I was sorting through some files the other day and came across some of the more amusing summer vacation photos I’ve taken. Last year I had commented to Jerry that I wanted to post these photos on Cartoon Brew and he had suggested that I write about this particular trip, so here we go — our somewhat accidental visit to Flintstones Bedrock City in Custer, South Dakota.
I should mention first that I had always been curious about Flintstones Bedrock City, which is a theme park and camp ground in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Curious was about the extent of it, since I felt reasonably sure I’d never find myself in South Dakota. The reason I knew about this vacation destination was a trail of off-model merchandise that seemed to find me in each job I had. When I started at Nickelodeon in 1986, someone there had just returned from a Nick At Nite TV-themed road trip and had left some bell-shaped salt and pepper shakers on the desk that would become mine. It wasn’t an act of kindness — no one wanted them so they landed on the empty desk. I showed up and as a Flintstones fan, was delighted to acquire these. They were ugly, but campy enough and they had the Flintstones on them, and this was before the merchandising mania of the early 90s, so I was more than happy to keep them.
Fast forward nine years, and at the start of my Cartoon Network job, again, someone had done the obligatory roadtrip through Custer and I somehow became the proud owner of an aluminum Flintstones ashtray. Again, it was surprisingly ugly but campy enough, and since I was at Cartoon Network, I was more than happy to add this to the now growing collection of cartoon related ephemera that seemed to find me. I was pretty curious about Bedrock City, and mostly why they didn’t try a little harder to get their merchandise on model.
When I got to PBS, no Flintstones merchandise was awaiting me. I kind of forgot about Bedrock City, since I wasn’t thinking about the Flintstones every day anymore.
Now fast forward to last summer, where we loaded up the family and headed from a family visit in Colorado up to South Dakota for a trip to Mount Rushmore. We were on our way to a cabin in Custer State Park. We zipped up Route 16 and just as we were getting closer to the state park, there it wasâ€¦Flintstones Bedrock City. “Wow, there it is,” I yelled, “I had completely forgotten about this place!” And like Camelot, there it was shimmering in the distance, and I was finally going to get to see it, after wondering about it for 20 years. “We need to go back there,” I declared. The rest of my family seemed ambivalent. We had planned out our week to include Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Wind Cave, and a lot of things that would involve buffalo or rocks or caves or nature of some sort. The Flintstones seemed like the part of my life I was on vacation from. But to my family, it mostly didn’t look like it would be that much fun.
But this wasn’t about them, it was about me. And statues of Fred.
Anyway, Bedrock City wasn’t really shimmering. It was more like the way miniature golf courses look when it has been 95 degrees out for a long time. South Dakota can get pretty hot, and it was hot the entire time we were there. We finally got back there after lunch one day and my daughter, who was two at the time, had just settled down in the car for an afternoon nap. Anne volunteered to wait in the car with her. Ethan and I explored the, uh, parking lot. We walked around a little bit, but it was extremely hot, and Ethan, who had never watched the Flintstones to begin with, looked at me with an annoyed squint and said, “Can’t we just go to the gift shop?” No, I explained, we have to take some photos. You don’t understand, I told him, I’ve always wanted to come here. He looked around, looked back at me quizzically, and then looked just looked sad and tired. The walk across the parking lot to take pictures in front of the signs seemed unnaturally long. We took some photos and walked back. He posed by signs and by the souvenir shop, which was designed to look like a Flintstones house.
We went into the souvenir shop where I was anticipating rows and rows of amusing off-model merchandise that I could bring back to entertain my friends. I guess most of that merchandise existed from the era before HB and WB figured out how to market the Flintstones. They had a fair amount of actual Flintstones merchandise there, and it reminded me of the old HB store in the HB offices. They also had a lot of dinosaur themed merchandise there, as well. Barney dolls were on sale. Apparently Fred sells much better than Barney does. We looked around and couldn’t find anything ironic. Ethan ended up getting some dinosaur toys that had nothing to do with the Flintstones, and we went back to the car. The next step should have been a walk to the theme park but no one was willing to budge. Sara was still asleep. Anne looked bored. Ethan looked hot and tired. “Anyone want to check out the campgrounds?” I asked. No. They did not. The truth was that suddenly I didn’t want to, either. This wasn’t really any more ironic than a miniature golf course or any campgrounds built in the 60s. After all that anticipation and curiosity, I couldn’t seem to summon any enthusiasm to talk my family into trekking in 95 degree heat to see more statues of Dino. It didn’t help that there were probably only about ten cars in the lot at that moment. Everyone else clearly had found a pool to hang out in. We left and headed up route 16, off to our cabin in the woods. In retrospect, I do wish we had gone to the theme park part of it, but I’ll just save that for the next trip there. After all, if I made it to SD once, why not twice?