Flintstones Bedrock City
Custer, South Dakota
Starting around 20 years ago, the Modern Stone Age Family was given a vigorous churn by the corporate cyclotron, putting new spins on a perfectly good old cartoon. Two now-largely-forgotten live-action features came out of Hollywood and eventually went to DVD. For a time there was even a Flintstones Show at Universal Studios -- until "Totally Nickelodeon" replaced it. After that -- silence.
In the fickle entertainment universe, where life spans are shorter than those of cavemen (although not everyone believes in cavemen), the Flintstones franchise should have been extinct, long ago. And yet here we are, over 40 years after the original cartoon series was canceled, and most of us can still recognize Fred, Barney, Wilma, Betty, and Dino. How is that possible?
Fruity Pebbles and Flintstones Vitamins have had something to do with it -- but the majority of the credit should go (in our opinion) to the Flintstones Bedrock City theme parks, which for four decades have solidly preserved the Flintstones legacy in appropriate stone-like cement.
Once there were four Bedrocks, two in the U.S. and two in Canada. The north-of-the-border outposts didn't survive a trademark licensing war in the 1990s, leaving one Bedrock City near the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and the other in the Black Hills of South Dakota -- ideal flyover locations for a TV series planning to survive beyond the next sweeps cycle.
The Bedrock City in South Dakota was the first, opening in 1966. Sprawling across 30 acres, it was the brainchild of the owners of two local cement plants, who reasoned that they possessed the know-how (and raw material) to build a Modern Stone Age town.
Up went Fred and Wilma's house, then Barney and Betty's, then Mr. Slate's. Next came Main Street, with a radio station (KROK), a fire department, and storefronts that are mostly excuses for gag dioramas. The teller in Bedrock Bank is frozen in a perpetual holdup by a masked, cigar-chomping dwarf caveman. At the grocers, a butcher slowly attempts to chop off the head of a turtle, who pulls in her head just ahead of the hatchet again and again, hurling verbal taunts.
At the far end of Main Street is Mt. Rockmore, a mini Mt. Rushmore with the heads of Fred, Barney, Dino, and Mr. Granitebilt (who founded Bedrock). Visitors are encouraged to take a lap around the playground's Slidasaurus in Fred's Flintmobile, and to eat Brontoburgers and Dino Dogs at the Bronto Rib drive-in. During the peak summer weeks, a live Fred and Barney walk around the park and shake hands.
A 20-foot-tall statue of Dino, perched on a rock, guards the park entrance. Old postcards (and photos from previous trips) show that the dinosaur has molted through several color changes over the decades, from brown to grape purple to desert orange to the current hot fuchsia, which finally, correctly matches Dino in the cartoon. Similar brand-fussiness has replaced the old hand-made statues in the park with exact fiberglass replicas of the cast, although Dino still appears to be made of cement.
With roots firmly in the cell-animation universe of the 1960s, Bedrock City is perhaps the best place on earth to enjoy 2-D reality. The park is well maintained, with every building painted in bright cartoon colors. Statue and plywood cut-out photo ops are everywhere. Visitors pose either as or with their favorite Flintstones characters, or on vehicles with wheels made of rock -- a gag that never grows old. On a sunny summer day, your snapshots will almost make it seem as if you, lucky potato, spent your vacation in a cartoon.