March 11, 2008
THE ABANDONED DINOSAUR WORLD
Updade: I'm sad to report that the former Dinosaur World gift shop and restaurant have burned down.
Dinosaur World of Beaver Springs, is a defunct roadside attraction that was a jaunt from the better-known tourist haven of Eureka Springs. I recently visited the remains of the place and snapped quite a few shots, so that I might share them here. And that, my friend, is the true origin of this internet blog post which you are reading...right now.
During most of my lifetime this prehistoric landmark was called Land of Kong named for its 40 foot monument to King Kong which boasted flashing eyes and a soundtrack of gorilla growls. The place got a new name about the time America flocked to Jurassic Park to watch Jeff Goldblum. (Also some dinosaurs.) According to Wikipedia "the park was started in the 1960s" and though "it is the largest dinosaur park in the world" it has been "closed since 2005." Oddly enough, that was the same year Peter Jackson's King Kong hit the screens. It seems that they could have swapped names once more and been on the cusp of cultural relevance again.
UPDATE: It seemed cruel to discuss the Kong statue without offering a visual (I wasn't able to see it on this particular visit) so I asked to borrow this one from RoadsideArchitecture.com...
(And if you want to see a Dinosaur World tour that is far more dinosaur infested than mine, check out theirs.)
Though it has been closed down for nearly three years, no efforts have been made to communicate this fact on the numerous billboards (seen above) or directional signs that point the way to the former tourist trap. The dinosaur park is at least ten winding minutes off the main highway, so there's no telling how many barrels of oil have been burned by eager travelers fatefully racing towards the first defeat of their family vacation. The returning lane of traffic probably moves much slower as brooding parents explain the concept of false hope to their crestfallen children.
But the trek isn't a total loss for those of us with an affinity for decaying amusements and cement cavemen. There are enough photo-ops available in the parking lot alone to support an argument for keeping the billboards intact, and almost enough fun stuff to even quench one's temptation to trespass deeper.
A single look at that giant spider and one's soul is awash with the distinct feeling that everything is going to be alright. (Click any photo to dino-size it!)
A duo of excitable cavemen welcome one and all. The one on the left struggles to hold his ax upright. Close inspection reveals that these guys are actually no more than torsos; probably due to the prohibitive cost of caveman legs.
The glimpse of the letters "ND" hint at the original Land of Kong bone typeface.
This is as good a time as any to point out that the park makes an appearance in the first few minutes of It's Alive (1969).
UPDATE: See the Dinosaur World footage from It's alive HERE.
In fact one of the original co-owners of Dinosaur World was American B-movie actor (and Shirley Temple's first husband) John Agar (1921-2002).
This building was home to the ticket booth, souvenir shop, and snack bar.
Boom! Just like that- a free fun house mirror right in the entryway. You haven't paid a dime yet and your day just got 100% more awesome.
Not only that, the laffs start to roll in for anyone who lays eyes on this single panel gorilla-related gag. It took me way too long to decipher their monkeyspeak. Translation: "Eat yet?" "Not yet. You?"
I pushed the camera up to the door to get a peek inside. It's a wonderland of lattice and Corona boxes.
The guy on the right looks like Jimmy Carter. Leftover satire from the 70s, maybe? I wonder if the guy in the trucker hat is the proprietor.
The props have no regard for dimensional continuity. I like that.
This is where the official tour once began. While it would not be difficult to breach Dino World proper, trespassers are challenged by the current caretakers who live in a home that overlooks much of the area. (I have friends who have been swiftly busted.) It would seem that guarding this Dinotopia would be a full time job. I imagine every year there must be a handful of disgruntled Clark Griswold types who vow to tour the park by any means necessary.
The caveman torso lookouts are losing the battle.
More former Kodak moments.
I wonder why so many tourist attractions are equipped with rickety swinging bridges of death. These bridges automatically divide visitors into two types of people- those who simply want to pass and those who take time out of their day for violent jumping and shaking.
After my visit, I was driving away when I noticed a nearby gravel pull-off which seemed as though it were created solely for illegal Dinosaur World entry. In the name of blogging I stopped the car, walked down an embankment and and briefly set foot in the forbidden lost world where I took these last couple of photos.
More from Wikipedia: "The sculptures were created by Emmet Sullivan, who also designed the dinosaur statues in Dinosaur Park and Wall Drug in South Dakota, and the Christ of the Ozarks statue in nearby Eureka Springs, Arkansas."
Those dinosaurs (and one big King Kong) are all standing out there at this very moment, waiting to terrorize and amuse; a fact that is both comforting and depressing. Please, someone, buy this place, reopen it and bestow a little more joy to our planet! (Oh, and change the name back to Land of Kong.)
UPDATE: Secret Fun reader Flashfink offers even more information on John Agar's connection to Land of Kong via an obscure reference in Psychotronic Magazine, issue 9 (Spring 1991). Thanks Flashfink for using your powers of information finding!
[after mentioning Agar's part as the New York district attorney in the 1976 version of KING KONG, the article's author - Dennis Daniel - continues with : "A while later, a JOHN AGAR'S LAND OF KONG opened in Arkansas]
Agar:(Laughs) "Yes, in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. A friend of mine who's now deceased, Ken Childs, he bought this place that a farmer had built up with a bunch of dinosaurs and stuff like that on it. They wanted to build a King Kong and refurbish the existing dinosaurs there. They looked like cartoon characters, instead of what they would actually look like. It was like Walt Disney went down there and did them. Ken contacted a guy in Texas to build this Kong for him. The place was eventually called "John Agar's Land of Kong." I just let them use my name. I think it's still there. I've never seen the actual place in person, only photos. He was a friend and I just let him use my name. I guess he figured, since I was in KING KONG it had some relevance."
If this is true and not the distorted memories of an aging alcoholic, it means that his roles in two of Larry Buchanan's films and the park's appearance in one more of them is nothing more than an (AMAZING) coincidence.