Monsters in the Desert: Sky Art Sculptures of Borrego Springs

Something prehistoric. Something mythical. Something otherworldly. Here, in the middle of the desert, is a magical menagerie of free-standing sculptures that will astound you.

Imagine driving along Borrego Springs Road and something catches your attention—a dark form in the desert landscape. You spy a horse as it rears off to the side of the road. You look again and it is big, but it doesn’t seem to be moving. Then you look again and you realize it is a huge sculpture that has captured your attention. Then, rising out of the flat desert landscape, an elephant appears. Alarmingly close by, a T-Rex bears its maw chasing a saber-tooth tiger.

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the corners of your eyes these large structures can be deceptively realistic. This is not a mirage but the gifts of visionary benefactor Dennis Avery (now deceased) and the craft of artist/welder Ricardo Breceda.

The original steel welded sculptors began arriving in April 2008, taking up residence on Avery’s private parcel of land known as Galleta Meadows Estate and easily visible from Borrego Springs Road, north and south. There are now over 130 meticulously crafted metal sculptures sprinkled throughout the small town of Borrego Springs. Elephants, raptors, mammoths, sloths, and saber-toothed tigers prowl the desert off Borrego Springs Road north and south of the town proper. From ground-hugging desert tortoises to rearing horses, each rust-colored sculpture is filled with intricate detail–from the curling eyelashes of 10-foot high elephants to the shaved metal fur of the equally imposing sloths.

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Made of waffle-sized pieces of shaped steel, the sculptures weigh between 800 and 1,000 pounds each. It’s just basic rusting steel that gives it a very nice patina resembling hide. The forms are representative of prehistoric animals, the original inhabitants of Borrego Springs. The Gomphotherium free-standing art structures are placed in various locations along Borrego Springs Road and Henderson Canyon Road. The sculptures are set in natural areas where the animals appear to be a normal part of the landscape.

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery is the son of the founder of Avery Dennison, one of the world’s largest label-making companies. In the early 1990s, Avery was persuaded to buy land in Borrego Springs, primarily by people who wanted open space preserved.

“When there was the huge savings and loan crash in the early 1990s everything was for sale in Borrego,” Avery said. “Nobody wanted to buy a thing. So I bought everything.”

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery owns roughly three square miles of noncontiguous parcels stretching across town.

“I ended up being landed gentry in the basin of Borrego somewhat accidentally,” he said. “I haven’t done anything with it except open it up to the public once a year when the flowers show up.”

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery had long been interested in the paleontological history of the basin. In 2006, he helped finance a book about the fossil treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert. He also came across a Mexican artist, Ricardo Breceda, who worked out of Perris, California, and conceived the notion of having Breceda re-create the fossil history in a way people could appreciate. The designs are based on the book’s renditions, drawn by other artists and based on fossils, of what the animals looked like.

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Starting more than 100 years ago, some paleontologists started kicking up some tusks and bones and birds, and it turns out Borrego Springs is the burial ground for the past 7 million years of these fossil remains of the original inhabitants of Borrego, when it was really water and jungle-like,” Avery said.

The sculptures, two of which are 12 feet tall and 20 feet long, depict a family of gomphotheres—relatives of the woolly mammoth that lived roughly 3 million years ago in the Borrego Valley. All are three-dimensional replicas of animals that roamed the Borrego Valley during the Pliocene epoch, when the area was riparian forest.

Galleta Meadows sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Palm Canyon Campground (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park); The Springs at Borrego RV Resort and Golf Course

Worth Pondering…

I am part of all that I have met
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson

Road-tripping on California’s Less-traveled Lanes

California is such a large state there is no shortage of exciting road trips and fun things to do

Road trips have never been more appealing, offering the liberating feeling of open space while keeping us far from crowds. Once you’ve checked Scenic Highway 1 off your bucket list, there are plenty of other intriguing ways to traverse the Golden State.

Borrego Springs metal sculptures

Below, we’ll dive deep into a less-traveled route as it passes a weird lake, skirts a national park, offers quirky mementos of state history, and introduces you to Gold Rush lore. Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people. Also, get the latest information about your destination before proceeding. Check for fire restrictions and other closures. We know how quickly things can change.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian

Julian is a small mountain community in Southern California located at the intersection of California highways 78 and 79. This historic gold-mining town is nestled among oak and pine forests between the north end of the Cuyamaca mountains and the south slope of Volcan Mountain. Take a step back in time to the days of Julian’s beginning rooted in the 1870s gold rush and discover the charms of Julian. You’ll enjoy visiting Julian for its laid-back charm, historical buildings, beautiful surroundings, and the delicious apple pies.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borrego Springs

A big part of any road trip is stumbling upon bizarre roadside attractions—and there are plenty to experience in the California desert. Just outside Borrego Springs and near the boundary of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, sculptor Ricardo Breceda assembled roughly 130 gigantic scrap-metal sculptures of animals, including dinosaurs, and a saber-toothed cat. These fanciful creatures seem to march across the scruffy flats.

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Salton Sea 

Drive from El Centro to the Salton Sea, which was created after a Colorado River dam overflowed in 1905. Today, the Salton Sea is one of the world’s largest inland seas, lying at 227 feet below sea level and measuring 45 miles long.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park 

One of the most unique parks in the country’s public lands treasure trove, Joshua Tree is named after its unusual, alien-esque trees, which are actually a member of the agave family.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi

Lying at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, Lodi enjoys a classic Mediterranean climate of warm days and cool evenings, ideal for growing wine grapes. Wander historic downtown Lodi with century-old brick buildings, brick-cobbled streets lined with elm trees and turn-of-the-century light poles. You’ll love this area and the way the city has maintained its history and heritage. Many unique shops, restaurants, and more than a dozen wine tasting boutiques and exciting restaurants.

Gold Rush town of Moke Hill near Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonora 

Here, you’ll find the Tuolumne County Museum in a former jailhouse. You could detour north to Columbia State Historic Park, which is a preserved town from the Gold Rush days. Then you’ll head north on Highway 49, named for the 1849 Gold Rush that turned San Francisco from a town into a major city—and that forever changed the state of California.

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angels Camp and Mark Twain 

Just beyond Sonora up Highway 49 is Angels Camp, where—if you happen to be there in May—you might catch a frog-jumping event in honor of Mark Twain’s first short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” The story, which won Twain literary acclaim is based on a story he heard in an Angels Camp bar when he lived there hoping to find gold.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold Rush Country 

In Placerville, tour a gold mine that dates to 1888. Further on, Grass Valley has its own historic gold mine, Empire Mine, and the North Star Mining Museum. If you’re there in March, you can watch the St. Piran’s Day events, which commemorate the miners from Cornwall who settled here over 150 years ago.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park 

After you’ve struck it rich panning for gold, do you really need anything else? Well, head a bit further on to be wowed by the geysers, lava rocks, and forested alpine peaks of Lassen National Park. It’s the ultimate reward after an unusual drive up the little-known roads of this well-known state.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The journey and not the destination is the joy of RVing.