For the past 35 years, travelers driving west on Interstate 10 in Southern California have been greeted by Dinny the Dinosaur, a 150-foot-long recreation of an apatosaurus, whose owners have given him the title of “World’s biggest dinosaur.” Dinny – whose name is pronounced “Dine-y” – and his younger, 65-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex counterpart, “Mr. Rex” are part of a desert roadside attraction known as the Cabazon Dinosaurs.
Created in the 1960s by Claude Bell, a theme park artist and sand sculptor, the Cabazon Dinosaurs were originally referred to as “Claude Bell’s Dinosaurs” and intended to attract roadside customers to Bell’s business, The Wheel Inn Cafe. While tourism was partially the impetus for the attraction’s creation, Bell also just wanted to build something with more monumental permanence than just his cafe.
As a young adult, Bell spent his time working on the beaches of New Jersey, building sand sculptures for pocket change. Bell’s sand creations gained popularity to the point where he was invited to compete in festivals all around the continent, but he soon grew tired of the impermanence of sand art and having to watch his laborious creations destroyed by the elements. According to Bell’s wife, the Cabazon Dinosaurs were an attempt to create “something that nobody could tear down.”
Thusly Bell, with the help of only a few friends, began building the dinosaurs in 1964 using spare materials from the construction of the nearby interstate. Without the assistance of contractors or a construction company, Bell spent the next 11 years completing Dinny, who weighs over 150 tons. Although Dinny cost roughly $300,000 to build, its exterior was allegedly painted by Bell’s friend in exchange for only one dollar and a case of Dr. Pepper.
Bell began construction on Mr. Rex in 1981 but passed away in 1988 before finishing his plans to build a large slide going down the tyrannosaurus’ tail. He did manage to live long enough to see the dinosaurs gain much fame appearing in a Coke commercial, music videos, and most memorably by far, in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” in 1985.
After Bell’s death, the property was sold to a local land developer who, with the help of fundamentalist Christian groups, has since used Dinny and Mr. Rex to spread the message of creationism and transform the dinosaurs “from tourist stop to place of worship.” Though the use of his dinosaurs would likely have bothered the artistic and non-creationist Bell, the current owners contend that dinosaurs arrived on Earth approximately 6,000 years ago, at the exact same time as Adam and Eve, and even walked two-by-two onto Noah’s Ark.
Today, signs reading “By Design, Not by Chance” are scattered throughout the grounds of Cabazon Dinosaurs, and Dinny’s abdomen houses a creationist museum and gift shop promoting intelligent design theory. Here, visitors can walk up a flight of stairs through Dinny’s tail and browse through scriptures and creationist displays attempting to “debunk” the theory of evolution.
Some exhibits have included articles on the discovery of a “fossilized” cowboy boot and illustrations depicting humans and dinosaurs co-existing. There’s also an open-air museum that consists of a gem panning area, sand pits, and robotic dinosaur rides, all of which are aimed at raising awareness of the theories of creationism.