This is one in a series of entries recounting the 2009 trip that Phil Rose and I took to the desert. We are hoping to fund another such trip; for more details or to help out, please check out our Kickstarter. The beautiful photography present in these posts is courtesy of my friend, the very talented Phil Rose.
Driving south, out of Grand Canyon National Park, right outside of Williams, Arizona, we encountered one of the honest to god strangest things that we saw on our trip. When we saw the brightly painted… sculptures? and the empty parking lot, we couldn’t help but stop.
We had entered Bedrock City.
The way in to the park was through a snack bar and gift shop housed in what seemed to me to be a cavernous and dark building. I don’t remember if we paid anything for entrance, if so it must only have been a dollar or two, but it seems likely that it was free. We stepped out the other side of the building into a vast, flat plain.
Bedrock City is a seventies-era Flinstones themed amusement park, the kind of small roadside amusement park that sprang up throughout the United States during that era as car ownership became common and highway travel a routine vacation strategy. I presume it was likely well-attended at one point in its life, but it would appear that that time is long past.
We were there in April, as I recall, which is a popular time to visit the desert; the cactus blooms and the temperatures are bearable. Despite the friendly weather, there was not another soul there.
The wind whipped through the park, around fiberglass dinosaurs and the squatty humps of buildings made to replicate those seen in the cartoon. There were houses, with fiberglass furniture, and a post office with a counter and blue paint wearing away under the constant assault of the wind and sun. There was a prison and a grocery store, the latter stocked with spherical fake fruits that were impossible to identify. There was one of those stone-wheeled cars that Fred so famously propelled with his feet, and a little train that once rolled around the grounds and now stood still and silent.
There was a tall slide built into the back of a fiberglass brontosaurus so that you could slide down the dinosaur’s tail, just like in the cartoon. There was even a lonely goat standing knee deep in hay in a fiberglass stable labeled “Goatasaurus.” The goat had a manner somewhere in between wariness and indifference.
There was a theater with maybe fifty seats that appeared to play Flinstones cartoons all the time. We went inside and stared with a kind of dumb horror at the screen. It was incredible to think that from open to close, this show just played for nobody. That someone turned this on, knowing that for almost the entire time it would be on, there would be nobody there.
Back outside, the only sounds were the wind, the crunch of our feet on the pebbly earth, and the constant chatter of the cartoon from the theater. One of the manically grinning pterodactyls was falling apart, the fiberglass having crumbled away from his wire skeleton. This seemed to effect his mood not at all. The buildings were utterly lifeless, their doorways yawning, dark mouths.
It’s odd how buildings, even painted concrete and fiberglass buildings crafted to resemble the images from a cartoon, are still recognizable in some very personal, very hindbrain sort of way, and how seeing them so lifeless and abandoned still filled me with an apocalyptic dread, even though these buildings in particular were never intended to be occupied.
It was both a relief and a disappointment to leave the park. We drove on south, neatly avoiding Flagstaff and heading on to Route 66. We stopped for gas, and I got out to have a cigarette. The wind was fierce, and I couldn’t get it lit. On the horizon to the southeast, a brown mass dominated the view. At first I thought it was an enormous mesa, but then it moved.
It was a dust storm.
It was not on the scale of the storms common during the dustbowl era, but to someone who’s never seen a dust storm before it looked enormous. It dwarfed nearby mesas and distant mountains, and it looked like the end of the world given form. I wanted to watch it, see its slowly shifting shape and the eddies on its margins, but I knew it would be an unpleasant thing to see up close. Phil was already back in the car with the engine running. I jogged over and climbed into the passenger side seat, the wind already kicking up grit around us.