I was caught in the shadow of a man-sized lizard. Its long sharp teeth were like railroad spikes and it had cruel, curled claws. Not only that, it was giving me a baleful gaze, the same I’ve seen before on my cat Pixie when she’s finally about to murder some poor spider.
This velociraptor wasn’t alone either. Another lurked nearby. Why are they always in pairs? But I didn’t die. I shot some photographs instead. Life, uh, finds a way when the dinosaurs are made of metal.
Wildflower Trip Goes Awry
Other than a little road runner skittering along the highway, all the animals (and dinosaurs) I saw in Borrego Springs, California, were made of welded steel. More than 130 such sculptures are spread across the desert, depicting dinosaurs, extinct prehistoric mammals, wild animals native to the California desert, and people from Old West history. There’s even a sea serpent rising out of the sand.
Emily and I recently went on our yearly vacation to see her parents in Southern California. To mix things up a bit, we went with them on a road trip to see wildflowers at Anza Borrego State Park. On the way I’d been half-listening to my mother-in-law talk excitedly about Borrego Springs when she mentioned something about metal sculptures. Sculptures? What sculptures?
Then we saw some along the highway. Horses! Horse sculptures, rather, all rust-covered and elaborately cobbled together with recycled scrap metal. We saw more in the town itself. The metal sculptures are incredible. There’s so many different kinds and they all seem to be caught in a moment, like they’re moving. We decided to delay seeing wildflowers for a while and went hunting for the sculptures instead. Sometimes when traveling, you put aside your plans and go do whatever amuses you at the moment.
Borrego Springs is a small and quiet desert town about two hours northeast of San Diego. Along with Anza Borrego State Park, one of the town’s best features is its numerous free-standing works of art. These roadside steel sculptures are spread out across patches of private property called Galleta Meadows Estate. But don’t worry. It’s completely free, there aren’t any fences, and it’s always open to the public. Well-worn dirt roads lead off the highway to the star attractions.
A Vision For Public Art In Borrego Springs, CA
So who made all this? They’re the spectacular creations of Ricardo Breceda, a Mexican-born sculptor and welder who discovered his passion for steel sculptures by accident. He’d been first inspired to make a dinosaur for his daughter after watching Jurassic Park in 2001. He’s not stopped since. In 2008, millionaire Dennis Avery (of Avery office labels) commissioned Breceda to make a sculpture garden starting with the prehistoric creatures that once lived in Southern California millions of years ago. This ‘Sky Art’ project grew quickly and now dots Avery’s undeveloped property around Borrego Springs. Avery died in 2012, but his vision for awesome public art lives on.
Read on for a few of my favorites!
Extinct Creatures From Millions of Years Ago
Dinosaurs once ruled the world. Then came the age of super-sized mammals, who came and went too. There’s nothing like running from a dinosaur while on vacation or going nose-to-nose with giant sloths.
The Old West
In keeping with the theme of bygone days, there’s steel statues of people from the last couple hundred years. There’s a Spanish padre, Francisco Garces, with his loyal dog. His dog’s got big chompers. At another site there’s a gold miner and his impatient horse. I like how the wind rattles the cast iron pans on the back of the horse.
These wild animals are rusty
Some sculptures show animals you might see today, in the Southern California desert or elsewhere in the world. There’s peccaries (a type of wild pig), tortoises and bighorn sheep. I also saw elephants, camels and tapirs. The tortoises don’t bite but they look ferocious. From a short distance away you might think that these were all real animals. It’s REALLY worth looking at the details up close.
The Serpent of Galleta Meadows
Long at last, we found the serpent! Undulating across the sand, even under the highway itself, the 350-foot-long serpent cannot be missed. Oxidized to a bright orange, it’s got a dragon head and a rattlesnake tail. It’s just amazing. Look at the scales. The tongue! It’s totally out of place. To me it symbolizes the spirit of the desert itself.
My only regret is that we didn’t have more time. What was going to be maybe an hour detour became the whole morning. Then we had to move on. The desert’s already a strange and beautiful place. These unexpectedly badass metal sculptures make it even more so.
Galleta Meadows Estate metal sculptures
various sites around Borrego Springs, CA 92004
Recommend at least 2 hours driving around, but if you want to see them all and take photos, you could spend a whole day
free admission, always available