Only in Alaska: Dungeon of Doom, Pyrotechnics, and Liberal Studies

Kylie Clark

I rest peacefully in the little bedroom of our family camper, happy to relax for a few hours. The cacophony outside is a familiar lull in the background. As I slowly drift between that space of sleeping and waking, I hone in on each sound, mentally checking in to make sure we are all still in business. “Final lap,” I hear announced for the millionth time, the mini monster trucks putter like a Nascar race in slow motion. I hear the sharp twang of the guy lines on the ejection seat and the inevitable screams as the passengers flip in momentary weightlessness at the top of the 60 mile-an-hour ride.

The wind changes directions again and carries over to me the energetic tempo of techno seeping out of the mirror maze – the music keeping up with the frantic pace of the strobe lights decorating the inside and out. This is punctuated by the cheering roar of the crowd in the grand stands. It must be motor cross time. The air compressors click on again in the distance, signaling the increasing demand for the air effects inside the Dungeon of Doom. Under all of this is the constant baritone of the Voice of Doom calling to passersby, bringing them into a haunted house.
This is the soothing, reassuring voice of my dad.

In this state – this half awake, half asleep haze – I can pretend that my dad is still alive. That I’m still eleven years old sitting in the dark. The heavy smell of thick rubber tarps and fear permeate the air so strongly that you are consciously aware of it after a few minutes as the aroma settles heavily around you. One of those smells that instantly brings you back to a time and place, like a cheesy ‘80s movie flashback. Sitting in the dark, the rich and unmistakable sound of my father’s voice drifting through the Dungeon, the cadence and lines steady and reliable, I quietly say the words along with him like a mantra.

Today, four years after my dad has died, my sister sits on the porch of the trailer with its1,000 square foot haunted house that my dad built. She is speaking over a sound system we have modified to allow us to drop our voices a few octaves so we can imitate our father’s voice. We are celebrating our twenty-ninth year as vendors at the Alaska State Fair. This is a tradition full of characters and stories that we retell night after night once the patrons have gone home, mixing in the day’s tales with our favorites from years past. The fair has become a sort of living, breathing memorial to my dad for us and many of our vendor friends. We all have photo buttons of him in our campers and we never tire of our favorite Rodney stories.

A year after I was supposed to have graduated from college, after I had come home to work the for the many family businesses, my dad died suddenly. I was ten credits away from graduation at PSU.
Returning to Portland to finish school was no longer a viable option. APU offered the best road to graduation not only because it is local, but the educational experience far surpasses any other reasonable options at this current crossroads in my life. I am driven to fulfill one of my dad’s biggest hopes for me, to graduate from college. I firmly believe that APU can offer me the tools I need to get there.


Kylie Clark and her family are the owners and operators of “Dungeon of Doom,” founded by her father Rodney Clark, and a featured vendor at the Alaska State Fair for the past 29 years. The Clark family also owns and operates “Alaska Pyrotechnics.” Read more about the Clark family business:

Photo Credit: Loren Holmes, Multimedia Editor, Alaska Dispatch