Dinny and his 65 foot tall pal, Mr. Rex, herald visitors from all over the world and serve as a fun reminder of the past when thunder lizards ruled the planet before mankind. Just imagine the traffic noise is the cataclysmic rumbling of hissing volcanoes in humid jungles where our present desert formed through the millennia, surviving an ice age then obscured deep under an ocean.
Dinny is the 150-foot-long Apatosaurus, often erroneously referred to as Brontosaurus, and Mr. Rex, a T. rex, are a popular roadside attraction once heralded by Huell Howser as quintessential roadside Americana.
Aside from being one of the largest of the known carnivorous dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex — T. rex, for short — is the dinosaur that has arguably received the most media exposure. It had a starring role in the “Jurassic Park” movies and has a renowned exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
The creation of the Cabazon dinosaurs began in the 1960s by Knott’s Berry Farm sculptor and portrait artist Claude K. Bell (1897–1988) at the age of 67 years old to attract customers to his Wheel Inn Restaurant, which opened in 1958 and closed in 2013.
Dinny, the first of the concrete dinosaurs weighing in at a whopping 150 tons, was started in 1964 and created over a span of eleven years. Bell created Dinny out of spare material salvaged from the construction of nearby Interstate 10 at a cost of around $300,000.
Paleontologists are still debating the posture and physiology of sauropods like Apatosaurus: did this dinosaur hold its neck at its fullest possible height to eat from the high branches of trees (which would have entailed its possessing a warm-blooded metabolism, in order to have the energy to pump all those gallons of blood 30 feet into the air), or did it hold its neck parallel to the ground, like the hose of a gigantic vacuum cleaner, feasting on low-lying shrubs and bushes? The evidence is still inconclusive.
But nobody is boasting scientific accuracy here, these two are strictly for fun. After all, how many Apatosaurus have you seen with doors, windows and stairs coming out of its side? Bell claimed the original Dinny was the first dinosaur in history to be used as a building.
Bell’s vision for Dinny was to have the dinosaur’s eyes to glow and mouth to spit fire at night. He predicted “It’ll scare the dickens out of a lot of people driving up over the pass” but this final phase did not develop. That Clyde Bell sure was a character, yes indeed.
A second dinosaur, Mr. Rex, the undisputed king of the concrete colossals, was constructed near Dinny in 1981. Mr. Rex weighs a svelte 100 tons. Originally, a giant slide was installed in Rex’s tail but it was later filled in with concrete making the slide unusable. Bell hoped to create a huge Woolly Mammoth to complete the terrifying trio but sadly he passed away before his dream could come to fruition.
Since the passing of Clyde Bell, Cabazon Dinosaurs has been the site of a museum and gift shop, in addition to being a unique photo op for thousands of curious passers-by. Dinny and Mr. Rex are free to visit, but there is a paid exhibit on-site which offers other dinosaurs, kids rides, and tours inside Dinny’s body.
You can even climb a narrow spiral staircase surrounded by red walls to get a birds-eye view from inside Mr. Rex’s giant head by peering through his enormous choppers.
Dinny and Mr. Rex and their display areas have undergone changes throughout the years which can be easily seen in movies where they were featured. Both have had a recent touch-up. For the total price of one dollar and a case of Dr. Pepper, a painting contractor applied a more realistic coat of paint down Rex’s back and altered Dinny from cartoony green to a more authentic prehistoric grey.
Pee Wee Herman and Mr. Rex were featured in a pivotal scene in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” (1985). The movie was Director Tim Burton’s debut. It earned an 89% favor rating on Rotten Tomatoes and immortalized the exclamation “Andy!” for Pee Wee fans.
British band ‘Tears for Fears’ 1985 music video, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” with Dinny the Dinosaur and Mr. Rex in the background. The music video featured numerous Southern California locales, including the Salton Sea.
In 1986, the song won “Best Single” at the Brit Awards. In the USA, it was the lead single from the album and gave the band their first Billboard Hot 100 number-one hit on 8 June 1985, remaining there for two weeks. Why did the 80s have to end?
Climax scene from The Wizard (1989), starring Fred Savage. The plot is about a boy and his brother who run away from home and hitch cross country with the help of a girl they meet to compete in the ultimate video game championship.
Hard times hit the massive beasts in the 1990s. Claude Bell’s property went up for sale shortly after his death, and for a time it looked like his museum and enormous kitschy homage to prehistoric creatures might be bulldozed to accommodate a bigger, more ferocious, modern day monster–the strip mall. The toothsome twosome were spared and now share the property with Burger King,”Home of the Whopper.” No lie.
Bell’s daughter, Wendy Murphy stated,“The dinosaurs aren’t dead and they never will be. [Dad] wanted to build a monument that would withstand the sands of time, and he has done that.”
Dinny and Mr. Rex continue their cameos in movies and books. The nostalgic roadside attraction will thrill the kidlets and mature kids at heart in your life. Let time stand still as you admire the fruits of Clyde Bell’s vision and tenacity.
Asking someone whether they prefer Dinny or Mr. Rex over the other may be likened to asking a parent to choose their favorite child. It’s just not discussed in polite society. Luckily, no one has to choose. We can love them both equally.
Weird California by Greg Bishop, Joe Oesterle and Mike Marinacci, 2006.