Dinosaur Kingdom II is a throwback to the old roadside attractions of the mid-20th century, when Americans explored the country in their automobiles. Businesses tried to entice them off the road and to spend a few dollars. A little rain couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for visiting the unusual Dinosaur Kingdom II in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Dinosaur Kingdom II, which opened in 2016 (the first one burned in 2012), is not your usual educational Mesozoic-era walk-through displaying a variety of prehistoric monsters. No, this is a purposely anachronistic mishmash of dinosaurs, civil war soldiers, fanciful creatures, and an imaginary current Virginia town, all emerging from the twisted mind of Mark Cline, an American artist and entertainer. The scenes in the park appear to be ripped from the pages of a comic book, but the comic book was actually inspired by the park and is available in the park’s gift shop.
Cline produces his art in foam and fiberglass, creating both realistic and fantasy characters. Characters such as Mr. Slime, one of several mutated amoeboid prehistoric creatures pictured here with me. As you see, Cline mixes art and absurdity.
Inside Dinosaur Park II are more than 25 scenes with about 100 characters. The walking tour starts with a train car and through a colorful spinning tunnel that transports them back in time. On the other side is Extinction Junction, a tiny town filled with mysteries and wonders, including a house tilted at a disorientating angle and mechanical slime monsters that pass behind walls.
The story behind the park is an alternate history park where the American Union Army loses the war… to dinosaurs. In 1863, while excavating fossils in Lost Caverns, a family of Southern paleontologists discovered a hidden valley full of living dinosaurs. As the Garrison Family studied these creatures in peace, the Union Army discovered their secret and attempted to use the dinosaurs as weapons of mass destruction against the South. That’s when things went terribly wrong for the Yankees. Visitors are guided along the path showing the grisly defeat of the Union Army by these terrible creatures. A big snake swallows a Yankee soldier whole; an Allosaurus rips a Union officer off of his rearing horse while his hapless companion futilely tries to lasso it. Several dinosaurs were even outfitted with motors and speakers, moving their jaws and wagging their tongues while cinematic music and sound effects are piped in through speakers.
The inspiration for Dinosaur Kingdom, Cline says, came from the 1969 movie The Valley of Gwangii, in which cowboys romp with dinosaurs on the outskirts of a Mexican town. He had originally planned to depict the dinosaurs versus Pancho Villa’s militia, but instead decided instead to play to Southern sympathies by casting the Union Army as the villains. As a result, guests discover Stonewall Jackson battling a vicious spinosaurus. Soldiers are get surrounded by deadly carnivores. Visitors see Abe Lincoln after he’s lassoed a pteranodon chewing up the Gettysburg address, and witness a stegosaurus being milked. For fans of prehistoric creatures and civil war history, Dinosaur Kingdom II is pig heaven.