There’s an obscure Easter Egg in this cartoon that will only be evident to old-time visitors to Panama City Beach, Florida, or at least, those familiar with its history, and it ties directly to my obsession with hollow volcanoes. Take a look at the sign at the old-time picture of a sign HERE. The thing under construction in the background IS a volcano, and it would soon be the centerpiece of a road-side attraction called “Jungle Land.” The attraction included a large gift shop selling baby alligators, a lagoon (with waterfall) in which huge fish swam like submarines (they were sturgeon I believe), and a variety of animal attractions over the years, ranging from a walk-through zoo, to parrot shows, live snake milking, and alligator shows. But towering above it all was a spectacular volcano made of sprayed concrete, with streamers of neon lava that glowed at night, and from which clouds of black smoke sometimes belched. (In an on-line forum, a former employee reported that the effect was achieved simply by hoisting an old tire up to the top of the cone and lighting it on fire!)

The volcano interior had a walk-through attraction called “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”  Visitors walked up “stone” stairs, crossed a rope bridge, passed behind the waterfall, and entered a series of narrow caverns that took them past a wishing well, through a cavern with a jeweled ceiling, and another capped with terrifying (to my small eyes anyway) skulls. Reaching the center of the volcano, one could peer through small holes into the caldera, lit from below by bubbling, orange, lava (probably just water and colored lights). It was always one of my favorite places to visit at the beach, and the fact that it was artificial only made it a bit more wonderful to me. If anyone had asked me back then what my dream home would be, it would have been that volcano, with a bedroom, bath and kitchen added to the catacombs.

About a year after Jungle Land opened, the James Bond film, “You Only Live Twice” opened, with its massive and wonderful super-villain lair hidden in a hollow volcano, thus immortalizing the hollow volcano in popular culture, and I came to love it too. But for me, the idea of a hollow volcano was old news. I had seen one, visited one, explored one, and yes, saw it being built, as I saw the sign in the above picture with my own eyes.

Jungle Land eventually closed, but the volcano (as of this writing) survives, nearly unrecognizable, as part of the vast “Alvin’s Island” gift and swim shop across from the beach, which was built around the volcano and its zoo outbuildings. You can just see the cone of the volcano peeking over the roof, and if you look up at the right place in the store, you discover you’re standing where the old lava pit was, looking up through the center of the volcano, and you can see the small openings from which children used to peer down at the “lava.” Part of the old lagoon, now engulfed by the building, is used to house a few captive alligators. And last I was there, the upper part of the old walk-through attraction was still accessible, though admittedly I think I accidentally walked past a poorly placed “employees only” sign. The tunnels were open, but largely dark. But you could still walk around the volcanic core and peer down at the tee-shirts and racks of sea-shells being sold below.

That was a long time ago, but I’m still fascinated by the idea of an artificial, hollow, volcano. And yeah, still my dream house!