TURLOCK — From judging beer to creating a medieval castle and forest, exhibit workers were preparing Sunday for the start of the Stanislaus County Fair.
Backdrops depicting goblins, dragons and a wizard inside various rooms of a castle were hung on the walls of the 6,000-square-foot tent that, for the past four years, has been home to the Rainforest Adventure.
This year, the creators of the rainforest partnered with another fair exhibit aficionado to create the Wizard's Challenge.
Interactive science exhibits that have been on the fair circuit for decades but never made it here will make their debut Friday at the fair's Kids Zone.
The exhibits come with signs that explain the science behind each, such as how the inner ear affects the child's ability to balance inside the rotating dragon's lair or the molecules that make up the 25-foot bubble that children can create with huge wands.
Clay Everett, co-owner of CNE Creations, and his team of workers have spent the past year designing the set that will accompany the exhibits by Imagination Gallery Inc.
Caldrons of fire, large pillars and archways, and the backdrops will enhance the experience.
"I try to make it an event, not just stuff in a room," said Everett, who teaches set design and lighting at California State University, Stanislaus.
"There's a theatrical term called the 'willing suspension of disbelief,' " he said, "If I can hide all the elements of this tent for the moment when you are in there your sensory (system) makes you feel like you are actually in a castle or a forest."
When and if the rainforest returns to the fair will depend on feedback from attendees, but fans will notice elements of it in the entrance to the Wizard's Challenge as well as the entrance to the 4-H Farmyard Experience.
A pond and bridge, mimicking the marshy areas around Gustine, will welcome visitors to the farmyard.
All the usual farm animals will show up later this week, but they will share the exhibit with some tiny guests that represent this year's theme: bugs.
Farmyard Experience chairwoman Emilee Gaarde said there will be butterflies, praying mantises, ladybugs and bees. Kids can dig through a trough of dirt containing "literally millions of worms," Gaarde said.
She turned over dirt to show the wiggling creatures to daughters of one of the exhibit workers Sunday.
Next door, inside one of the exhibit halls, two judges leaned over photographs of landscapes while another judge sipped homemade beer nearby.
Dozens of photographs in four skill sets, from child photography to professional were judged, placed and prepared for display. Three other categories wildflowers, living history and this year's fair theme, "Imagine the Fun," will be judged next week.
On the other side of the building, Mark Chadwick tasted about a half-dozen homemade beers and twice as many homemade wines. He said the collection this year was quite good overall.
From beer to bugs, Chadwick said he'll return Tuesday to judge entries in the areas of entomology and rocketry.
You can see how all the entries fared when the fair opens at 5 p.m. Friday.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209)578-2366.