Camping with the Dinosaurs


I was happy to cross the Yaqui Pass and descend into Borrego Springs after a week in Blair Valley. The wind had blown so fiercely the previous night that I felt like the baby wondering when the bough would break and dump me and my cradle all over the desert floor.

Borrego Springs is a little town in a big valley surrounded by mountains. It’s a busy spot where campers and off-roaders come to restock and reconnoiter, which was my purpose. As I drove out toward the orange groves, however, I stumbled upon another reason to stay in Borrego Springs—the dinosaurs.

camping with the dinosaurs

Scattered like Easter eggs in fields throughout the valley are life-size metal sculptures of prehistoric beasts. The inevitable question arises, the one I’ve asked so many times in the past months: Whoa! What’s going on here?

Turns out the prehistoric playground was the result of a fortuitous encounter between a rich man and a poor but passionate carpenter-turned-metal sculptor. Dennis Avery, the rich man who had made millions in the office supply business, was driving along the I-215 (In California, highways are always preceeded by “the.” Go figure.) when he saw the head of a tyrannosaur hanging over a fence. Can you hear the screeching of brakes as he whips his car around?

Oreo with the camels

The yard belonged to Ricardo Breceda, whose passion for creating dinosaurs from scrap metal was inflamed when he saw “Jurassic Park.” And Avery was not only a multi-millionaire, but he also shared Breceda’s love of extinct beasts. PLUS, he owned about three miles of open field in Borrego Springs, his home town. According to the news, Avery hadn’t been too keen on owning “a bunch of desert,” but the price was “too cheap to refuse.” (From the looks of things, it may still be.)

One thing led to another, and soon Breceda was handed an income and an opus: creating about 100 of his beasts for Avery’s “creature desert”; Borrego Springs was awarded an attraction that draws about 10,000 visitors every year, looking for dinosaurs and the desert bloom; and, I guess, Avery got the satisfaction of orchestrating it all. Everybody won.

Gomphotheres with a red ribbon

I won, too. Avery is very accommodating with his land and welcomes those who trespass, take pictures, hike, and camp. So I was able to share the meadow with a pair of camels and a small herd of gomphotheres (elephant ancestors). I became fond of my neighbors, although sometimes the looming hulks startled me in the dark of night.

Thank you, Mr. Avery.

looming hulks at dusk

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3 Responses to Camping with the Dinosaurs

  1. Cheryl Jay 27 February, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    Kate! How primordially wondrous. I love the image of your wandering out in the dark with these ponderosities casting their masses around you. You mention ‘gutsy gals’; Your gutsiness…you and Oreo just out there…fills me with awe.

  2. cary carlson 18 February, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    Kate, you find the most unusual places; you’re in the gomphotherium! We are having almost as much fun following along but you make me want to hop in the RV and head to the desert, instead of skiing,

    • Kate 25 February, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

      Skiing, desert–it’s all good. Glad I’m keeping you entertained during these long winter nights.


      PS: found Loners on Wheels at the Slabs. What a bunch of gutsy gals! Thanks for the tip.