Dinosaur Kingdom II might be the most perfect roadside attraction. Mark Cline is both a hero of mine and a man after my own heart. Here, in the rural Virginia town named for a naturally bridge shaped rock formation that George Washington once carved his initials into, he has built an attraction which honors all of our mutual favorite things. If I had a list of my favorite kinds of roadside attractions it would probably be something like this
- Fake Wild West Town
- Mystery House
- Kitch oversized objects
Well guess what y’all, Dinosaur Kingdom II has them all.
In a video game or a movie, sometimes a hidden clue or reference is called an Easter Egg. The very first thing I saw when I arrived at DKII was an Eastern Egg of sorts. Looking down at me from the roof of the gift shop building was a familiar face. A happy light green dragon is playing a lute up there. I know this dragon. I have seen this dragon before, but the last time that I saw him he was on the roof of a castle which once served as the entrance to the Enchanted Forest theme park abandoned in Ellicott City, Maryland.
The Enchanted Forest has its own blog entry of course, but much of it’s restoration effort was led by Mark Cline, who attended the park as a child, and subsequently named his studio, right down the street from the new Dinosaur Kingdom (where he can keep an eye on it) Enchanted Studios. Later in the day Mark Cline told me this story with his own mouth so the following story is 100% true:
A few years ago, while working to remove the iconic dragon from the roof of the ruined Enchanted Forest castle now abandoned in the woods behind a Petsmart, it was necessary to attempt to cut it apart. During the effort the dragon somehow caught on fire. (Mr Cline seems to have terrible luck with fire in general but my hypothesis on how this happened would be that if attempting to saw the dragon apart and hitting the metal frame created a spark, this could had easily ignited the ancient paper mâché, coating, and layers of latex paint.) And so, years after walking under the dragon’s castle gate as a child, Mark Cline the man stood on the castle roof, desperately throwing water on a literal fire breathing dragon. This means that one person in the entire history of fairytales grew up to actually become a dragon fighting knight for a moment.
The battle was eventually lost and the dragon burned down to its metal frame and was recreated on its original framework and returned to it’s place atop the castle. Mark Cline enjoyed this so much though, that he made a duplicate dragon for himself and plopped it atop his own castle.
You enter Dinosaur Land II through a train car. Above the door a sign explains the basic plot. What’s that you say, you didn’t know roadside attractions had plots? Well they do. The plot of Dinosaur Kingdom sheds light on a forgotten (covered up) chapter of the Civil War. It would seem that in 1864 after shelling the nearby city of Lexington, union soldiers discovered that their ground shaking assault had woken cryogenically frozen dinosaurs in the nearby caverns. They decide the reasonable thing to do would be to try to use these huge strange beasts as weapons of war against the South.
At the same time Dr Cline, from the future, is also in the year 1864. He was of course also in past a few times, which is actually how the dinosaurs came to be trapped in the nearby caverns, and how a time cloned replica of Stonehenge came to be nearby in the area, because time travel is crazy y’all. Trapped there and hoping for gold to finance the Southern armies, he searches for the legendary Beale treasure in the area, and getting into all sorts of other trouble with the Slimers his travels brought along.
If the finer points of this plot escape you there is a wonderful comic book written and illustrated by Cline meant to accompany Dinosaur Kingdom II which I’m sure will make it all perfectly clear and reasonable. At any rate you’re now about to pass through a time tunnel into 1864…
Once you pass through this time tunnel you’ll find yourself in the first type of roadside attraction, a reproduction of an 1800’s town. This little homage to a faux western ghost town attraction turns my eyes into cartoon shaped hearts. The civil war era town is arranged along a small “Main Street” with businesses on either side.
Treasures and tableaus greet you as you look inside many of the buildings. The town has an undertaker (of course), but it is immediately obvious that something has something has gone wrong here.
Dr Cline’s Slimers lurk behind windows in classic haunted house style swing bys and baby dinosaurs reap havoc in the local undertakers.
The street also features one building clearly tilted forward. This is the second type of roadside attraction at Dinosaur Kingdom. Just thrown in among the buildings of the fake town is a slanty mystery style house. I attempted to take a video of walking through this, feeling that I am a mystery house pro, and immediately stumbled sideways and smashed my shin into the chair on the wall your meant to sit in as an optical illusion in a Mystery House. So it’s what I would call an Advanced Mystery House.
At the end of the street, is a mill where you can feed something chained inside a building. This little piece of engineering reminds me very much of a Haunted house I used to go to on the boardwalk of Virginia Beach when I was a child. Mark Cline did at one point have a haunted house attraction (and a unrelated time machine attraction at Virginia Beach actually) which sadly was another victim of fire. Haunted House style gags and jumps make several appearances at Dinosaur Kingdom
At the bottom of the hill you enter the third type of attraction at Dinosaur Kingdom through a giant dinosaur bone gate of sorts. It’s an old school walk through the woods style dinosaur park. You’ve seen them on this blog before, you’re practically a pro at this by now.
This is not just any dinosaur park though, sort of pretending to intend to teach children about what types of tri-horned dinosaurs lived in each era by way of hand painted signs. This is Mark Cline’s dinosaur park. So it’s better.
Walking down the wooded path brings you on a series of scenes depicting the union army struggling to control their new weapons
Besides the comic book which you could if you wished, read along to the scenes in the book as supplementary content, some of the tableaus in the park have QR codes which you can scan from your phone for an extra experience.
Really, make sure you have a QR reader because you don’t want to miss the videos they link to featuring Cline dramatizing some of the scenes.
I don’t want to post all of Dinosaur Kingdoms secrets because I strongly desire for you to visit, but there are similar amazing, low budget, humor filled videos to accompany many of the scenes. This is of course remarkable not only because it adds to the experience but also because it bridges the gap between old and new. Here is the most classic of attractions, built by the only man still building them, in very much the same method as roadside dinosaurs have always been built, incorporating this modern media. If Millennials don’t kill the Roadside Attraction the way they apparently kill everything else, this will be their future.
The union apparently attempted to use the dinosaurs in other ways except as weapons, as evidenced by a boy milking a stegosaurus like a cow.
One soldier apparently had the bright idea of attempting to steal dinosaur eggs to eat (times were mean during the war and they were awfully large eggs) One can imagine this didn’t go well for him.
Dinos also apparently interfered with all sorts of historical events in ways that have been shamefully kept from the American public, like attempting to steal the Gettysburg address from Abraham Lincoln!
And later, men herding and riding Dinos like pack animals.
Other animals seem to have given the army a bit of trouble as well. All and all things seem to have spiraled entirely out of control.
Part of the plot of Dinosaur Kingdom involves local hero Stonewall Jackson. Robert E Lee’s right hand man (no pun intended.) (I think it was his left arm anyway) was injured near the battle of Chancellorsville leading to the loss of his arm and eventually died from his wound and was buried down the road from DK II in the nearby town of Lexington.
There are apparently some things we don’t know about this chapter of history as well. You see, when Dr James Cline became trapped in this time, along with the dinosaurs he brought with him through a series of time machine related accidents, his time machine fell down the collapsing pit that the dinosaurs fell into. Shown kindness by Stonewall Jackson’s wife in his lost in time state, he attempted to fly on a dinosaur to Chancellorsville to prevent the friendly-fire wounding of Stonewall Jackson and ended up causing it instead. Filled with guilt, he had an acquaintance build him a mechanical arm machine in order to dig for the time machine, dug it up, used it to go to the future and steal a Stonewall Jackson wax figure, returned to the past at Jackson’s deathbed, knocked him out with ether, switched him for the wax figure and then took him to a military base to save his life. Are you following this? Its all perfectly clear in the comic book okay.
Dr Cline and his military inventor friend Moses Ezekiel replaced Stonewall Jackson’s amputated arm with the mechanical arm he used to dig up the buried time machine, and encouraged Jackson to use it to dig for the legendary Beale treasure which would fill the coffers of the struggling Southern army and change the course of the war. All the while Jackson must of course remain “dead” to history. Perfectly sensible. The only problem is that while digging for the Beale treasure he digs several holes down to where the dinosaurs which chased Dr Cline to this time and place at the beginning of this story are lying dormant under the ground, and in combination with heavy shelling from the battle of Lexington, he releases them. He takes shelter in a nearby church, and the union army rounds up the dinosaurs.
Eventually the Beale treasure is found in a graveyard with a coded tombstone but as they are digging it up a giant albino dinosaur which has been chasing Dr. Cline arrives and Stonewall Jackson makes his stand against it. The creature is defeated but falls into the pit holding the treasure and the mechanical arm and the Beale treasure are lost in the process.
In a separate battle, slimes, (pre-prehistoric ambiotic creatures also accidentally dragged here by some of Dr Clines time hopping of course) attack dinosaur riding Yankees. There’s zoo animals involved here also. Seriously, it all makes sense in the book. Chaos ensues and the dinosaurs turn on their masters, attacking the union troops.
Dr Cline and friends herd all the dinosaurs onto a train and he drives it off a collapsing train trestle. (DUH)
The war continued for a little while longer without the use of dinosaur super weapons or a bionically armed Stonewall Jackson, or the legendary Beale treasure.
Of course all history as we know, is written by the victors, and we know who won the civil war. The union was apparently so embarrassed by it’s attempt to harness the giant lizard creatures they had found, and the ensueing chaos and tragic loss of their own troops, followed by their mysterious disappearance, that they erased the entire incident from the history books.
Abraham Lincoln, it’s said, thought the entire dinosaur incident was a dream brought on by the extreme stress of the war.
The exit out of Dinosaur Kingdom is another Easter Egg. The turnstiles that you pass through to leave Mr Cline told me, are the original turnstiles from the Enchanted Forest Park. He took them during the restoration and put them on his own attraction. It was wonderful for me to learn that his work on the Enchanted Forest was as important to him as I has suspected as I became quite obsessed with the entire story of its rescue and restoration.
Outside of Dinosaur Kingdom my last perfect roadside attraction box really gets checked. Numerous large sculpture pieces face the road from outside the park’s fence. The King Kong is familiar to me as it was standing next to the Pink Lady diner 5 years ago when I last traveled to Natural Bridge in search of another piece of Mark Cline’s work- Foamhenge.
The large Merlin riding a stone is all that’s left of Foamhenge in the area as it’s now been moved to Centerville, Virginia, (after as we know, being accidentally time cloned here by Dr Cline) but Foamhenge is for another time. It was good to see a familiar face still trying to get the truth to the public about how Foamhenge was actually created. Mark Cline is always trying to get the truth you know, he’s practically Alex Jones.
The other sculptures here could be from any project of Mark’s. Considering how little they have to do with one another I think it might be best to leave their explanations to mystery.
You may have noticed that I mentioned speaking to Mr Cline about some of these things. He lives and keeps his studio in Natural Bridge and leads ghost tours in nearby Lexington, which I went on. He was wonderful and gracious in response to my obvious fandom.
It’s hard for me to explain exactly why Mark Cline has become so heroic to me. He obviously has an extraordinary imagination and a wonderful sense of humor and is a talented artist. I think it’s more than that though. It’s the specific art that he has chosen. He is the ONLY person that I know of who is currently making new roadside attractions and working in large scale fiberglass sculpture (except arguably Dan Addicks but that’s another story). He’s the only dam in the river that threatens to sweep them all away. Not only is he helping to save the ones that are left he is building his own. I guess he’s a bit of a knight to me, too.
Mark Cline has a huge body of work and I’ve been to many of his attractions, so expect many more posts about him in the future.
If you’ve made it this far and would like a chance to win a Dinosaur Kingdom II Comic book subscribe to this blog and drop a comment and I’ll chose one to send one to!!
Until next time, Happy adventuring y’all!