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KINDESS TO ALL. Near the entrance of 2544 E. Allen Road, a signpost points visitors one way to Wonderland and the other way to Oz. It's almost as if guests have entered a fantasyland between the two magical places. Such is the essence of Valley of the Moon.

Built by George Phar Legler in 1923, Valley of the Moon was designed to bring mental and spiritual relaxation to all visitors. A walk through the site is a gander through an enchanted world of rock cliffs, caves, pools and garden miniatures. Gnomes smile at you as you wonder what is around the corner. But flash back 80 years, and this property was a flat piece of desert.

"All of the rocks in here were brought up from the river bed. The cement was made here also. Everything here he dug or brought here," says public relations director Shari Murphy. The original cement mixer stands near the entrance to the property.

Legler worked nine years before he opened his fantasyland in 1932. Children of all ages were invited to various acts, including Bunnyland Theater--featuring live rabbits in performance. The shows continued more than 30 years.

"He quit doing stuff sometime in the mid-'60s. Part of the reason is because he became discouraged over the vandalism," says Murphy.

But magic happened in 1971 with six Catalina High School students.

"They each had a dream, and started to tell each other at school. They all remembered a guy dressed in black and a strange place. They said we all couldn't have had the same dream. Their parents told them it wasn't a dream; they were here when they were 5. They came out here looking," says Murphy.

They rediscovered the Valley and found Legler living on the property. Due to their efforts, Valley of the Moon became a nonprofit and was placed on the Arizona and national lists of historical sites. Had that not happened, Murphy asserts, the Valley would have been lost.

As this magical piece of property is now in safe hands, it continues to draw visitors from all walks of life. Once each month, the site is opened for moon strolls--offering a chance to "wander and wonder at your leisure," says Murphy. Four times a year, a special show is presented to entertain and teach the lessons Legler valued.

"He thought if you taught kids the right things, they'd grow up to be good adults and the world would be a better place," says Murphy.

All of the lessons are incorporated in various shows and locations of Valley of the Moon. In Fantasy Fairy Tours, visitors learn that the quest to the golden key of happiness is through kindness to all. In Fractured Fairy Tales, visitors learn not to procrastinate. At Pennyland--a physical part of the Valley--visitors are invited to take a penny for good luck. But if more than one is taken, it is warned that bad things will happen due to greediness. Even better luck occurs when pennies are brought back to Pennyland, emphasizing the lesson of giving.

"We put enough jokes in so adults and kids have a good time. There is something here for everyone to have fun with. That's why it's kept its appeal. It's wonderful for children of all ages," says Murphy.

"Our purpose is to preserve this place and to keep alive the spirit of George through (the idea that) happiness is given, not sold, and the golden key to happiness is through kindness to others.

"It's a labor of love to be out here. It's a worthwhile thing for families to get involved in, not only enjoying the shows but also to come out and volunteer. It's a huge thing you can teach kids--kindness to all, not just people but to the environment, birds, everything," she says.

Volunteers like Murphy keep Valley of the Moon running, but more are needed. With the 80th birthday of the property approaching, visitors from the past are especially welcome. "We're looking for people who grew up here and tell us they were here," says Murphy.

When she tells others about the Valley, Murphy often encounters "the moon look." She describes it as a look you get when you realize something. They remember the magic and that they visited the Valley once before.

"I get a lot of 'Oh my God, is it still there?' One woman in her 40s still has her penny. Sometimes they think it's a dream, but it's a real place. You were there. ... You feel like you are in a fantasyland somewhere, but it's real and here all the time," says Murphy.

Perhaps on a magic-filled evening at the Valley of the Moon, Alice and Dorothy will meet you around the corner.

Valley of the Moon is located at 2544 E. Allen Road. Upcoming events include a Moon Stroll on Sept. 20, 7 to 8:30 p.m. (no cost, but donations are welcome); the Haunted Ruins Tour on Oct. 9-11, 16-18, 23-25 from 7 to 9 p.m. ($5 adults, $3 kids 7-12, kids under 7 free); the Food Bank Moon Stroll on Oct. 30 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. (admission is two cans of food per person; proceeds benefit the Community Food Bank) and the 80th Birthday Celebration on Nov. 15 from 3 to 8 p.m. For more information, call 323-1331 or visit www.valleymoon.org.

More by Irene Messina

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