The Cabazon Dinosaurs: One Man’s Dream

Mr. Rex, as he is known today.Photo by Osie Turner
Mr. Rex, as he is known today.
Photo by Osie Turner

The Cabazon Dinosaur Park is possibly one of the best roadside attractions in the U.S. Anyone driving on the Interstate Highway 10 between Riverside and Palm Springs, in southern California, cannot miss the gigantic T-Rex and Brontosaurus looming over the horizon. If you are looking for somewhere to stretch your legs, there is no better place to do so than at this unique roadside attraction in Cabazon.

The two largest and most popular dinosaurs are Dinny, the Brontosaurus, and Mr. Rex, the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Both were designed by Claude Bell, an artist known to locals as the “Dinosaur Man.” Dinny was constructed between 1964 and 1975, and Mr. Rex began in 1981 and completed in 1986. Bell also owned and operated the Wheel In restaurant on site.

Claude Kenneth Bell grew up in New Jersey, and began working Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk drawing animals for change as a teenager. He actually made more money than his father, who worked as a glassblower, in this way, according to the Los Angeles Times. Seeing Lucy the Elephant, a six-story building elephant building in Atlantic City, as a kid inspired him to build the dinosaurs at Cabazon.

Dinny the BrontosaurusPhoto by Osie Turner
Dinny the Brontosaurus
Photo by Osie Turner

Bell worked as an artist and sculptor his entire life. In his early years, he mostly worked around the Atlantic City area and later traveled around the country attending fairs and carnivals where he displayed his creations. During the 1936 Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland, Ohio, Bell sculpted a larger than life Abraham Lincoln out of sand on the shore of Lake Erie (1).

He eventually settled in Los Angeles in 1940. There, he was hired to design a number of statues for Knott’s Berry Farm. Bell originally purchased the land in Cabazon in 1946 to build a home for his ailing wife, but she died shortly thereafter. He remarried in the 1950s and used the land as a place to get away from the city before beginning work on Dinny in 1964.

While Bell’s creations are beloved by thousands today, not everyone was impressed with his life’s work. The mayor of Cabazon thought Dinny was an eyesore and tried to shut the project down by requiring a safety inspection form an outside engineer. Dinny passed with flying colors, and the mayor was recalled from office as a result!

“We threw him out,” Bell was quoted as saying. “That’s the only one who said the dinosaur was in the way. The others were all for it.”

Bell later worked in the portrait studio at Knott’s Berry Farm until retiring. Not that his retirement was spent idling around; it was then that he devoted himself to the dinosaur park at Cabazon full time.

Bell had plans to add a woolly mammoth and saber-toothed tiger to the park, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, but unfortunately that never came to fruition. Bell passed away from pneumonia at Humana Hospital in Los Angeles on September 19, 1988. He was 91 years old.

The Cabazon dinosaurs have featured in a number of films and commercials over the years, but the most memorable reference has to be from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985). In the minute-long scene Pee Wee is chased around the two larger than life dinosaurs by a femur-wielding Andy, the film’s protagonist.

Today, the Wheel In restaurant is closed, but there is a Burger King next to Dinny. That pales in comparison, but there are nice picnic tables underneath of the Dinny where anyone can have lunch. Both Dinny the Brontosaur and Mr. Rex are free to view and photograph.

My son, Erik, looking in awe at Mr. Rex.Photo by Osie Turner
My son, Erik, looking in awe at Mr. Rex.
Photo by Osie Turner

If that is not enough and you want more dinosaurs, then you may want to pay the entrance fee to the museum. While most are not satisfied with the quality of the newer additions within the museum, however, one major bonus is that you can climb inside the T-Rex and look out from between his teeth. Be forewarned, the museum and gift shop are run from a Creationist point of view so don’t be surprised to find Young Earth references.

The Cabazon Dinosaur Park is located at 50800 Seminole Dr, Cabazon, CA 92230. It is about a 3 and a half to 4 hour drive from Las Vegas and could easily be combined with a visit to Joshua Tree National Park. To plan your visit to the attraction please visit RoadTripAmerica.com; for more info about the museum, visit their official website, Cabazondinosaurs.com.

1. Carnivals: The great lakes exposition midway. (1936, Oct 03). The Billboard (Archive: 1894-1960), 48, 58.

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