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Monday, November 4, 2013

The Natural Bridge and Mark Cline, Barnum of the Blue Ridge

There are several wonderful tourist Meccas in the South.  I have previously talked about the magical/insane twin cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN

Natural Bridge, VA is another southern tourist mecca, but its is a whole different animal.  What makes Natural Bridge different is that its tourist attractions are largely created by a single man.  This man is Mark Cline.  Now, the giant Fiberglass Statue is a major part of the American Roadside, and quite frankly Mark is the master of Roadside Fiberglass.

Natural Bridge, VA's original attraction is unsurprisingly its Natural Bridge.

This is quite impressive natural land mass.  One point of interest is that they have nightly "light shows" on the Bridge.  These light shows essentially consist of the Bridge being lighten up by different colored lights as a dramatic disembodied voice recites bible verses.  As an added bonus, while we were at the show an elderly security guard screamed at the crowd and shined a flashlight every time someone took a flash picture, yelling "No Flashing!" and since people wouldn't stop, he pretty much shined his flashlight in our eyes and yelled through the entire show.

Around this foundation Mark Cline built his Fiberglass empire.  The second you enter Natural Bridge you will notice various roadside sculptures created by Cline.

His original attraction was known as Enchanted Castle Studios, which doubled as his workshop and a fun house attraction.

I never got a chance to visit as a mysterious fire destroyed the castle.  Mark blames Christian fundamentalists who he felt were retaliating against him for erecting a statue of a cow with angel wings labeled "Holy Cow".

Mark still operates out of the Castle, but never reopened it to the public and it sits closed off like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.  Occasionally a piece will be set out front.  When we went by they had this giant tick monster.

One of the current attractions Mark has constructed in Natural Bridge is Foamhenge.

Quite simply, Foamhenge is a replica of England's Stonehenge, but made of Styrofoam instead of giant rocks.  Sadly, when we visited it had recently suffered serious wind damage and a lot of the stones had fallen, it was impressive none the less.

One of the interesting features of Foamhenge is the statue of Merline the Wizard (which a sign theorizes used his magic to move the stones).

What makes the statue even more interesting is the face is Merlin is a desk mask of a 16 year old boy, who was a huge fan of Mark Cline and had a dieing wish to be immortalized in one of his figures.

And in case you decided you wanted to carve your name in the "stone", Mark leaves you a message.

At the time of our visit in 2008 another of Mark's attraction was Dr. Cline's Haunted Monster Museum.   You enter through a spooky gate with Cline's mascot "Mr. Slime".

You walk through a path in the woods and observe a sculpture of a monster abducting a child.

Behold: The Haunted Museum.....

The "Museum" title was a little deceptive as it was not really a museum, but a haunted House.  We went through, but took the no scare version as we had a four year old with us (and another member of our family has a phobia of haunted houses).

The no scare version has the tour guide introducing  the children to the various monsters.

At the end of the Museum there is a "dark maze" which is supposed to be scary as hell.  Fortunately, the attraction featured a "chicken door" to escape.

Which, of course, in true Mark Cline style leads to a giant chicken.

As we were exiting the house I was fortunate to spot a familiar face taking some supplies into the Museum.  It was Mark Cline himself.  He was happy to pose for some pictures and talk about his work.

Sadly, once again one of Cline's attraction was destroyed by a mysterious fire as the Haunted Museum burned down a few years back.

My personal favorite Mark Cline attraction is "The Dinosaur Kingdom"

The name truly does not explain the amazing scope of this attraction.  This is not your typical everyday fiberglass exhibit.  The Kingdom takes it to a new level.

First of all, let's talk about the storyline.  As you enter through an old barn the story is explained to you.

The storyline involves evil Yankee Civil War soldiers who have discovered a valley of living dinosaurs.  The Yankees attempt to turn the dinosaurs against the confederates to use as Weapons of Mass Destruction, but they loose control and the dinosaurs turn on them.  There is also a family known as the Garrisons, who accidentally got caught in the middle that are trying to escape.

The Garrisons also have a pet Monkey named Blinky.

Most the scenes involve the evil Union soldiers fighting the dinosaurs, including this amazing tableau of a full sized T-Rex pulling a soldier off a horse.

A lot of the scenes are comical, such as baby dinosaurs rolling around with pigs.

And a Gorilla stealing the General's clothes.

And there is the obligatory weird looking guy in an outhouse.

The attraction even includes a dabbling a animatronics such as this T-Rex head that attacks a dear carcass.

The whole thing is simply one of the greatest things I have ever seen.

Mark actually has a new attraction know known as "Hunt Bigfoot with a Redneck", which is very near the top of my ever increasing Bucket List.

The Carpetbagger

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