Childhood Memories Revisited – Thunderbeast Park
August 31, 2011
My husband & I headed for Sacramento to see his folks and decided to take the scenic route home, turning an otherwise long tedious drive into a mini vacation. Returning north on Hwy 97 we planned to stop at all the landmarks I remembered from my childhood family vacations driving from Southern California to visit relatives in the Pacific Northwest.
Our family always traveled on Highway 97 and thrilled at many landmarks along our route. We’d usually spend the night in Redding or Red Bluff, the halfway point – wow have those towns grown up & turned into big cities! Doris was the last California city heading north and my mom loved Doris Day. We’d scream with delight as we reached her. The Klamath River felt so much larger and longer when I was 9, 10 and 11 than it did this week. It was exhilarating to see many white cranes and a couple of bald eagles along the river.
Mom never stopped at Crater Lake because she wanted to reach her sister’s house (where we stayed) in South Central Washington by nightfall. Crater Lake was a ‘definite destination’ on this trip with my husband and it did not disappoint. The lake was majestically beautiful and a stop I’d strongly recommend, with breathtaking views in every direction.
Most of my childhood Highway 97 memories are a blurry monotony of pine forest seen from the back seat, eyes wide open watching for deer. It was oh so lovely for my husband to stop at my every whim.
There was one stop however that my sister and I could not, would not miss if we had anything to say about it. Just beyond Crater Lake sat a destination that no kid of that era, driving along Highway 97 could resist. We’d start working on Mom to stop there as soon as we piled into the car in the morning. She rarely wanted to stop, but it was the only way she could get two road weary, whiny, needling kids to give her peace for the duration of our yearly trek. Thunderbeast Park.
My husband was primed and ready to stop, pay the entrance fee and maybe even spend ‘quality time’ in the tourist trap gift shop that I remember so fondly as a pre-teen. Alas Thunderbeast Park is gone! Replaced with a chrome shop for trucks! There’s one lonely decrepit Thunderbeast left along the highway beckoning truckers with the chrome shop sign. I was very disappointed to say the least.
Compelled to find out what happened when we got home, I began my internet search. The only information I could find, other than personal blogs just like mine asking what happened was this post on RoadsideAmerica.com:
Roadside America says Thunderbeast Park, built in 1962 closed sometime before 1996 when they visited.
I also found a bit of information about the cement beasts and their creator, Ernie Nelson (who also built Prehistoric Gardens on the Oregon Coast in 1953) here:
Then I searched my old photo albums and to my dismay, even though I remember many photos taken there, could only find these two taken when my two sisters and I drove back to California on our own in 1974. Sheesh, was I old enough to drive that far? With no adult supervision?!!
I’ve had a fun summer and hope you have too, but it’s time to get back to work with fresh summer inspiration…