joanna irl

Roadside Attractions: Cabazon Dinosaurs

I told you last week that I have a particular soft spot for odd roadside attractions, and since I’ve recently been to one I thought I’d share a little bit about it. I’m as much interested in the stories behind the peculiar stops as the stops themselves, and this one is no exception: the Cabazon Dinosaurs.

The first dino, Dinny the apatosaurus, was completed in 1975 and “Large Marge” the t-rex was as close to being finished as she’ll ever be in 1988, at the time of the creator’s death. The dinos were meant to be a good advertisement for the Wheel Inn, the diner located in the adjacent parking lot, but have now outlived the restaurant, which was bulldozed in late 2016. There’s a, well, peculiar museum attached now, but you don’t need to pay admission to take photos of the giant dinosaurs, nor to go into the gift shop inside Dinny’s stomach (entrance in his tail). Free is the best way to go for this one, if you ask me.

These two were all over TV in the 1980s, and appeared in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, so they’ve got a good bit of nostalgia appeal, plus, y’know, they’re giant dinosaurs. They are a fun place to take photos.

The stairs for the gift shop go through Dinny’s tail….

It’s a kick to be able to actually sit on these guys’ feet, and to go up into the gift shop (even if you’re not going to buy anything) because it’s a chance to actually touch something and interact with it.

My friend Kara stood on Marge’s toes!

That’s one of the best things about a good roadside stop– the tangible connection not only to it, but to all the people who’ve come before. Kids climbed on Dinny before I was even born.

It’s a little surreal to see these massive figures standing above the palm trees, with the California mountains behind them, and they are obviously much larger than their fossilized counterparts, but that adds to the whimsy and charm of the experience.

I was recently there because of a weekend roadtrip with a couple of friends that took us to Joshua Tree National Park (if you follow my instagram, you’ve seen all the desert spam lately!) and this was along the highway on our drive back to San Diego from there. Definitely worth the little detour.

Have you visited the Cabazon Dinosaurs? Or do you have an off-beat roadside stop you’d recommend? I’m always looking for new places to add to my list! 

joanna irl

Driving to Arizona: No map? No problem! Unless you get detoured onto a historic highway…

In the age of the GPS, I haven’t bothered in quite a while to buy a roadmap. I haven’t needed one in a long time, and even when I’ve lost GPS signal I have been either close enough to home not to need it, or in a relatively small place where it is difficult to get too lost. The outer banks of North Carolina are an example: you’ve got very limited options until you’re driving straight into the ocean, so just keep moving along, all right?

Arizona roadtrip, J driving

When heading to the Phoenix area for the renaissance festival the other weekend, J and I looked up directions and headed out onto the open road sans map. You might think this is a little crazy, except that from San Diego to Phoenix is almost a straight shot on I-8. In fact, we were actually going to Casa Grande, which IS pretty much a straight shot off of the 8. We’d researched and looked at a map at home and knew the best tactic was to fill the gas tank near the Arizona border and then just keep going across the desert as quickly as possible. Plus we had our trusty GPS!

Arizona desert roadtrip

Interstate 8 goes across southern California in an almost due-east (plus some local meandering) fashion. Growing up on the east coast, I never realized that the border between the US and Mexico is at a rather significant slant. Neither did J. Keep this in mind, but if you want to see for yourself, go map it.

So down the interstate we went, listening to the radio and enjoying the scenery.

Arizona roadtrip, back on the insterstate

And then we needed a pit stop.

There was an exit with “Services” signs (including a gas station, which means bathrooms!), so we exited and went along the off-ramp and found ourselves at another stretch of road.

Arizona roadtrip, historic route 80

It was an older highway, patched with tar, and no indication of which direction the gas station might be. We turned to the right and drove a couple of miles.


Arizona roadtrip, historic route 80 Jacumba

So we turned around and went the other direction. Still not much, except some old houses and such, but I noticed the sign: Historic Route 80. I’m a sucker for historic, scenic routes, and we could still SEE the interstate at that point, so we decided that since a good roadtrip always involves detours and adventures, we’d give the old road a try.

Arizona roadtrip, old house

As we rambled down Historic 80, we started seeing small farms and old stone buildings and a dark metal fence that kept getting closer and closer. Wondering aloud about the fence, it suddenly struck both of us: we were looking into Mexico!

Arizona roadtrip, MX border fence

After about ten miles, we reached another entrance to the interstate, plus a rest stop where we could pull over for a bit. I bought a map then, and sure enough, we had driven as close along the border as you can.

Arizona desert sunset, orange

After that, we crossed the mountains and reached the Arizona line, then quickly passed into the wide flats of the Arizona desert. When land is that flat and dry, certain… smells… permeate the air. We knew every time we drove within ten miles of a ranch, for sure.

Arizona roadtrip, desert cactus sunset

For a while, it was exciting to see the tall cacti that we’ve mostly seen in movies pop up on the side of the road. And the sunset was really spectacular behind the purple mountains. (And now I have seen Purple Mountain Majesties, though not so much of the fruited plain. Mostly it was sand. Maybe further north and east and not Arizona?)

Arizona roadtrip, pink sunset over desert

But yes, the desert is beautiful. And large. As we discovered yet again on the drive back home, wherein our GPS took us to (literally) the middle of nowhere, and no map could have prevented it. But that’s another story for another day.