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Linda’s Vacation

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 was…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?

  • jordan reichek

    Bedrock City shimmering a’la Camelot…….priceless.

  • Alison Lures

    Its little roadside tourist attractions like this that always remind me how genuinely weird America can be. I love those pictures not just because they remind me (vaguely) of the Flintstones…but mostly because the kid looks so damn miserable in the pictures. Its adorable.

    What a find. :)

  • Jay Sabicer

    I guess John Kricfalusi didn’t get the message out soon enough:

    explains how the Arizona version of Bedrock City met an “ugly” fate.

  • I was working in South Dakota a few years back, creating the show for the Crazy Horse Memorial,” Legends in Light”, and went to a couple of really cool litle museums in that area.
    Took a drive to Rushmore, but could kick myself for forgetting to see this tribute to the greatest cartoon ever.

  • They were really stingy with the painted rocks on the gift shop. Looks like they didn’t have a ladder.

  • Dave

    I went there as a kid, maybe 1973 or 74, and it looked like it had been around for decades even then. I agree with the observation that the SD sun takes its toll. BUT my sister and I had a blast, especially sitting in Fred’s car. I have a bunch of pictures of the visit somewhere.

  • opello

    Just thought I’d say ‘hi’ from a native South Dakotan! :)

    Mount Rushmore and the whole of the Black Hills is quite fun to visit, but the trek is long for pretty much everyone. But it’s something once you’re there.

  • P

    Linda hosted some classmates and I on a tour of the CN offices about 6 years ago. It’s hard to put into words how many toys she had in her office. I’m not sure how she’d even notice if someone made an unauthorized addition.

  • Well, not being actually able to see the pictures, I can’t comment on them, but I must say that, out of all the ideas for cartoon-related theme parks ever devised, including Disneyland, a “FLINTSTONES” theme park actually makes the most sense to me. Not only is it based on a cartoon show about stone age humans (as opposed to anthropomorphized animals), but there could be a slightly educational side to such a park—actual history and fossils and such things—and, hey, since the very first “FLINTSTONES” episode was called “The Swimming Pool”, I agree that there should have been such a facility on the premises to keep cool on those obscenely warm days, perhaps looking somewhat like the actual pool that Fred and Barney had built across their two properties, right?

  • Ladytears

    Wow.What a nice place.I wish i can go there with my family and friends to tour around.thank you

  • Dora Standpipe

    I live in MN and never seem to make it one state over to this place or even to the Jellystone park I have here in my state! I really gotta take a vacation one of these summers.

  • When I was a kid, my family would take frequent trips into British Columbia, especially the Okanagan region. For some reason I still can’t figure out to this day, the Okanagan was a kind of nexus for weird little theme parks. One of those, mirrored in Chilliwack B.C., was Bedrock City.

    My memories of Kelowna’s Bedrock City are very fond… I think it is fair to say that, without the rose-glasses of childhood, that it was one of the better theme parks anywhere ever. The attractions weren’t much to speak of – canoes, Flintstone car peddle karts, train, min-golf and the theatre showing episodes – but the theming was incredible. It really was, in every way, its own encapsulated fibreglass world right out of the cartoon.

    Unfortunately it closed many years ago. However, this past summer we took a trip to the Grand Canyon and, lo, there was a Bedrock City. I was ridiculously excited about it and spent the drive up to it regalling my girlfriend with stories about how great the Kelowna version was. When we pulled into the parking lot I just about exploded… Everything was there, with the buildings and the giant Fred sign and everything…

    Oh man… uh, wow… It was a little bit different than the one I grew up on. I guess, in retrospect, the British Columbia Bedrock Cities were built by professional designers or some such thing. Arizona’s version is old, old school roadside attraction. The quality wasn’t there, but it was certainly charming it is own way.

  • Funny, I was just about to post about the Kelowna Bedrock City. I just found a cache of old family slides on the weekend, and recently bought a slide scanner for my computer, and one of the containers has images of a visit to Kelowna I probably haven’t looked at in 30 years.

    Haven’t peeked at them yet, but when I get some holiday down time, I’ll be running them through the scanner.

  • Anne here. Yes, I was bored.