From the interstate freeway, the remarkable view of two monster dinosaurs, just a short distance west of beautiful Palm Springs, lies a favorite stopover for any traveler. The 150-ton Dinny and 100-ton Mr. Rex Dinosaurs stand proudly and only meters from what used to be the Wheel Inn Restaurant owned by a sculptor Claude Bell. The only up side to the restaurant being gone is the fact that makes the museum easier to see from the freeway.
This story is quite inspiring because something that was initially meant to direct traffic to a restaurant turned out to become historical monuments in California. Having built some other sculptures using sand and taking part in different festivals during his young adult age, Claude Bell created a more permanent icon that has lasted and will continue to last for decades.
In 1960, Claude and a few friends set an establishment of the Dinny that is 14m high and 46m long. Using leftover materials from the construction of Interstate 10, they were able to design and erect the monument. After 11 years and approximately $330k, this magnificent monument was complete. Initially, the structure was constructed with steel shaping to resemble a dinosaur, but in 1972, the monument got its first skin when it was sprayed with gunite to cover the steel outline.
Mr. Rex was the next creation. Construction began in 1981. According to Claude, he intended to install a giant slide on its tail, but that never happened. Sadly, he passed away in 1988 without completing the slide leaving the tail filled with concrete making it unusable for sliding. Even before his death, he had drafted a third icon, the woolly mammoth, and prehistoric garden but construction never started. Despite his death, his daughter Wendy Murphy asserts that the dinosaurs will never die.
After several videos and films depicting the dinosaurs in 1985, the museum gained popularity. The comedy film “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” and video song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” featured the two brontosauruses, prompting many travel magazines in Palm Springs to make it headline news. Since then, Claude’s sculptures have become known across the world.
In the mid-1990s, the remaining family of Claude Bell the property was sold to young-earth creationists, the Cabazon Family Partners and MKA Cabazon Partnership. Wheel-In Restaurant was sold to Karel and Marie Kothera in 1993 but closed its doors in 2013. The new owners wanted to transform the place into a children’s museum exhibition center. They obtained expansion approvals to include gift shops, museum, restaurant, and a 60-room motel at the street exit in Cabazon.
The legacy of Claude still lives in Cabazon with robotic dinosaurs, his sculptures, and a wall painting situated in the gift shop. Make a mental note to make a pit stop at Cabazon on your way from Los Angeles to Palm Springs off of Interstate 10, you won’t regret it.
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