Bungee jumping, snakes and a jet-powered race car that can be transformed into a two-story, flame-throwing, rocket-launching robot are among the highlights of the 54th annual Antelope Valley Fair and Alfalfa Festival, which opens Friday in Lancaster.
The theme for the 11-day event, the largest yearly gathering in the high desert, is "Meet Me at the Fair."
Organizers say they hope attendance will match the 295,224 drawn to the event last year, which was down about 5% from 310,961 in 1990.
Fair officials blame the slide in attendance on the recession and year-round school schedules.
As usual, the publicly sponsored fair is an oddball collection of events.
The schedule includes carnival rides, games, pig races, rodeos, produce and livestock competitions that reflect the area's agricultural roots, and a week of concerts headlined by country singer Willie Nelson.
Bungee jumping will be available daily at the fair, at a cost of $50 or $75 per jump.
The free reptile show is scheduled for 7 p.m. on opening night, and the race car that turns into a fearsome robot will be part of a Tough Truck Thrill show set for Sept. 7 at 8 p.m.
Fair Manager Jim Pacini said the event's nine-member governing board wanted to offer new attractions this year that would provide the public with opportunities to participate.
"We want people to take part," Pacini said. "It's their fair. Participating for some might be taking a bungee jump. For others, it might be attending a concert, sand sculpting or entering the pie-eating or pie-baking contest."
Fair activities begin with a 5:30 p.m. parade down Lancaster Boulevard from 10th Street West to Division Street. The 80-acre fairgrounds at East Avenue I and Division Street open at 6 p.m.
Fair hours are 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, noon to 1 a.m. Saturday, noon to midnight Sunday, and 3 to midnight Monday through Sept. 3.
The hours for next weekend are 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sept. 4, noon to 1 a.m. Sept. 5 and 6, and noon to midnight Labor Day.
Daily admission is $4 for adults and $2 for senior citizens and youngsters ages 6 to 12. Children under 6 and military personnel in uniform get in free.
Additional charges include $2 for parking and the price of tickets to concerts and track events, such as the rodeo, the 100-car demolition derby and the "Monster Truck" show.
The venue for all the ticketed events will be the fairgrounds' Redman Grandstand, which holds 10,000 spectators for concerts and 5,500 for track events.
Special prices will be in effect for Family Day on Sunday, when two parents and up to four children will get in for $10.
Children 12 and under will be admitted free Monday, handicapped individuals will get in without charge Tuesday, and those 60 and older will gain free admission Thursday.
A traditional favorite is the Rural Olympics. The contests include tractor and Model T Ford racing, hay loading and driving a semitrailer truck backward through an obstacle course. The event is set for Sept. 5, and tickets cost $6 and $8.
Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and private security guards will patrol the fair. No serious crimes or accidents occurred during last year's event.
Antelope Valley fairs date back to 1895, but organizers said the event was formalized in 1938, when a group of local ranchers donated a ton of hay each. The hay was auctioned off and community fund-raisers were held to raise the $2,800 needed to buy the 80-acre fairgrounds.