Tyrannocivil War: Natural Bridge, VA’s Dino-mite New Attraction – September 2016

tyrannocivil-war

In a world where the dominant species of hairless hominids hunts the savannas for take-out, wages war with competitors in anonymous message-board battles, and swipes for mates on their smartphones; in a county that sounds like a Flintstones character, dinosaurs roam the land! And also Civil War soldiers and a dead president. But, more importantly, dinosaurs!

Along the old Lee Highway in Rockbridge County’s hamlet of Natural Bridge, eccentric sculptor and local celebrity Mark Cline has unleashed prehistoric beasts upon rural Virginia. The brains behind such nearby wonders as Foamhenge and Lexington’s Haunting Tales Ghost Tour, Cline has recently returned from the lab to unveil his newest attraction, a semi-interactive walkthrough experience called Dinosaur Kingdom II. A sequel of sorts to the first Dinosaur Kingdom he built in the area but lost in a mysterious fire in 2012, DK II is an impressive collection of fiberglass figures depicting alternate reality clashes between Mesozoic monsters and the most unfortunate members of the Union army.

Your humble journalist recently tied his seatbelt ends together and migrated over to Natural Bridge to see what he could unearth. Hold on to your butts!

dk entrance

Passing through the rough-hewn wooden gates, visitors are transported back in time to the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of the Civil War, during which Lexington was raided and razed. In the parallel reality of DK II, as proclaimed on a poster hanging above the entrance, artillery fire has caused dinosaurs, who up to that point had been snoring away the ages “cryogenically hibernating” in the Natural Bridge Caverns, to suddenly awaken from their slumber. And thaw out, I guess. Don’t overthink this. And the Yankees have hatched an idea to use the beasts as “weapons of mass destruction” and begun capturing them.

Seeing red due to their blue-clad oppressors, the behemoths revolt, presumably after Newman from Seinfeld set them all free, and the narrative of DK II unfolds, displaying tableaus of Yankees verses lizard monsters.

Our first hint at the lurking leviathans is a set of large claw-tipped footprints and an ominous sign marking them as “tracks of Great White Beast.”

falcor!

Please let it be a luck dragon! Please let it be a luck dragon!

And the dinos go primeval on the Northern forces from there. In one scene, a pack of raptors surrounds a hapless trio of Union soldiers; in another, a tyrannosaurus grips an officer in his toothy maw; and, in another still, a pterodactyl swoops down to nab the Gettysburg Address from Abe Lincoln’s honestly pterrified hands.

lincoln ptero

Now who’s saying “score”?

Other Yankees’ fates include failing to steer a rampaging whatever-dinosaur-Ducky-from-The-Land-Before-Time-was with mounted guns on its back or being fed to baby three-horns by their mother. The Union army looks to be on the verge of extinction, not from military maneuvers but from prehistoric predators (and also, apparently, ex-herbivores).

Oh, and to make matters worse, sentient green slimeballs have also joined in the Confederate cause, planting explosives and generally being unattractive nuisances.

tyrannocivil war - slime

The product of Mike from Monsters, Inc. and the Tang mouths slashfic.

As with Indiana Jones: Ancient Aliens: The Movie, the semi-cohesive story falls apart with the appearance of little green men. The slimeballs, many donning gray C.S.A. caps, fight both Yankees and dinosaurs – who I, uh, thought were also fighting Yankees. As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is . . . also my enemy.

And the madness continues to mount its assault, whether it be in the form of a two-headed turtle saving a bridge from demolition, an eerily-grinning donkey leering near a sign announcing that “yer bein watched,” a church more rocking than the one from Sister Act II, or a farm boy dutifully milking a stegosaurus.

stegodairy

Got therapy?

It’s admittedly difficult to choose, but perhaps the coup de rangement may be the scene that serves as a centerpiece of sorts, bringing back to life Rockbridge County’s hometown hero Stonewall Jackson, who famously fell to friendly fire in 1863 but who has returned from the grave outfitted with a bionic arm and steampunk duds. Mecha-Stonewall Jackson, resembling the result of Sid from Toy Story being left alone in a dark room with spare Darth Vader, Inspector Gadget, and Bob Villa parts, is locked in mortal combat with the Great White Beast, revealed to be, alas, not Falcor, Moby Dick, or even a new Mick Foley character, but an albino spinosaurus. Again, the would-be allies of Rebels and rexes make war against one another, proving that nature is as indiscriminately predatory as subprime mortgage lenders circa 2007 and that dinosaurs be chomping.

Or maybe they are, in fact, allies, and the General will again fall victim to a misunderstanding? Perhaps Steampunk Jackson is simply helping to pick a friend’s nose?

great white

“You’ve got something in your teeth.”

And I had more questions.

In this (red)neck of the South, where I’ve seen more Rebel enthusiasts than at a Star Wars convention, more stars and more bars than at a Hollywood AT&T, was there any significance to the resurrection of Steamwall Jackson or of a Gettysburgling pterosaur? Perhaps revenge is a dish best served old – 65 million years in the making. Or maybe the reverse is true, and we’re meant to sympathize with the valiant boys in blue. Then again, I generally think it unwise to root against dinosaurs.

Judging from the disjointedness of the narrative, the most likely answer is that, far from any sober attempt at revising history or even pre-history, Mark Cline is simply having fun, throwing dinosaurs and Union soldiers at one another for the same reason he built a scale Styrofoam replica of Stonehenge just a few miles down the road: because it’s cool as coprolite! Rather than waging a one-man war against this cause or that, Cline is battling the forces of boredom, the mundane, and the answerable, using the arsenal at his disposal: fiberglass, foam, and fantasy.

In a world where ideological and identity divisions threaten to suck our lifeblood like so many InGen scientists huddled over fossilized mosquitos trapped for millennia in amber, it’s good to have an off-beat place like Dinosaur Kingdom II that offers a respite from today and a whimsical glimpse into a yesterday that, thankfully, never was. “What is Dinosaur Kingdom II” would be a great Jeopardy answer. If you like dinosaurs – and if you don’t, what are you, an asteroid? –  shell out ten bones for entry and do some digging yourself.

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