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The Wizard – A Circle Tour

There hasn’t really been a comprehensive guide written yet about how to visit the most significant filming locations from the 1989 cult classic “The Wizard”. After researching the various filming locations, reading through newspaper articles, and doing a field visit, this should be the most comprehensive guide on the Internet as of this writing.

This guide will be focusing on the filming locations in the area of Reno, Nevada. The majority of the film was shot in the area. However, a minority of scenes were not:

This is the “Twin Peaks Motel”, one of the very few filming location that nobody’s been able to find. The phone booth does show a “Nevada Bell” sign, but the film makers have masqueraded locations in California as Nevada before. For example, these scenes filmed at Agua Dulce Airpark, a favourite Hollywood filming location that was also used in MacGuyver:

Also worth mentioning are the scenes filmed at Universal City and Cabazon in California. These are popular tourist destinations that speak for themselves.

The best and most obvious place to stage any tour of the remainder of The Wizard filming locations is Reno. Hotel rooms are plentiful and cheap, it itself was a filming location, it has a major commercial airport with on-site rental cars, and the filming locations make a circle that start and end there. Staying in downtown Reno will let you see how the strip along Virginia Street near the “Biggest Little City” sign has changed and evolved since The Wizard was filmed.

The Peppermill Casino, south of downtown Reno, was used as a filming location during the “training montage” scenes where Haley sits poolside while Corey relays messages to Jimmy from Nintendo. However, the Peppermill has been heavily renovated since then, so it’s now unrecognizable compared to what was shot for the film.

This guide will be following a clockwise direction starting in Reno. Note that this is not the chronological order of scenes, which will be in a brief follow-up article after this one.

Total round trip, without accounting for “stop and look” time is about 6.5 hours. Adding 15 minutes per stop (there are ten stops total) brings this up to about 9 hours, so this is definitely a long tour that will take an entire day to complete! Please take the time to study the route carefully until you understand it all on your own. In winter, some of these routes might be dangerous or impassable, especially around Lake Tahoe.

1. Hirschdale, California

Take the I-80 west from Reno across the California border until you reach Exit 194 marked for “Hirschdale Road”.

Turn right on Hirschdale Road and you’ll drive by some cozy-looking country homes before crossing the Truckee River over a small bridge. Keep going along Hirschdale Road and it will eventually dead-end at where “Hirschdale Auto Wrecking” used to be.

If you look at the above picture closely, you’ll see the company name clearly on the banner near the top of the frame. Compare the picture to your location and you should be able to find the exact spot it was filmed.

The story goes that Hirschdale Auto Wrecking was forced to close and move away from the area due to environmental concerns.

From here go back the way you came along Hirschdale Road, until you go under the I-80 overpass. Pull over and look behind you – this is the exact spot where the kids were filmed walking under the overpass, towards Hirschdale Auto Wreckers, to spend the night in the wrecked truck cab.

2. Truckee, California

Continue along I-80 west until you reach Truckee. It’s a town that’s well signposted and easy to find. Downtown Truckee is where the “in the shorts” scene was filmed, as well as the brief part of the “Send Me An Angel” montage where the kids were sitting outside a shop holding a “Reno or Bust” sign.

3. Pyramid Lake

Take the I-80 eastbound back to Reno, and turn north onto Nevada Highway 445 (Exit 18). This is a long drive through some picturesque Nevada high desert. You’ll eventually connect with Nevada Highway 446, turn right (eastbound) here and enjoy the view of Pyramid Lake to your left. Drive until you reach the rest stop at the end of the lake. Not too far further east from here you should be able to find the tree on the right-hand side of the highway where the film’s opening sequences were filmed.

This article has some more specifics about this location. In particular, the opening sequence was a combination of two shots. Odds are good that the other shot was filmed around Pyramid Lake as well, so keep an eye out for it!

4. Hazen, Nevada

From Pyramid Lake, continue east on Nevada Highway 446 until you reach the intersection with Nevada Highway 447. Turn right (southbound) and continue until you reach Wadsworth and Fernley. Do not get back on the I-80 here, instead, take Main Street until it turns into US50 Alternate east. Continue east along US50 Alternate until you reach the small town of Hazen.

Once you reach Hazen, you’ll need to turn left to come back around to Hazen Market. Notice how in the film, US50 was a simple two-lane highway, but today, has been upgraded to four lanes. This is a big part of why, as of this writing, Hazen Market is permanently closed. The barrier separating westbound from eastbound traffic caused visits to this iconic market to drop significantly.

5. Fallon, Nevada

As you proceed east, US50 Alternate will meet up with US50 proper. Continue east until you reach 7227 Reno Highway just outside of Fallon. At the time of this writing, it was easy to spot thanks to the large “for sale” sign there:

This is the location of the old Star-Vu Drive-In Theatre. It’s mostly a barren field now, but the theater concession/projection building was still standing at the time of this writing, complete with old projectors inside. Here’s where Haley, Corey, and Jimmy talked after discovering the contents of Jimmy’s lunchbox:

Note that this is private property, so it’s important to obtain the owner’s permission before exploring around.

6. Historic Downtown Dayton

Turn around on the US50 back westbound until it intersects with US50 Alternate (the “Reno Highway”). Turn southwest towards Carson City to continue along US50 proper (the “Lincoln Highway”). Once in Dayton, turn right onto Main Street from US50, and you should be in the heart of historic downtown Dayton. The Fox Hotel is easily recognizable on the left-hand side.

7. Mound House

Not far west from Dayton along US50 is Mound House. Specifically, stop at 10087 Highway 50 East, and if you’re lucky, this “black widow” from the “Send Me An Angel” montage might still be there:

8. Gardnerville & Minden

Continue along US50 west until you reach Carson City. In Carson City, turn south and eventually you’ll reach the intersection of US50 and US395. Take US395 south until you reach Gardnerville.

In Gardnerville, turn left off of US395 onto Eddy Street. At the end of the street you’ll find Reid Mansion, or what was known as the “Greenriver Institution” in the film, where Corey absconded with Jimmy.

Take US395 back north until you reach Minden and turn left onto Esmeralda Avenue. This strip was used to film a variety of shots. For example, the bus station where Corey and Jimmy met Haley for the first time is now a casino:

Across the street, the Minden Inn was converted to a restaurant specifically for the film. The scene where Putnam pops the tires of Sam’s truck was filmed here, too.

9. Genoa, Nevada

Take the US395 north and turn left onto Genoa Lane, and about halfway between US395 and Genoa, you should find a view like this:

This is where Haley, Corey, and Jimmy were robbed of a few bucks by a group of cow farmers.

10. Tahoe Lake Overlook

Take US395 back north until it intersects with US50 again, but this time, turn left to go westbound towards Lake Tahoe. Once near the lake, turn right to take Nevada Highway 20 north. It follows the shore of Lake Tahoe a little and takes you through some picturesque vacation villages before intersecting with Nevada Highway 431. Turn right there to go eastbound and climb back up into the mountains. You won’t have to go far before finding this iconic outlook on the right-hand side:

Be sure to take the time to celebrate the end of the tour by playing “Send Me An Angel” as loud as you can while you drive along highway 431 back to Reno!

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Pirate Vietnamese Famicom Carts

Photo 2012-12-26 11 56 35 AM

It’s Christmas here in Vietnam, and look what Santa brought me: a selection of pirate famicom cartridges!

Stadium Gate Station

The BC pavilion at Expo ’86. Stadium Gate Station can be seen at the far end of the monorail track. Photo courtesy of Jerrye and Roy Klotz MD, licensed under Creative Commons.

The theme of the 1986 World Exposition in Vancouver was Transportation. Vancouver’s state of the art driverless, computer-driven SkyTrain mass transit system had just opened, showcasing the best in Canadian engineering talent. The expo grounds were filled with varying examples of transportation. Japan had its HSST high-speed rail system on display. Gondolas transported expo-goers high above from one podium to the next, giving breathtaking views of the expo grounds. Water ferries carried passengers across False Creek from one area of the expo to the next. The history of world transportation was chronicled at Expo ’86, from the steam engine to modern magnetic propulsion.

Monorail in service at Vancouver’s Expo ’86. Photo courtesy of Ian Alexander Martin, licensed under Creative Commons.

Most attractions were built as temporary features, and the Expo ’86 Monorail was no exception. Built as both an exhibit and method to transport expo-goers from one site to the other quickly, the monorail spanned the entire length of the expo grounds. Because of this, the monorail can be seen in the background of many Expo ’86 photos, and was fondly remembered by attendees. After the expo, the monorail was dismantled and sold to the Alton Towers amusement park in England.

When most people think of abandoned transit stations, they think of New York or London, with their maze of tracks and tunnels going back a hundred years. Most people attending an event or concert in the Plaza of Nations have no clue that an abandoned station is just over their shoulder, footsteps away.

A section of the monorail actually ran through several of the temporary buildings. One trio of temporary buildings, the Plaza of Nations, still stood as it did in 1986, a full twenty years after the expo was over. Few people will remember that Stadium Gate Station was a stop on the monorail route, and actually stopped within the Plaza of Nations building itself. In fact, rumours circulated the Vancouver Transit mailing list for some time about an ‘abandoned’ monorail station, so I decided to go for a walk around the Plaza of Nations to find it. In the photo to the left above, you can see the last remnants of the monorail track, held up by metalic, white pillars as it curves around.

Finding the station itself proved to be a bit of a challenge. I walked around all three buildings numerous times before spotting the telltale ‘U’ shape of a guideway where the rail would have gone. You can clearly see this, on the second floor of the building in the picture to the right. Gaining access was a simple matter of climing up a set of stairs (used as exit stairs while the station was active) that was only blocked off by a chain. As you can see from the photo, there is equipment all around, preparing for the building demolition.

Stepping into the station is like stepping back in time. It is amazingly free of graffiti and vandalism, thanks to its inconspicuous location. In fact, with a little cleanup and restoration, the station could be ready to resume full service the next day.

As you can see from the photo to the left, the station is surprisingly intact. The wooden slats along the roof are all in pristine condition, the station signs in excellent shape. The metal bars guide passengers to the individual train doors. Even the lights and speakers are still all intact. All that’s missing is the one solid rail down the middle of the guideway, and you’d have a perfectly functional station.

The exit markings are still in perfect condition, used to guide passengers out of the station. We get a good look down the center of the empty guideway. You can still see most of the intact multi-colored lights where the wooden slats end on the roof.

Unfortunately, this piece of history is now gone – it’s been demolished.  The Plaza of Nations, which housed Stadium Gate Station, was originally built as a temporary structure. It was supposed to be destroyed immediately after Expo ’86, along with the rest of the temporary structures. However, the Government of BC saw new possibilities in the use of the Plaza of Nations, so it (and Stadium Gate Station along with it) stood for over twenty years after the expo. Now, the only remaining remnant of the Expo ’86 Monorail is a short section where it passed through the opposite building.

Liechtenstein

01-Feldkirch_Hbf

I’ve always wanted to visit a micro-state. There’s just something neat about paying a visit to a truly sovereign country that is smaller than most cities. Liechtenstein is certainly no exception; it’s been settled in one form or another since the Roman days, and has been recognized as a sovereign country for longer than my home country of Canada has.

02-Feldkirch

So, Liechtenstein has always been on my list of ‘must visit’ countries, if only to say that I’ve set foot on the soil there. My original plan called for a train ride from Munich into the heart of Liechtenstein, a short two hour visit, and then back to Munich. But there was something that wasn’t glamorous enough about this plan. It needed something else.

03-Feldkirch_Soccer

After looking at a map of Liechtenstein, I decided that I could actually walk from one side of the country to the other. An Austrian “OEC” (express) train took me on a breathtaking trip through the Austrian alps from Innsbruck to Feldkirch. After a quick bite to eat at the Feldkirch train station (which turned out to be a very modern, clean facility,) I set off to walk the three kilometers within Feldkirch to the Liechtenstein border.

04-Border

The City of Feldkirch reminded me of the towns of Banff or Jasper in Alberta. It had that nice, high ‘alpine’ feel to it. The water was that ‘national park’ shade of green or blue. The weather was perfect for a hike across a whole country; it was about twelve degrees above and mostly sunny. As I continued to march along, the old European city gave way to a breathtaking view of the Rhine Valley.

05-Grenzuebergangsstelle

Along the way, you could see people doing all sorts of everyday things. A group of school kids playing soccer, someone walking out of a hardware store with the day’s project supplies, another person lights up a smoke and enjoys the great weather. In this photo, you can see the houses in Feldkirch, Austria in the foreground, and then houses in Schellenberg, Liechtenstein in the background. It also became increasingly clear why people would settle in this area: the Rhine Valley is completely walled in on practically all sides by the towering alps.

06-Schaanwald

The Principality of Liechtenstein is not a member of the European Union, nor has it implemented the Schengen Agreement which allows free movement of European citizens between sovereign countries. Because of this, there is still a checkpoint at the Liechtenstein-Austria border manned by Swiss guards.

07-FL_Countryside

I approached a guard house on foot, and engaged one of the Swiss border agents there. He didn’t seem to be too happy to see me. Whether that was because he was busy doing something else or because I was on foot is still up for debate. I asked the guard if he spoke English, to which he shook his head rapidly and said, “No.” I then frowned and said, “Do I need to show my passport?” The guard sighed and pointed at the desk, motioning that I should put my passport there. I did so, and he scanned it on some sort of imaging device (I presume, to check if I’m a wanted criminal, or something.) He then asked, “Where are you going?” I answered, “Liechtenstein.” That seemed to satisfy him, since he returned the passport and let me go on my way. (The photo to the right shows a sign marking the end of Austria. The word below it, “Grenzuebergangsstelle” means, “Border Crossing Point.”

08-FL_Countryside2

It was at that point that I crossed into the smallest doubly land-locked country in the world, a country with a population barely above the size of a large town or small city. Schaanwald was the first municipality on my trip across the country, a small border town set on a hill looking over the Rhine Valley. I noticed that gas in Liechtenstein was very expensive, almost two Swiss Francs per liter (more than $2.00 Canadian.) The license plates are a simple white on black prefixed with “FL” (Fürstentum Liechtenstein, or “Principality of Liechtenstein.”)

09-FL_Bus

The Liechtenstein countryside is simply a pleasure to hike through. There are multitudes of hiking and biking trails everywhere. The country capitalizes on its natural beauty extensively, promoting all kinds of outdoor activities. It’s almost a shame that I only had five hours to spend in Liechtenstein before I had to catch a train in Switzerland.

10-Schaan-Vaduz_Bf

I hiked through the small town of Schaanwald, and then the even smaller town of Nendeln. The houses and side streets gave way to a highway that wound its way down around the side of a mountain, into the Rhine Valley. Thanks to the great weather, there were a large number of bikes and motorcycles in attendance. The majority of vehicles on the road were from Liechtenstein, with a healthy minority from Austria, Switzerland, and Germany.

The Principality also has a fantastic transit system. It was great that I was walking from one end of the country to the other, but it would be very easy to catch a bus along the same route. In this photo, you can see the distinctive neon green ‘Liechtenstein Bus’ picking up a passenger across the street from one of the Hilti offices. (Hilti is the largest employer in all of Liechtenstein.) The bus starts in Feldkirch, Austria, goes across Liechtenstein, and ends in Buchs, Switzerland. Thus, this ordinary transit bus crosses two international borders many times in the course of a day.

It would have been a great honour to take the bus or train across Liechtenstein, but walking across made the whole journey more interesting. I eventually made it to the city of Schaan, just north of the capital of Vaduz. It was here where I originally intended to take a train. In this photo, you can see an Austrian train pulling in, stopping on its way to Feldkirch. The railway line that cuts across Liechtenstein (more or less following the same route I was hiking,) is owned by the Austrian railway company. Like the Liechtenstein Bus, several trains travel from Switzerland to Austria (and vice-versa) via Liechtenstein every day.

11-Rhine

The city of Schaan gave away to the countryside as I continued on, this time looking more like the Fraser Valley than anything else. It wasn’t much more of a walk before I came upon the bridge that crossed the Rhine, marking the western border of the Principality of Liechtenstein. In this photo, the land to the right is Liechtenstein, and to the left is Switzerland. I had crossed the whole width of the country in about two hours.

12-Schweiz

I also have to apologize for the poor quality of this photo, the sign demarcating the beginning of Switzerland. As you can see, the sun was already relatively low on the horizon, making it difficult for me to get a good shot of the demarcation sign and Swiss flag. There are no border controls on the Swiss-Liechtenstein border, since the Swiss guards check everything on the Austrian-Liechtenstein side.

13-FL_Bus_at_Border

From the bridge it was only a short walk over to Buchs, a town on the eastern border of Switzerland. At the point that I crossed into Switzerland, I had set foot on four separate countries in one day (Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland.) The picture to the right looks back at the border from Switzerland (the little circular sign on the bridge marks the border,) with a Liechtenstein bus straddling the border in transit to Buchs, Switzerland. I looked back on the Principality one last time before continuing my journey to the Buchs Hauptbahnhof (Central Station,) to endure four more hours on the train back to Munich.