Arizona’s Flintstones-themed Bedrock City continues to draw tourists amid potential sale
Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015
About 30 minutes from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim is a smaller, more obscure tourist attraction: Bedrock City, a Flintstones walk-through theme park honoring the 1960s cartoon.
For 43 years, the park has drawn curious travelers, families and enthusiasts. Owner Linda Speckels put the theme park on the market for $2 million.
Speckels said she’s selling the park because she’s ready to retire.
“I need to move on with my life,” she said. “Mainly, I want to spend more time with my family, and I haven’t had time with operating the business. It’s been up for sale for a while, but I’m doing it by owner right now.”
Although it’s unclear whether the future owners would continue running Bedrock City as a theme park, one expert said there are more roadside attractions than ever. Visitors to the park said it reflects a time in America’s history. Wednesday marked the 55th anniversary of the date the Flintstones first aired.
The 30-acre property includes the 6-acre theme park with Flintstones furnished concrete houses, a dinosaur slide, theater, a 3,800-square-foot personal residence, restaurant, gift shop, RV park and a campground.
Speckels and her late husband, Francis, purchased the property in 1972. Francis worked as a government contractor and partner in the original Bedrock City theme park in South Dakota before building the second Arizona-based park.
Bedrock City costs $5 to enter and attracts not only repeat visitors, but a younger demographic.
“A lot of parents come in and want to educate their kids about the Flintstones,” Speckels said.
Speckels did not disclose specific visitor or revenue information about the park. She said business has been steady, but each year differs depending on the economy.
“It’s been a really good summer for us,” she said. “And actually, it’s been a good year, even through the spring and winter.”
Since opening, the park hasn’t changed much. The concrete houses, which have weathered decades, show their age with chipped paint and dirt caked along the interior walls.
Phoenix resident Jared Elizares stopped by the park on a return trip from the Grand Canyon. He found the park interesting, but sparse and quiet, he said.
“It could use more maintenance,” Elizares said. “I think there’s a lot of people that appreciate this era. My friends were really excited that I’m here, and one of my friends was sad they were selling this place. She was hoping it would be preserved. Maybe under new management, they could restore it and make it a little more appealing.”
San Francisco resident Nicolas Escalada stopped by Bedrock City because it looked like a unique place to photograph.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this,” he said. “I would definitely be sad to see it go. I think (Bedrock City) definitely reflects a time in America’s history when these kind of things were pretty frequent.”
Holly Hulen, Speckels’ daughter, said the potential sale would be difficult for the family, but it would allow her sister and mother to begin a new chapter in their lives.
“I think the future owners have great possibilities and options with this land, and it could include the Flintstones or not,” Hulen said. “It would be great if they do keep the art and the theme, but we are OK with losing that, too.”
The new owners could potentially turn the property into a casino, outlet mall or cultural center, according to the Bedrock City website. The park has a conditional use permit – a zoning exception – for another 10 years. Hanna-Barbera licensing rights to use the Flintstones characters and scenes wouldn’t transfer with the sale.
“It’s one of the few areas where commercial development is allowed, so it’s a rare opportunity being so close to the Grand Canyon,” Hulen said.
Coconino County – where Bedrock City sits – generated $1.2 billion in revenue from tourists last year, and visitors spent $2.2 billion on entertainment and recreation in Arizona, according to a report by the Arizona Office of Tourism.
Texas resident Mindy Jones visited the park for the first time during a road trip to Las Vegas.
“I looked up roadside attractions, saw it and it interested me,” she said.
Bedrock City’s potential sale would disappoint her because it would be a neat place to take her kids, Jones said.
“This is one of the cool things about America, and it makes me sad when things like this shut down or get sold,” she said.
Bedrock City’s sister property in Custer, South Dakota, operated by Joe Speckels, a relative of Linda, sold for $1.5 million to Custer Hospitality LLC. It shut down earlier this month, and it’s unknown whether Custer Hospitality will continue the Flintstones theme park.
Although the future remains uncertain for both Bedrock City parks, one expert said there isn’t a shortage of roadside attractions. In fact, there’s more than ever, said Ken Smith, senior editor for RoadsideAmerica.com, a website that tracks offbeat roadside attractions.
“There are mom-and-pop places that are no longer with us, but there is a whole new generation of people opening up their roadside attractions now,” he said. “The acceptance and range of things you can see or do is broadening.”
Mobile phones are increasing access to roadside attractions while traveling, and there’s more diversity in the kinds of attractions that didn’t previously exist, Smith said.
Arizona has more than 300 roadside attractions, ranging from museums to oddities and unique statues.
“Bedrock City in Arizona has been around 43 years,” Smith said. “That’s a pretty good run.”
Linda Speckels said buyers have shown interest, but she hasn’t signed any contracts yet.
“It’s an important piece of property,” she said. “Five million people go to the Grand Canyon every year, and (the theme park) could be almost anything. There would be a few tears shed I’m sure, but (the property) needs to move on.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of one of the sources. The source, who stopped by Bedrock City on a return trip from the Grand Canyon, is Phoenix resident Jared Elizares.