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. His owners have dubbed him the “world’s biggest dinosaur.” Dinny, whose name is pronounced “Dine-y,” and his 65-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex counterpart “Mr. Rex” are part of a desert roadside attraction known as the Cabazon Dinosaurs.
Claude Bell, a theme park artist and sand sculptor, created the reptilian beasts in the 1960s to attract customers to the Wheel Inn Cafe, his business. But though luring in tourists was his main goal, Claude had an additional motive. He wanted to build something that would last longer than his cafe.
As a young adult, Bell spent his time working on the beaches of New Jersey, where he built sand sculptures for pocket change. His sand creations gained so much popularity that he was invited to compete in festivals all around the continent. However, he soon grew tired of watching the elements wreck his work. He then sought to create something that nothing, especially not a bit of rain or wind, could destroy.
So, with the help of only a few friends, Bell began building the dinosaurs in 1964 using spare materials from a nearby construction site. Without contractors or a proper construction company, he spent the next 11 years completing Dinny, who weighs over 150 tons. Although Dinny cost roughly $300,000 to build, its exterior was purportedly painted by Bell’s friend in exchange for only one dollar and a case of Dr. Pepper.
Bell began constructing Mr. Rex in 1981, but passed away in 1988 before finishing his plan to build a large slide down the tyrannosaurus’ tail. Though he died before his work was complete, he lived long enough to see the dinosaurs gain fame after appearing in a Coke commercial, music videos, and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
After Bell’s death, the property was sold to a local land developer who, with the help of fundamentalist Christian groups, has used Dinny and Mr. Rex to spread the message of creationism and transform the dinosaurs “from tourist stop to place of worship.”
Today, the dinosaurs no longer house a creation museum, though they still live as a kitschy roadside attraction. You can still climb through the T-Rex’s mouth Pee Wee Herman-style, and the site now holds a dinosaur-themed exhibit and a gift store packed with all sorts of dino-themed trinkets.
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