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Beasts of Borrego Springs.
Grasshoppers are normal food for hungry desert creatures. They aren't normally 30 feet long.

Beasts of Borrego Springs

Field review by the editors.

Borrego Springs, California

An American multimillionaire and a Mexican-American boot salesman, working together, populated the Anza-Borrego Desert with a platoon of dagger-toothed dinosaurs and a 350-foot-long Sand Monster.

Beasts of Borrego Springs.
Proto-elephants roam the sandy desert floor.

Ricardo Breceda was selling cowboy boots in 2001 when he took his six-year-old daughter Lianna to see Jurassic Park III. After the movie, Lianna said that she wanted a dinosaur for Christmas. Ricardo decided to build one out of scrap metal: a T-rex that ended up 20 feet tall and 45 feet long. He stood it in his yard, enjoyed the attention it received, and began adding other metal creatures. Within a few years Ricardo no longer had to sell cowboy boots; he'd become a full-time sculptor.

Dennis Avery, an heir to the Avery Label fortune, stopped at Ricardo's studio in 2007. He owned three square miles of desert land around Borrego Springs, and had bankrolled a book about the region's prehistoric animals. Dennis showed Ricardo the book and its drawings of the animals. He asked Ricardo: Can you build full-size versions of these for Borrego Springs? Ricardo said that he could. His first sculptures arrived the following year.

Sculptor Ricardo Breceda.
Sculptor Ricardo Breceda delivers another prehistoric beast to Borrego Springs.

"It caused a commotion," Ricardo told us. "But it was a good commotion."

At first, Ricardo stuck to Dennis's original plan; the creatures that he built were all Plio-Pleistocene mammals, including elephant-like Gomphotheres, giant Paramylodon ground sloths, and a terrifying Aiolornis incredibilis bird with a 30-foot wingspan.

"Dinosaurs were not in Dennis's mind, because they never find fossils of dinosaurs out there," Ricardo said. "But he knows my passion for dinosaurs. He was like a kid; we was having so much fun! So we added them." Dennis also encouraged Ricardo to build a giant scorpion in honor of Ricardo's hometown of Durango, Mexico, "the land of the scorpions." And then Dennis and Ricardo added the giant fantasy dragon-serpent that undulates through the sand on either side of Borrego Springs Road. "Dennis said, 'Hey, Ricardo! Bigger is better! Let's do it!'"

That was in July 2011. A year later, Dennis Avery was dead. The family fortune passed into other hands, and Ricardo Breceda was no longer invited to make sculptures for Borrego Springs. In a span of only five years, he'd built 133 of them.

Beasts of Borrego Springs.
The undulating Sand Monster has the head of a Chinese dragon and the far-away tail of a rattlesnake.

Today the sculptures are more popular than ever, according to Francoise Rhodes, executive director of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce. The town previously saw visitors only in winter; now, said Francoise, it's busy year-round. "Not a day goes by here that we don't get five or six calls asking if they can come and see the sculptures," she said. They can; Dennis Avery decreed that his desert land would always be open to the public, and most of Ricardo's artwork is only a short drive or walk off of the main roads through town. Because they're spread over such a wide area, visiting them is like a scavenger hunt. Tourists who want to see them all can pick up a free map to the sculptures in the Embrace Borrego guide at the town Welcome Center (786 Palm Canyon Drive).

Beasts of Borrego Springs.
Tourist prey are oblivious to the menace of the mega-scorpion.

Dennis called the sculpture collection "Sky Art" because he and Ricardo angled many of them to look best at dawn, dusk, and even at night, framing the stars of the Milky Way.

"They have the darkest skies on the planet," said Ricardo, describing Borrego Springs, which is California's first International Dark-Sky Community. Serious photographers take long-exposure nighttime shots with the creatures, while casual daytime tourists snap each other in front of the toothy dinosaurs, posed as if running in terror. Visitors are advised to bring water and a hat, and to wear sturdy shoes and watch out for rattlesnakes. Despite these natural obstacles -- and the fact that some tourists drive further into the desert than they should and get stuck in the sand -- everyone seems to have a good time.

Ricardo is enjoying himself as well, even though he's no longer officially associated with his sculptures at Borrego Springs. His new studio is an hour west, but still along a main highway into town; the eight-acre yard is packed, he estimated, with more than 500 of his sculptures. "A lot of people, they want to meet the artist. I welcome them," Ricardo said. "As long as they like what I do, I will keep doing it."

Beasts of Borrego Springs

786 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs, CA
From CA-78 drive north 12 miles on either Yaqui Pass Rd or Borrego Springs Rd into town. At the town's only traffic circle, continue north a little over two miles to the Sand Monster (this map point). A printed map to all sculptures can be picked up outside the town Welcome Center at 786 Palm Canyon Drive.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Giant Tennis BallGiant Tennis Ball, Borrego Springs, CA - 3 mi.
Liar Peg Leg Smith MonumentLiar Peg Leg Smith Monument, Borrego Springs, CA - 5 mi.
Rancheti the YetiRancheti the Yeti, Ranchita, CA - 10 mi.
In the region:
Frank Sinatra Grave, Cathedral City, CA - 37 mi.

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