Cabazon Dinosaurs: Awesome California Road Trip Stop


It is indisputable scientific fact that modern man has two passions: cars and dinosaurs. The Cabazon Dinosaurs’ creator, Claude Bell, knew this basic fact, and sought to capitalize on it by building his dinosaurs in the 1960s along the roadside in California. I can further corroborate this fact: while driving the I-10 to Palm Springs recently, I saw these magnificent beasts, and immediately slammed on my brakes, drawn to them like a moth to a flame.

From Dinosaurs to Jurassic Park, Americans have been overcome by the allure of dinosaurs since the dawn of recorded time. (Or, at least since the early-1990s.) California has a lot of incredible attractions, but (to my knowledge) no other giant dinosaurs, making this the single greatest attraction in all of the land. The Cabazon Dinosaurs are not only a must-visit, but are famous, having been featured in numerous films, including Pixar’s Inside Out.

Getting past my typical pro-dinosaur political platform, so many things about the Cabazon Dinosaurs are simply preposterous. For starters, Claude Bell had the idea to build his first dinosaur back in the 1960s, and started construction of the Brontosaurus (you know, the dinosaur those darned liberals in Congress tried to eliminate during the budget cuts of ’05), Dinny, in 1964 for the explicit purpose of attracting visitors to his Wheel Inn Cafe.

This alone isn’t altogether outlandish. “California Crazy” architecture was pretty common at the time, and largely existed for this exact purpose. What is a bit crazy is that the dinosaur took 11 years to construct, at a cost of $300,000. First, after seeing this dinosaur, I don’t know why it couldn’t have been built in a few days or so. This isn’t some lavish royal residence–it’s a crappy roadside attraction. I’m going to give Bell the benefit of the doubt and assume he must have been trying to animate Dinny, hence the increased time and costs.

Second, I don’t know the exact prices at Wheel Inn Cafe, but based on the looks of the place, it wasn’t some Michelin-starred restaurant with huge margins. There is no way on earth a $300,000 investment ever would have paid off in terms of increased business. (In fact, Wheel Inn Cafe went out of business some years ago.)


So, what do you do after wasting 11 years and $300,000 building a low-quality Brontosaurus? Why build another dinosaur, of course! Cabazon Dinosaur doesn’t have quite the same ring as Cabazon Dinosaurs, after all. Having honed his craft on Dinny, Mr. Rex (the Tyrannosaurus Rex, in case the name didn’t give it away) only took 5 years to be built, and was completed by 1986. No construction cost is publicly available for Mr. Rex, but I’m going to estimate that he was $2.75 billion (hey, inflation, right?).

Not one to be satisfied with two cheap dinosaurs attracting patrons to his restaurant, Bell then planned to build a whole prehistoric garden including a large Woolly Mammoth. At this point, I’m beginning to think the guy was actually the most savvy dinosaur-enthusiast ever, and wanted his own Jurassic Park (before the technology for a live-dinosaur park was there). He merely claimed he was building the dinosaurs for his restaurant’s sake as a ruse to take a tax deduction on their construction costs. Kudos, Mr. Bell.


In any case, Mr. Bell died before his Jurassic Park could come to fruition, and through a series of unfortunate events, a bunch of loons took ownership of the gloriously cheap dinosaurs and subverted their grandeur and natural beauty to teach the children of the world about creationism.

Because what better use of the inside of a Brontosaurus building than a gift shop with a bunch of signs “educating” guests about how “the evolutionary origin of life is impossible”? The website for the Cabazon Dinosaurs even has a suggested reading list with books that “provide a persuasive and compelling case that the theory of Darwinian evolution is fundamentally and fatally flawed.”

Perhaps the creationists mean that the Cabazon Dinosaurs didn’t evolve. With that, I can agree, but their ‘divine creator’ was named Claude, not God. To the extremists running these dinosaurs now: I get it, you don’t like science. With that said, don’t you think there might be, I dunno, 11,454,764,336 better uses of two roadside dinosaurs than trying to push a creationist agenda?


In their defense, at least all of this creationist literature is confined to the inside of Dinny and the on-site museum (which charges admission–and there was no way I was giving these people my money, so I can’t speak to its “quality”), with the outside being unadulterated dinosaur goodness.

The exterior of the dinosaurs is all you’re going to want to see, anyway. In seriousness, I wandered back by the entrance to the museum, and the signage and everything looked very amateurish, makeshift, and dilapidated. It’s still very possible the robotic dinosaurs and the rest of whatever it is in the museum are cool, but I wouldn’t gamble my money on it.


Regardless, the Cabazon Dinosaurs are a classic slice of Americana and free “road-trip” diversion. For you younger folks, these guys are perfect for #selfies. They are right off the side of the road on I-10, the interstate that runs from the border of Arizona to Santa Monica/Los Angeles. They are 5 minutes from the exit, with picnic tables under them and fast food restaurants directly in front of the dinosaurs. While I roll my eyes at having the Cabazon Dinosaurs being the vehicle for propaganda, everyone is entitled to their beliefs so long as they don’t harm others, and at least the current owners allow open access to the exterior of the dinosaurs, which is all 95%+ of visitors are going to care about, anyway.

If you’re planning a California road trip or vacation, check out my California category of posts for other things to see and do. For photo licensing inquires, please contact me.

Your Thoughts…

Have you been to the Cabazon Dinosaurs? What did you think of them? Are you a staunch supporter of their creationism origins, or do you skew more towards the Flying Spaghetti Monster theory, yourself? Have any questions or other thoughts? Please share below in the comments!

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6 replies
  1. lisa
    lisa says:

    If you are a dinosaur lover (and really, who isn’t?) then you need to take a trip up to Oregon and check out Prehistoric Gardens. We took a road trip from Seattle to Anaheim last summer and that was one of our stops along the way. Epic!

  2. Mike
    Mike says:

    A funny article. Been to them many times as a kid. However there was one important detail you left out of your research…the dinosaurs were in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Haha, everyone is bringing up Pee Wee’s Big Adventure on Twitter and Facebook. I know I saw that film when I was young, but I don’t recall the dinosaurs in it. I guess there are a lot of Pee Wee Herman fans out there?! 😉

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