Dinny, Mr. Rex and Rattlesnakes, Oh My!
It really wasn’t planned but it couldn’t have been more fitting.
Darling Daughter and I were driving her and fiance’s car back from California to Iowa where they were going to be married. They planned to take a honeymoon road trip back to Cali after the wedding so they needed the car back here.
Their wedding was a dinosaur themed affair and, as it turned out, two of our first stops on the drive to Iowa were all about dinosaurs.
The first, the Cabazon Dinosaurs, was one Darling Daughter had visited previously but I’d never heard of. The second, Rattlesnake Ranch, I stumbled upon searching the “net” while we cruised down the road. Isn’t technology wonderful? Both are located along the I-10 highway.
Darling Daughter shares my love for unique, wacky and just fun roadside attractions. The Cabazon Dinosaurs rings all the bells.
The dinosaurs have even had roles in movies, Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure and The Wizard, and believe it or not, a quick cameo in the Tears for Fears music video, Everybody Wants to Rule the World.
They’re located just off the highway roughly 75 miles straight east of Anaheim.
The dinosaurs came to be through good ol’ American entrepreneurship. Claude K. Bell, a sculptor and portrait artist for Knott’s Berry Farm, owned a restaurant kind of in the middle of nowhere. To attract customers, he came upon the idea of adding huge dinosaurs, really huge dinosaurs. The brontosaurus, named Dinny, houses a gift shop and is 150-feet long while the t-rex, Mr. Rex, is 65-feet tall.
Construction on Dinny began in 1964 using a lot of spare material left behind from the construction of then new Interstate 10. It took 11 years to complete at a cost of $300,000. That’d be around $2 million today so here's hoping he attracted a whole ton of customers to that restaurant.
Mr. Rex was built in 1981 and originally included a giant slide that has long since been closed off.
If you go, definitely take time to walk up the steps inside Dinny’s tail and visit the gift shop. The shop has a cave-like feel with roughly three-foot-long dinosaur replicas displayed in glass cases along the stairway.
Mounted on the walls inside the store are evolutionary-related sculptures Bell created including Cro-Magnon man, Java man and others. (There’s a whole Creationism vs Evolution thing going on somewhere in all of this but I really don’t care to go there.)
You can see Dinny and Mr. Rex, as well as several smaller dinosaurs leading up to the entrance of what’s called Mr. Rex’s Dinosaur Adventure, entirely free of charge.
There is a fee for the Adventure, $15 for adults, $13 for children. Darling Daughter and I needed to keep on heading down the road so we didn’t take the time to see what it was about.
From what I can find online, it appears to be geared to children and reviews seem to be generally positive if you do have young people along for your ride. Results may vary.
No one would blame you if you thought driving three miles off the interstate and into the desert to see a handful of rusted old dinosaurs would be a waste of time.
Darling Daughter and I kind of wondered the same thing as we headed out to Rattlesnake Ranch, 50 miles east of Tucson near the bustling community of Dragoon, population 178.
Also, considering her phobia of all things snake, I thought it best not to fill her in on the name of the place until the last possible moment. It even has signs warning about rattlesnakes in the area and that “all snakes are protected here”.
But let me tell you son, you’d be wrong about thinking it’s a waste of time. The place is incredible. I highly recommend stopping if you’re traveling down I-10.
And, you are in the dessert so snakes are always a possibility but no more here than anywhere else. We saw a LOT of small lizards running around, but no slithering things.
What is there though, are at least 20 very large metal sculptures, mostly of dinosaurs along with a handful of life size horses with Native Americans riding atop.
The sculptures are true works of art. I’d first thought they were all the work of a lone, eccentric, individual.
Instead they have been created by a number of different artists, most of them by Cristian and Manuel Gadibay from Mexico. (The ranch is located just 60 miles north of the Mexican border.) Small signs posted near each lets you know the artist’s name.
The dinosaurs include a velociraptor, t-rex, triceratop and something called an ankylosaurus. A rattlesnake sculpture near the entrance stands at least six feet tall and includes 1,200 individual metal scales. The strangest display of the bunch is of a dinosaur and horse charging each other.
The Native American sculptures include a tribute to End of the Trail, the famous piece serving as a commentary on the mistreatment done by white people upon Native Americans in the 1800s and earlier.
There is surprisingly little information available online about the history behind Rattlesnake Ranch, who owns it, how the sculptures arrived here, etc. If you find any, let me know.
What I do know is there is a small house on the property. You’re free to drive in and look around as long as the gate near the road is open. A donation box is located near the entrance and I encourage everyone to drop in a few bucks, it’s worth it.
The address for the ranch, if you need coordinates, is 4655 E. Dragoon Rd., Benson, AZ.
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