land Park in Iraan, Texas. (See May 24 post, “Stopping for the eccentric and bizarre.”)
Duck-RaceAnd then there’s the Great American Duck Race in Deming, in southern New Mexico. Our cross-country bicycle route will take us through Deming, a town of some 14,000 about 60 miles west of Las Cruces. Unfortunately. we’ll arrive too late for the 30th annual duck race weekend, Aug. 20-23.
Six friends drinking at a bar reportedly dreamed up the idea in 1980, including Realtor Steve Marlowe and the late Harold Cousland, then editor of the Deming Headlight newspaper.
This year’s event has a rock ‘n’ roll theme and the logo features an Elvis-style duck strumming on a guitar. The event kicks off on the Thursday before the weekend, with the crowning of a duck queen and king to reign over such events as a Tournament of Ducks parade, a tortilla toss and an outhouse race.
Yucca plantIt’s unlikely that many ducks, winging their way north or south during their annual migrations, would put down in Deming, amid the cholla cacti, mesquite and spiky yucca plants of the southwestern desert.
The organizers maintain a pool of ducks, collected over the years. Participants pay $5 to sponsor a duck and race them on a dry track — eight 17-foot lanes — and a wet track, a wading pool divided into eight lanes, on the tree-shaded grounds of the Luna County Courthouse.
“It’s all about having fun,” said local plumber Ken Mosher, quoted in a 2007 Associated Press story. “It takes care of a lot of boredom.”
And it brings in the tourists. See the video below.

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Filed under Americana, Cycling across America

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