Rides, critters and deep-fried Twinkies
Rondalyn Burnette (left) and Carol House hold on tight as their world is turned upside on the Speed ride at the Pima County Fair on Thursday.
Tucsonan Kristen Hatcher brought everything she needed to the Pima County Fair.
She had a sun umbrella, a camera – and a wagon full of kids.
Hatcher, 25, wasn’t the only one to take advantage of the family-friendly atmosphere, the rollicking array of rides or the deep-fried everything at this year’s fair.
The fair runs through April 26 and includes, as folks frolicking through the midway attested, something fun for every taste.
Even if the taste is for deep-fried Twinkies.
Hatcher and crew knew their first stop would be to visit the Cleaner family in one of the fair’s exhibit halls.
“We’re going to see their arts and crafts,” Hatcher said, gesturing toward her children Christian, 5; Caleb, 3; and year-old Ashlynn. “They made bead things and pipe cleaner people.”
Christian crafted the Cleaner family out of the latter. The crew included Mr. Cleaner, Mrs. Cleaner and their devoted dog, named, quite appropriately, Cleaner.
Others made a beeline for the food lines. Gargantuan smoked turkey legs competed with Colossal Onion Blossoms and the deep-fried Twinkies for olfactory attention.
Erik Barnard, 20, had a quick answer when asked if he’d try a deep-fried Twinkie.
“God, no, that looks disgusting,” he said. “The only thing I like deep fried are fries.”
But he and his wife, Michelle, 20, admitted to digging the funnel cakes, which took first place in a random poll of favorite fair foods.
When it came to the rides, Masen Gromer, 5, did not hesitate to describe his favorite.
“I like the one where the boat goes up and down,” he said with the confidence of someone who had already ridden it four times since it opened about an hour before.
“That one makes me sick,” he said while pointing to another ride that featured small, twirling teacup things painted bright yellow.
Sydney King, 13, and Marana Middle School classmate and friend Katrina Malfitano, 12, left school early to get to the fair.
“We came for the rides,” Sydney said, while handing Katrina a freshly coated caramel apple. The duo feasted on the goodies and were planning to enjoy the rides, but were making sure to steer clear of the livestock arena.
“I used to come here when I was younger,” Sydney said. “But then one of the animals gave me hives. I had hives for about three months.”
Others had no such qualms about getting up close and personal with all kinds of critters in the livestock arena or the popular petting zoo.
Barbara and Phillip Sanderson, both 76 and married 56 years, came to the petting zoo with their grandson, 8-year-old Dennis Sanderson.
But they may have been enjoying it more than he was.
“I love this,” Barbara Sanderson said. “This is the best part of the fair. I’m a kid myself.”
The Sandersons, and everyone else in the petting zoo for that matter, were entranced with the little piglet who would lie blissfully on her side when an employee scratched her belly with a rake.
“We love the piggies,” said Savannah Whitney, 12. Her twin brother, Levi, and their friend Lexi Watins, 12, heartily agreed as they knelt on the zoo’s hay- strewn floor with piglets in front of them and goats nibbling at their hair and ears.
The livestock arena, too, was a hit, full of newly groomed rabbits and frizzy-haired sheep.
Even those who didn’t seek out the animals could find them in pockets around the fairgrounds.
Bengal tigers lurked in one of the side exhibits while a parade of horses tramped down the center aisle.
“The Clydesdales are always crowd pleasers,” said Keith Smith, who was working daytime fair security.
Elephant duo Kitty and Dixie were a hefty highlight, with a line of folks waiting for a ride.
The elephants, owned by Kari Johnson, 69, and the family business Have Trunk Will Travel Inc., have appeared in movies and on the cover of Vanity Fair.
It all began when Johnson married an elephant trainer. Her daughter, too, married an elephant trainer.
While Johnson was able to provide a brief family history and the elephants’ résumé, she could not clear up a nagging question that may have been on every fairgoer’s mind.
“I don’t know what they do with the poop,” she said. “We just pay someone to come haul it away.”
The fair offers an eclectic array of services and stuff. Folks can get a back massage, a face painting or an airbrushed tattoo. They can also buy a hot tub, acrylic latex interior paint, a Samurai sword, the as-seen-on-TV Shammy and painless hair clips called Hairzings.
Security man Smith said even the nighttime scene is family friendly. The night security crew includes his youngest son, who just returned from Afghanistan where he served as an Army sniper.
“I told him, ‘Your job is to keep the carnies and the 4-H kids away from each other,’ ” Smith said.
“He said, ‘No problem.’ ”
Ready for the fair's Thursday opening were (from right) Christian Hatcher, 5; Ashlynn Hatcher, 1; Parker Gideon, 2, (in green hat) and Caleb Hatcher, 3.
Rachael Simons, 21, said she loves the food at the fair as she dug in to a beef barbecue sandwich on Thursday.
Hundreds of people attended the opening of the Pima County Fair on Thursday.
Masen Gromer, 5, (center) talks about the rides at Thursday's opening of Pima County Fair. He was at the fair with his dad, Mark Gromer, 30, and his dad's grandson, Damien Macomber.
Bengal tigers draw a crowd the opening day of the fair.
Fairgoers enjoy the Sky Flier on Thursday, the opening day of the Pima County Fair.
IF YOU GO
What: Pima County Fair
Where: 11300 S. Houghton Road
When: Through April 26
Hours: Main gate opens noon on weekdays, 10 a.m. weekends; carnival opens 3 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. weekends
Admission: $7; $2 for ages 6-10; free for ages 5 and younger. Parking is $5.
More info: www.pimacountyfair.com