Between 1861 and 1865 the bloodiest battles in US history were fought on American soil during the American Civil War. For more than four violent years, armies fought and died after 11 Southern Confederate states seceded from the United States of America over the right to own slaves. After 750,000 American citizens died, combat finally ended with the abolition of slavery and surrender by the Confederate army. But what if something else had happened?
Try then, to imagine that 200 million years earlier (on land that would come to be known by us as a historic Civil War battlefield) massive dinosaurs walked on the same ground fighting their own bloody battles for survival.
Leave it to the imagination of Mark Cline to show us what things might look like had these two events taken place concurrently. In his now defunct attraction Escape from Dinosaur Kingdom (2005-2012), visitors could see what might have transpired had the Union army captured and used carnivorous dinosaurs as weapons against the Confederate troops!
Located in Natural Bridge, VA’s tourist complex, Cline had created four unique and separate attractions. Visitors could stop to his free sculptural attraction “Foamhenge” (a true to scale Styrofoam replica of Stonehenge), the could “Hunt Bigfoot with a Redneck” (I’ll give you one guess who the Redneck was!) and they could walk through his beloved Haunted Monster Museum (which turned out to be one of our most popular Enchanted Kiddieland posts!). Included with your value price 2 for 1 admission to the Monster Museum, you also got to travel back to 1863 and visit his imaginative”Dinosaur Kingdom.”
Already an expert after building more than 400 dinosaurs for roadside attractions and theme parks, Cline knew that his Dino park would need to be different if it was going to stand out. Lucky for us, he possesses an incredible imagination and an even more powerful sense of humor! The park’s concept is loosely based on the 1969 Ray Harryhausen film, Valley of the Gwangi, (Which pits cowboys against dinosaurs in a special effects Dynamation spectacular!)
Cline imagined a similar scene substituting cowboys with Union Soldiers as villains who use the Dinosaurs as weapons against the South (after all, this attraction is in the former Confederate state of Virginia!) Before you get too upset about the political ramifications of the south winning the Civil War, Cline has stated that he had hoped to build a second Civil War dinosaur park in Gettysburg wherein the Confederate soldiers are the bad guys. Regrettably, that dream never came to fruition.
Dinosaur Kingdom begins its storytelling through journals violently strewn about a campsite with pots and pans, and overturned wagons. By reading the notebooks, visitors can surmise that a family of paleontologists entered a cave in search of fossils only to find living dinosaurs that had escaped (and were now being used by the North to win the war!)! You can see the civilian mother and father Garrison danging precariously in the trees above the sharp teeth of a hungry carnivore.
As guests entered the self guided wooded park, they’d hear the sounds of nature; sticks cracking under shoes and birds- but beyond this, was the omnipresent laughter of children (and adults!) as they were welcomed into wacky the mind of Mark Cline for a short while. A button with a hand painted sign reading “Feeding Time” begs to be pushed, only to discover that you are standing directly beneath the motorized jaws of a hungry T Rex and a dangling deer carcass! A sign tacked to a tree warned “Don’t Look Up!”, but of course you did, only to see an angry reptile climbing straight toward you. In one scene, a herd of curious raptors surrounds farm animals who had all stacked themselves on top of one another until there was a trembling rabbit sitting on the back of a deer who was sitting on the back of a cow resulting in classic cartoon imagery. One of my favorite gags was a full sized port-a-potty that looked no different from any other, but if you were brave enough to open the door you were met with a shocked looking Yankee soldier being attacked by dinosaurs that had busted through the back walls while he was taking care of business.
Part Wild West park, part Dinosaur Park, part Roadside tourist trap, this place was a dream come true for some road weary travelers who didn’t even know it was here. The park opened in 2005, and our visit was in 2008, meaning it was in a mostly complete state. However, as an ongoing project, Mark Cline continued to add characters and beasts as the years went on. I’m told that later iterations included Abraham Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address, and even a gorilla wearing a cowboy hat. (Hey, don’t tell me you’re getting upset about historical accuracy now!)
Unfortunately, along with the heartbreaking loss of the Monster Museum, much of the attraction was destroyed in a devastating fire in 2012. The park sat vacant for years with an online notice to “check back in 2013.” Folks like me started to lose hope, checking back not only in 2013, but in 2014, and 2015 as well finding no status change.
However, you can’t keep a good dinosaur park down, and like a
Phoenix no, like a Pterodactyl rising from the ashes, the park has some exciting news on the horizon. Last fall, the dinosaurs made a limited engagement appearance at Clark’s Eliok Farm to terrorize some fairy tale characters (YES, PLEASE!) in the temporary “Enchanted Dinosaur Forest“. Clark’s Farm, which regular Kiddieland readers will recognize as a sanctuary for rescued Enchanted Forest, MD figures housed the salvaged dinosaurs from September to November 2015 in a hysterical mash up of Dinosaurs and storybook characters that could only come from the off-kilter mind of Professor Cline!
We were so thrilled to see that many of the dinosaurs had survived, but this story has an even happier ending. According to his Facebook page, Mark Cline is planning to bring Dinosaurs back to Natural Bridge, Virginia with the opening of Dinosaur Kingdom II in June 2016! Based on this concept art, my guess is that guests may be riding through this one on by train? Oh, I am so there!
So don’t fret, though you may have never gotten to experience the weirdness of the original Dinosaur Kingdom and Haunted Monster Museum, it looks like this summer you may be able to marvel at these Jurrassic giants once again in Natural Bridge!
Thanks for all the memories, Mark!