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Dinny the dinosaur and t-rex.

Claude Bell's Dinosaurs

Field review by the editors.

Cabazon, California

From the interstate highway the uncommon view of two giant dinosaurs, on an arid plain surrounded by mountains, is an irresistible magnet. But tourists are not the only ones compelled to stop. Well within L.A.'s convenient day-drive sphere, the Cabazon dinos became media darlings in the 1980s, appearing in everything from Coke commercials to MTV videos to the film Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

T-Rex and Dinny.

They were built by Claude Bell, who owned the adjacent Wheel Inn on I-10. Claude, a Knott's Berry Farm amusement park statue sculptor and portrait painter, took eleven years to build Dinny, a 150-foot-long, 45-foot high, 50-ton brontosaurus (apatosaurus). It was arguably the largest dinosaur in America. To cut costs, he scavenged rebar and cement from the construction of the freeway. Visitors could enter Dinny's interior, with its small museum and gift shop; Claude would cite his boyhood spent near Atlantic City's walk-though Lucy the Elephant as inspiration for Dinny. Claude's admission sign promised speedier work on the rest of the dinosaur family he planned (he owned 62 acres at the site).

Claude's next project, a giant Tyrannosaurus with a slide down its tail, was nearing completion when he died, age 91, in 1988. More sculptures were on the drawing board, including a Woolly Mammoth. The Tyrannosaurus -- known as "Mr. Rex" -- was never completed and, according to the museum manager in Dinny's belly, "it never will be."

1985: Claude Bell's dinosaur and Wheel Inn restaurant.
1985: Claude Bell's dinosaur and Wheel Inn restaurant.

In 2005 Gary Kanter, an Orange County developer, began working with Pastor Robert Darwin Chiles to use the dinosaurs of Cabazon as a platform for their Creationist views. That ended after about ten years. The current owners like to repaint the dinosaurs several times a year in nontraditional dinosaur colors -- but, then, no one really knows what colors dinosaurs were anyway.

The Wheel Inn, owned by Karel and Marie Kothera since 1993, closed in September 2013, and was bulldozed in December 2016.

Claude Bell's Dinosaurs

Address:
50770 Seminole Drive, Cabazon, CA
Directions:
I-10, Main Street exit, 13 miles west of Palm Springs.
Phone:
951-922-8700
Admission:
Adults $13. Free to view outside.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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