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Highway Dinosaurs

concrete dinosaurs at cabazon

For as long as I can remember the dinosaurs at Cabazon have been paying homage to Kitsch architecture in the desert on the way to Palm Springs. They stand on the North side of I-10 as monuments to incredulity. What is a plant eating dinosaur doing in a sparsely vegetated desert? What would Tyrannosaurus Rex feed on after the plant eater was dispatched? Originally, the dinosaurs were built to house a restaurant and gift shop. The restaurant never took off but the gift shop continues to beckon visitors more intent to climb into the bowels of a concrete dinosaur than to purchase cheap souvenirs.

For years, the dinosaurs at Cabazon have been a pre-eminent photo-op for more than a few fine art photographers who have been attracted by the vision of two dinosaurs hovering above the freeway. The dinosaurs used to stand pretty much alone - sharing their patch of desert with a low profile ramshackle gas station and convenience store. Alone, that is, except for the constant stream of the curious who - lured by the concrete monsters - stopped, gawked and bought gas and supplies. The dinosaurs were a fixture, a comfortable sight gag you passed before encountering the equally incongruous wind farms on the way to the lushness of a resort community in a transformed desert. You got the feeling that here was a bit of concrete pre-history free to roam the desert unencumbered.

But the glory days of the Cabazon dinosaurs are over. Two fast food restaurants now virtually obscure the dinosaurs from the passing motorists. And the dinosaurs have been caged - ignominiously surrounded by chain link fencing. It's now a concrete "Jurassic Park" mini-zoo with fast food and gas-ops. The feeling has changed. The dinosaurs at Cabazon have gone from classic California Kitsch to just plain pre-millennium California Tack.

text and photograph © 1998 Gary Fisher

Postscript (March, 2003): The dinosaurs are no longer "caged" but hold court in a grassy mini-park. The fast-food restaurants remain - serving high caloric "meals" that are as nourishing as the dinosaurs are "real".

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