PROVO — Ninety-year-old Laurie Coon lifts up her legs as she soars through the air, avoiding the rock formations and trees that dot the landscape of southern Utah.
Memories of her life in this region come flooding back as she dips and banks through the breathtaking peaks and valleys of Canyonlands, Goblin Valley and Bryce Canyon.
But as quickly as she ascended skyward, she's back here at the Cove Point Retirement Community, peeling off the virtual reality goggles that gave her the ability to fly among the clouds.
"I loved it," Coon said. "I've tried to get everyone out here to see it."
This wasn't her first time on the VR and motion simulator, an apparatus that looks like a two-seated, stationary roller coaster.
"A lot of it was my home country, down in southern Utah, and I thought it was just gorgeous," she said. "Being able to see those things close up, I've walked in many of those areas, hiked through them — it's my backyard. I grew up there."
A few weeks ago, her nephew, Daniel Thompson, brought the device to her retirement home so she could experience his hard work — and the land that she calls home.
"As Daniel and I were setting up on the patio I could see little old faces squished up against the glass," said Amber Thompson, Daniel's wife.
The residents of the retirement home were lining up, ready to try the amusement ride that had come to their front door.
"Apparently those who were able to experience our rides haven't been able to stop talking about it," Thompson said.
On Wednesday, the Thompsons were welcomed back to show off the VR ride for those who didn't get to try it out.
"I'm a tax lawyer, my life was spent behind a computer and a desk," said Alden Tueller, 78, a resident at Cove Point. "I've had more excitement in this retirement community than I ever had."
While the sight — and sounds of hoots and hollers — in a retirement home may be atypical, so is Cove Point, Tueller said.
"We're atypical retirees," he said. "We're a curious bunch of old-timers."
Over the past couple years, the Thompsons have been working on this VR ride, Daniel Thompson said. They call it "Soaring Southern Utah."
"At Disneyland, one of my favorite rides is the Soarin' Over California ride, and we thought we had just as much to show here in southern Utah," Daniel Thompson said.
For months, the Thompsons filmed the footage that would become the ride. Then stitching together video filmed on a rented helicopter from multiple angles and making sure it was stabilized and seamless.
"It was probably the biggest check we ever wrote out. My wife was crying when she wrote the check," Daniel Thompson said with a cautious chuckle.
The Thompsons also created another VR experience called "Montezuma's Treasure Ride" — a bit more of a thrill ride. The riders would descend a cave filled with rats, spiders and other creepy crawlies. It's not for the faint of heart, and most of Cove Point's attendees opt for the leisure of the southern Utah ride.
Gloria Bird, 70, and Barbara Sollie, 95, are the exception.
"Now if you get too scared or dizzy" Amber Thompson begins to warn before Sollie cuts her off.
"I don't get scared," Sollie said with the confidence of a woman who can back that up. "That's not going to happen."
Nonetheless, for about 10 minutes, the normally quiet Cove Point was filled with Sollie's and Bird's shrieks, shouts and laughter.Comment on this story
"Oh my gosh, that was the funniest thing I've ever been on," Sollie said and stepped onto solid ground.
"I kept my eyes open that time, it was even worse," Bird said to laughter from the gallery of residents not eager enough to try it themselves.
Some of Cove Point's residents may continue to shake their heads at the sight and say it's not for them, but the rest will eagerly wait for the Thompsons' return.
"We'll see how the young girls do it," Bird said as some Cove Point staff members climb on the ride. And once again, the retirement home is filled with yells.