Dinosaur Kingdom (In Transition)
Natural Bridge, Virginia
No one can accuse Mark Cline of resting on his laurels. He has taken his hand-made, life size, fiberglass dinosaurs, which stood beside the gas station, restaurant, hair salon, and other businesses in nearby Glasgow -- when Mark was promoting it as The Town That Time Forgot -- and moved them into an even more original attraction.
Dinosaur Kingdom, as Mark puts it, "is not your father's dinosaur park." It occupies the heavily-wooded grounds of yet another Mark Cline attraction, Professor Cline's Haunted Monster Museum, and Mark offers both at a two-for-one price that he says is less than the admission at any other single attraction in the area.
It's money well-spent. Dinosaur Kingdom is a twist on the biblical Creationist view that people and dinosaurs lived together. Here, people live with dinosaurs-- but only until the dinosaurs eat them.
As the tour begins, visitors are asked to imagine themselves in 1863. A family of Virginia paleontologists has accidentally dug a mine shaft into a hidden valley of living dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the Union Army has tagged along, hoping to kidnap the big lizards and use them as "weapons of mass destruction" against the South.
What you see along the path of Dinosaur Kingdom is a series of tableaus depicting the aftermath of this ill-advised military strategy. As you enter, a lunging,bellowing T-Rex head lets you know that the dinosaurs are mad -- and they only get madder. A big snake has eaten one Yankee, and is about to eat another. An Allasaurus grabs a blue coat off of his rearing horse while a second soldier futilely tries to lasso the big lizard. Another Yankee crawls up a tree with a stolen egg while the mom dinosaur batters it down. Mark has augmented some of these displays with motors: toothy jaws flap, tails and tongues wag.
Mark explains that he originally wanted the dinosaurs to attack Pancho Villa and his troops at the turn of the 20th century, but then decided against it. "I was really looking for some villains," he explained. "The Pancho Villa thing -- nobody remembers that." Which is true. Instead, Mark's substitution of Union soldiers seems certain to win him favor, at least locally. "I mean, for Christ's sake, people still fight the Civil War down here," he said. "I would gladly have changed the color of the uniforms -- if I was from the North."
Dinosaur Kingdom is small at the moment. But it's still a work in progress, with new scenes of carnage being added frequently. In fact, since we visited a week ago, Mark tells us that he's added "Yankee in the Johnny House." "As you open the door," he explains, "you surprise him from the front while a raptor busting through the wall surprises him from the back." All of this activity has put a hold on Mark's completion of nearby Foamhenge, which is understandable if regrettable.
We have only two quibbles about Mark Cline's newest creation. He needs to improve his roadside directional signs, and the name -- Dinosaur Kingdom -- really doesn't evoke its theme.
How about: "The 'Saurs Shall Rise Again"?