Upon embarking on a recent Route 66 road trip, we made our first detour in order to visit the Cazabon Dinosaurs. This roadside attraction consists of the largest sculpted dinosaurs in existence. The dinosaurs were the pet project of an artist and cafe-owner named Claude Bell (they are also known as Claude Bell's Dinosaurs), though he only completed 1.5 of the massive sculptures before he died. These dinosaurs became all the rage in 1980's film - you may remember them from Pee Wee's Big Adventure, The Wizard, or Paris, Texas. My distant memories of these films are what incited this side trip to begin with. Though their heyday is long past, the Cazabon dinosaurs do not disappoint.
Today, the park is a dilapidated half-abandoned kitsch oasis in the heart of The Inland Empire. To get there you travel through the desert along the Interstate 10, America's southernmost transcontinental highway, a trucker's highway. The collapsing fences around the parking lot, the lack of tourists (my boyfriend and I were the only visitors), and the lone teenager working the tiny gift-shop-come-ticketing-booth all lead to the conclusion that the Cazabon dinosaurs are not long for this world.
In eccentric contrast, the dinosaurs are situated on the outskirts of the Morongo Indian Reservation. In the distance, as there's no want for space in desert country, the nearest visible structures are the epic Morongo Casino (it’s the tallest building in The Inland Empire) and the Morongo Gas Station. The new and shiny tourist trap lives right alongside the broken-down tourist trap.
Maybe I'm romanticizing things because this was my first trip to The Great American West, but the Cazabon Dinosaurs struck me as a compelling piece of cultural archaeology. They simultaneously manage to represent both our obsession with the past and our disregard for it. I'll leave you with some photos from my desert-dinosaur expedition and a few words of wisdom from a recent TIME magazine article: