As twilight falls on a remote corner of Arizona, once-familiar statues become eerie figures stranded in time. Everywhere you turn, the friendly faces of Fred and Wilma Flintstone, along with Betty and Barney Rubble, become bizarrely contorted as night falls. Sadly, their homes and parts of the town from the 1960s animated show now stand forgotten. Welcome to Bedrock City: America’s abandoned theme park dedicated to The Flintstones.
Bedrock City resides on a six-acre site in the Arizona desert. Located about half an hour from the Grand Canyon, it was America’s last-remaining theme park paying homage to the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon before it was abandoned. Furthermore, in addition to The Flintstones attractions, it also still houses an RV campground and carpark.
For its part, the park stood as a classic example of a U.S. roadside attraction for decades. It entertained visitors with a plethora of Stone Age-themed attractions, which are familiar to anyone who’s seen the show. Bedrock City recreated the show’s fictional town, complete with a salon, post office and Brontosaurus slide – recreating the animation’s opening title sequence.
Opened in 1972, Bedrock City was an official Flintstones theme park. Welcoming its first visitors some six years after the show ended, the attractions celebrated America’s love of the “modern Stone Age family,” as the animation’s theme song described the characters. And it drew in the cartoon’s fans for more than 50 years.
The park closed its doors for good in 2019 after being put up for sale four years earlier. Nevertheless, much of Bedrock City still stands. But from the city hall to the playground and the recreated Stone Age homes, the remaining features are a little run down. The abandoned park, however, has now turned in to a different kind of attraction – and it’s a far cry from the brightly colored fun of the original show.
First appearing on screens in September 1960, The Flintstones aired on ABC and became the first animated series to hold a primetime slot. Produced by animation house Hanna-Barbera, the team behind The Huckleberry Hound Show and Yogi Bear, the show was originally called The Flagstones. And believe it or not, it was partly based on a TV sitcom by the name of The Honeymooners.
The Honeymooners, a show about a New York bus driver and his wife, follows the trials and tribulations of life in mid-20th century America. And it was a big hit; so when the Hanna-Barbera decided to move in to more adult-friendly material, they chose the show as their starting point. But rather than set the series in contemporary times, the producers came up with a novel idea.
While the setting in The Flintstones is clearly suburban, Hanna-Barbera chose to have the families experience modern situations while living in the Stone Age. And it was that change in time period which allowed the writers to satirize the struggles of 1960s life without being too direct. This may not sound much like a children’s cartoon; but that’s because, to begin with, The Flintstones was aimed at adults.
Tackling subjects such as infertility and adoption, The Flintstones originally dealt with mature subjects. And that was confirmed not only by the show’s primetime slot, but also in its sponsors. In fact, for the first couple of seasons, the animated series was sponsored by Winston cigarettes. And the characters even starred in commercials for the brand.
The show’s mix of Stone Age gags and sometimes more serious subject matters proved a big hit with audiences. And the writers and animators clearly had a ball turning modern inventions into period-appropriate equivalents. From prehistoric bird-beak record players and people-powered cars to dinosaur cranes and crab lawnmowers, the characters lived in a highly romanticized and hilarious version of caveman life.
In the Flintstones’ universe, long-extinct species live alongside the family. The main characters even had a saber-toothed cat and dopey dinosaur as pets. Fred and Barney, the patriarchs of the Flintstone and Rubble families are blue-collared husbands to Wilma and Betty respectively. And much of the comedy comes from that familiar suburban dynamic. In fact, so successful was the show’s premise that The Honeymooners creator Jackie Gleason actually considered suing Hanna-Barbera.
Had Gleason sued the animation house and won, The Flintstones may well have been forced off the air. However, the comedian and writer reportedly did not want to be remembered for having the popular show canceled. So, the animated series continued and went on to achieve another first.
The Flintstones’ popularity grew so quickly that it became the first animated show ever nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy in 1961. But not everyone shared the same level of enthusiasm for the cartoon.
Believe it or not, the 1960-61 season of U.S. TV was believed to have been the worst in broadcast history up to that point. Newton N. Minow, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission even went to far as to call the schedules a “vast wasteland” of terrible programming. He said in a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961, “When television is good, nothing – not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers – nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse.”
And the American press was no less critical. Variety, referring to the show’s simple and bright animation style, called The Flintstones “a pen and ink disaster” the night after its debut. However, Hanna-Barbera later made a decision that would change the cartoon’s direction.
During the show’s third season, Fred and Wilma have a baby daughter: Pebbles. Soon after, Betty and Barney Rubble adopt a son called Bamm-Bamm. And the addition of the youngsters heralded a change of tone for the show. The adult-friendly comedy began to give way to a more child-oriented cartoon; and this was reflected by a change in timeslot and sponsors.
Now airing at 7:30 p.m. and sponsored by Welch’s grape jellies and grape juice, The Flintstones’ transition to children’s show was complete. But it seems that this new direction wasn’t as popular with audiences, and ratings began to steadily decline. From a top 20 show in season one, by the end of season four the cartoon couldn’t even break the top 30.
The Flintstones was finally canceled in 1966 at the end of its sixth season. By then it had fallen from the top 40 to the 70th most-watched show in America. But though network audiences had fallen out of love with the animated show, it wasn’t the end for the characters by any means. And cinema audiences got their first taste of the Stone Age families that same year.
The Man Called Flintstone came out not long after the network show ended. A James Bond spoof, the movie was good enough for Variety to completely reverse its earlier position. Reviewing the film in August 1966, they described the picture as “excellent.”
The movie kicked off a stream of Flintstones TV series stretching all the way into the 1990s. In addition, networks broadcast a number of TV specials and movies featuring the characters right up until the 21st century. And the Stone Age family even appeared in a film in collaboration with the WWE in 2015.
Of course, thanks to syndication, the original show was on U.S. TV almost continuously for five decades. Naturally, this meant that successive generations grew up hearing Fred’s familiar holler of “Wilma!” And they probably also sang along to the ridiculously catchy theme tune as well. Then in 1994, nearly 30 years after the show’s cancellation, Hollywood paid a visit to Bedrock.
A live-action version of The Flintstones appeared that year; starring John Goodman, Rick Moranis, Elizabeth Perkins and Rosie O’Donnell. Though critics largely slammed the film, it was successful in the box office and it led to a prequel in 2000. The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, however, was a horrendous flop.
Despite the minor film missteps, the success of The Flintstones has also served as the basis for an enormous amount of merchandise. From toys and vitamins to lunchboxes and books, the Stone Age cartoon could sell anything – including tickets to theme parks. And that brings us neatly back to Arizona’s Bedrock City.
The theme park – nestled just off the road near the city of Williams in Arizona – faithfully reproduced much of the show’s scenery. Attractions include the character’s houses, a theater, statues of all the major characters, a Brontosaurus slide and a children’s playground. But the Stone Age theme doesn’t just extend to the buildings.
During the park’s heyday, it also featured a restaurant serving Stone Age-themed food. The menu included Dino Dogs, Bronto Burgers and Mammoth Milkshakes. And if all that wasn’t enough Flintstones stuff for you, there were even actors dressed as the characters and regular cartoon-based performances.
And Bedrock City was all thanks to husband and wife team Francis and Linda Speckels, who finally closed it in 2019. A decline in visitor numbers and staff caused in part by its remote location forced the Speckels to put the place up for sale in 2015. It remained opened though for a further four years, and it even reopened for a final time in June 2019 for the summer season. However, the park has changed hands; and it has become a very different kind of attraction.
America’s last remaining Flintstones park has, essentially, been abandoned. As such, it has now become a draw for those who find an eerie beauty in decay. Let’s face it, if spooky is what you’re looking for, surely there’s no creepier place than a defunct theme park. And Bedrock City definitely intrigued one particular photographer.
Sandra Jungling is perhaps better known as the lens behind Forgotten Places Photography. And as her images show, the empty Bedrock City is one spooky location – particularly at night. That’s when the artist made her visits to Bedrock City; she was there specifically to photograph and preserve for posterity this forgotten slice of Americana.
Jungling first became interested in photography following a trip to Africa several years ago. Having taken what she called “the wrong camera” with her on the vacation, she enrolled in classes on her return to the U.S. Soon after, the Arizona native moved into night photography; and from there, it was a hop, skip and a jump to turning her lens to the creepy and abandoned.
The now-defunct Bedrock City perfectly encapsulated Jungling’s eerie artistic style. She told Scribol in October 2019, “I would describe my photography as having a surrealist feel. Being drawn to abandoned and run-down locations lets me create a story using lighting and camera [angles].”
Jungling went on, “The fact that [the photography is] all done at night [adds] to the mystery of the place.” But given Bedrock City’s somewhat remote location, how did she even hear about the attraction? She answered, “Surprisingly, like most people in Arizona, I found out about this park from other photographers.”
The revelation of how Jungling discovered Bedrock City may well help explain why the park ended up in financial straits. Even some sharing a state with the attraction barely knew of its existence. Once Jungling was aware of it, however, there was no stopping the photographer; she knew it was the perfect location for her art.
As Jungling told Scribol, “I was drawn to the park for its nostalgia, the idea of a vintage roadside attraction that had seen better days.” In fact, the photographer started going to Bedrock City before it was sold, and said she managed to takes shots of it on four different occasions.
“Three of these visits were when [Bedrock City] was still in operation and the last [was] only a few months ago,” Jungling continued. And it was that final visit that really brought home the contrast in atmosphere. “Having been to the park when it was in operation and then after it closed was a very different experience for me.”
Jungling went on, “As I wandered around [the park], I found it a little surreal; the characters were gone and the only remains were the concrete pads that [they once] stood on.” Those missing Flintstones staples proved too much for the photographer. She added, “That will be the last time I go. Without the characters, the buildings and cars have no context.”
Jungling went on, “When the property was sold the previous owners removed the statues. I am not exactly sure what they did with them.” This means that the photographers images may be some of the last ever taken of the familiar cartoon faces in Arizona; as such, they take on an even more eerie significance. But for Jungling, one image is particularly special.
“Fred Flintstone is one of my favorite shots from the park, and possibly one of the toughest to get the shadow of the Stone Age car to fall at the right place on the building,” Jungling told Scribol. And as the resulting image shows, the effect is eerily striking.
In fact, as all of Jungling’s Bedrock City images show, the abandoned theme park is just as spooky as you would imagine. Indeed, the shadows and night setting turn those normally friendly faces into demonic grins. And if someone hasn’t pitched a Hollywood Flintstones horror movie yet, on this evidence, they really should.
Jungling, like many of us, is a fan of the original 1960s cartoon, and is sad to see Bedrock City go. She continued, “I have been watching The Flintstones since I was a kid. Since I started photographing and talking about [the park], I have let a lot of people know about its existence. It’s very unfortunate that it closed.”
The new owner, Troy Morris, has declared that the site once known as Bedrock City will soon become an attraction featuring birds of prey called Raptor Ranch. And despite the hopes of fans the world over, America’s last Flintstones park is now gone for good. But, thanks to Jungling, the attraction’s demise has produced a beautiful – albeit creepy – legacy.