Beech Mountain’s Land of Oz a Rare Treat for Families, Movie Fanatics
Oct 31, 2019 02:00PM
By Vanessa Orr
Photos by Vanessa Orr
Back in the old days (like 45 years ago), when cable TV was just a wild concept and there were only three major network channels from which to choose, kids of every age waited for that one or two times a year when the most magical movie ever was aired—The Wizard of Oz. We covered our eyes in terror when the Wicked Witch showed up (and the flying monkeys were even worse!), and marveled at the brilliant colors of the Emerald City. We laughed at the scarecrow’s antics and empathized with the Cowardly Lion, and more than anything, we hoped that Dorothy would get her wish and finally get to go home.
I’ll admit that that to this day, I’m a Wizard of Oz fanatic. So when I heard about The Land of Oz in Beech Mountain, NC, I couldn’t tap my heels fast enough to transport myself to this magical place.
But just like story itself, it isn’t an easy journey to make—the Land of Oz is only open a couple of times a year, and you’ve got to act fast if you want to find yourself wandering the yellow brick road.
So first some background: The Land of Oz was originally created in 1970 as a way to attract people to the ski area of Beech Mountain during the summer months. Designed as a living adaptation of the L. Frank Baum novel upon which the 1939 film was based, it was only open for 10 years before shutting down. Vandalism and time took its toll on the property located at the summit of the 5,506-foot mountain, until a 450-acre real estate project began in 1990, breathing new life into what was once a special treat for many families. Today, Oz is a privately owned park lying in the center of a residential area, though once you’ve started skipping down the yellow brick road, you’ll feel like you’re millions of miles away.
Your journey begins in the town of Beech Mountain, where it seems that every business caters to this special time of year. Restaurants serve themed cocktails, like Ruby Red Slippers and the Emerald City Shot, and you can’t cross the street without seeing people in costume. Huge tents are set up carrying every kind of Oz merchandise imaginable, and this year featured an Oz museum with the 14 original Oz books and costumes from the MGM movie. When your timed entry slot occurs, you board a bus and head even higher up the mountain—my bus passengers chose to pass the time by singing Oz songs, which of course, we all knew by heart.
The excitement builds as you enter the Kansas farmstead, where you can talk with Professor Marvel, Dorothy, and quite terrifyingly, Miss Almira Gulch, who had the gall to ask me if I had Toto hidden in my backpack. Like I’d ever tell her! Parts of the story are acted out here, and I was lucky enough to catch Dorothy’s rendition of Over the Rainbow—still sends chills up my spine.
When you’re ready to move on, you can enter the farmhouse and chat with Auntie Em—until the tornado hits. I don’t want to spoil what is a spectacular surprise—suffice to say that when you come out on the other side, you’re not in Kansas anymore. And unfortunately, your house has also landed on a witch.
I’m not sure you can truly understand Dorothy’s awe upon opening the door to Oz until you actually do it yourself; it is a totally different world. Filled with vibrant colors and all of the characters, you can visit with them as you wander along the winding road, reliving the magic of the film, or like many of the visitors, taking selfies with the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Wicked Witch and more.
One of the best things about the event is that you can do it at your own pace; in many cases, it was hard for parents to tear their little ones away from Glinda the Good Witch, and I have to admit I enjoyed talking hair tips with the Cowardly Lion. There’s no rush to complete your visit in any amount of time, so you can really soak in the ambiance of this amazing production—I’d planned to spend a couple hours, and pretty much made it a full day.
The costumes are spot-on, and the actors were truly impressive—no matter what they were asked, they never broke character, and they spent a lot of time making kids’—and adults’—dreams come true. When Dorothy finally finds her way home, you really feel like you were part of the movie—and that’s saying a lot from a person who knows every line.
To find out when you can visit Oz, visit www.landofoznc.com and make sure you follow them on Facebook to see when tickets go on sale. They sell out extremely fast, and this is not something you want to miss. Specific tours vary, but Journey with Dorothy usually occurs on weekends in June; Autumn at Oz (the tour described in this story) occurs for two weekends in September.