This year there is more to see in the desert than wildflowers.
Come for the wild things — mammoths, wild horses, saber tooths, camels, sloths, prehistoric birds and giant tortoises. All are creatures that lived in the Borrego Valley millions of years ago and have been resurrected as bigger-than-life metal sculptures created by a Riverside County artist. The menagerie, which currently numbers about 50, has taken up residence alongside Borrego Springs Road, north and south of Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs.
The works of art are the happy consequence of the artist’s misfortune. Formerly in construction, Ricardo Breceda, 46, sustained a severe back injury about 10 years ago that changed his life.
“I broke my back,” explained the Perris resident. “A couple of disks were smashed so no more heavy lifting. I started doing little things in metal just to kill time, and I gave them to my friends.”
Then Breceda’s daughter encouraged him to think big.
“She was 6 at the time and the ‘Jurassic Park’ movie had come out. She said, ‘Let’s make a big dinosaur.’ So I made a T. rex and a Spinosaurus. They were 20 by 40 feet, and I put them (on my land) by the I-215 freeway. Then there was bumper-to-bumper traffic and the television cameras came and the rest is history.”
What happened next was an encounter about five years ago with millionaire philanthropist and amateur paleontologist Dennis Avery, who winters in Borrego Springs. He saw Breceda’s metal dinosaurs flanking the freeway and commissioned him to create 65 prehistoric beasts. The artist modeled his creatures after drawings in a book that Avery helped publish. The first sculptures were installed in April 2008 on acreage that Avery owns, and the number of beasts has been growing steadily since.
Breceda uses both recycled and new metal.
“Friends collect the recycled metal and I try to use it the most that I can. The inside of the sculptures are recycled. The outside is new.”
Construction and moving the animals requires a crew of eight.
“We do one or two pieces a month,” he said. “It’s a lot of cutting and banging. I could do it myself, but it would take forever. I do the details.”
So far, reviews have been positive, from both visitors and residents.
“We found your creations earlier this month, and I took almost 100 photos,” wrote Hemet resident Evelyn Anderson on Avery’s Web site. “There really are no words to adequately thank you for the kindness and generosity you have shown, not only in displaying the sculptures, but also in opening your land to the public.”
Not surprisingly, the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce is happy with its new neighbors.
“(The sculptures) are fantastic for the community,” Kimberly Williamson, director of the chamber, said. “We can’t keep the brochures in stock. The numbers of visitors have been increasing daily.”
As a bonus, the wildflower show could be good this year.
“We had almost two inches of rain (last week). Wildflower seeds are water-soluble and in dry years, go deep into the ground. This last rain was a good soaking and means the water goes deep.”
It’s been more than two years since Breceda began bringing prehistory into the present, and this phase of the project probably will be completed sometime this year. What’s next?
“Dinosaurs and raptors from Jurassic times,” he said. “I’m enjoying doing it and pleased to know that everyone likes them. I never thought I would be doing something like this. It’s like having a hobby and being paid for it.”
To learn more about the sculptures, visit www.galletameadows.com; the artist, www.ricardobreceda.com; Anza Borrego Desert State Park, www.abdsp.org; and Borrego Springs, www.borregospringschamber.com.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.