Roadside reptiles of Gila Bend, Arizona

January 17, 2014

Gila Bend roadside sauropod

Well, I see that our ‘roadside dinos‘ category is in a sad state. Not from lack of posts, but because most of the so-called roadside dinos found therein are entirely too polished. Real roadside dinos are assembled by non-paleontologists armed only with scrap metal, welding equipment, The Giant Golden Book of Dinosaurs (again, the real one), and a dream. Take this beauty, which stands proudly outside of a gas station in the little ol’ town of Gila Bend, Arizona. It’s covered in graffiti and you can see through the gaps in its metal hide–right into the acetylene-powered heart of roadside Americana.

Plus, it has its neck in the right place. Who could pass that up?

Gila Bend roadside rattlesnake

It shares space with this somewhat less convincing rattlesnake. I note that the snake is leaning away from the road, and the kink in its spine is at about bumper-height. In situations like these, one can only say a silent thank-you that whatever poor drunk fool did this at least had the good taste to miss the sauropod.

If you make it to Gila Bend, you’ll be roughly half a time zone away from everywhere else, so you’ll probably be hungry. After you gas up, look for this sign:

Gila Bend Space Age Restaurant - sign

next to this restaurant:

Gila Bend Space Age Restaurant

where you can sit at this table (maybe):

Gila Bend Space Age Restaurant - mural

and eat some freakin’ awesome pancakes while revelling in the glories of the Space Race. Or, you know, a burger or something. We hit the Space Age Restaurant twice on our trip to Tucson last November, once each way, and it was excellent both times. There’s even a gift shop, says so right on the sign.

You’re welcome!

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4 Responses to “Roadside reptiles of Gila Bend, Arizona”

  1. Mike Taylor Says:

    I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a roadside dinosaur in my life. We just don’t seem to have that tradition in the UK, unless you count the plastic dinosaur-shaped slides that you sometimes see in pub playgrounds (and I don’t).

  2. Matt Wedel Says:

    Interesting. When I describe things like this as Americana, I’m always alert to the possibility that someone will pop up in the comments and go on about how one sees DIY roadside dinos all the time in Brazil or South Korea or Austria (well, maybe not Austria). And I have seen photos of publicly-displayed professional dinosaur sculptures in other countries. But this phenomenon of some random welder looking at an old Buick rusting out back and saying, “I’m going to turn that into a dinosaur and put it right next to the road!”–if that exists to the same extent anywhere else, it’s a well-kept secret. But do enlighten me if any of you know of any examples! I’d love to do a post on guerrilla dinosaur road art from around the world.

    Part of what I love about these things is how they boil dinosaurs down to the bare minimum, but still remain instantly recognizable. Just like toddlers know that giraffes have long necks, elephants have trunks, and zebras have stripes, roadside dino makers know that four legs and a long neck and tail make a sauropod, two legs, tiny arms, and big teeth make a T. rex, and so on. To put it another way: Greg Paul doesn’t have to worry about any roadside dinos ripping off “his” poses. Any given roadside dino could plausibly have been built in 1937 or 2007. More than just about any other publicly-visible construct, their designs are untouched by the passage of time–oddly fitting for creatures that (at least in the popular imagination) embody time itself.


  3. If the UK had the “acetylene-powered heart of roadside Americana” there would’ve never been a revolution. Matt’s metaphor is Tom Waits-level in it’s poetic astuteness as to what it means to be American. I think that heart pumping inside me is why I love miniature golf courses, roadside sculpture gardens, locally owned museums and China towns (especially those in neglect). I love wondering about all the would-be Walt Disneys that never were. All the half cocked entrepreneurs and creatives reaching out for the fantastic and firing out their burst of self expression before flickering away like the fluorescent tubes in their signs.

    Hey have you ever heard of the abandoned concrete dino sculptures out in the mojave desert? My friend Katie (who you met, Matt) has been out there and her pictures are pretty wonderful. Even though the beasts are in terrible disrepair one can still discern woefully inaccurate anatomy and sculpting so amateur you can’t help but love the fact that somebody with so little skill/planning/experience went ahead and attempted 20 foot plus duck-bills and rexes. Next time I’m in town we should def make a trip out there!!!

  4. Matt Wedel Says:

    If the UK had the “acetylene-powered heart of roadside Americana” there would’ve never been a revolution.

    You hear that, people? Roadside dinosaurs prevent wars and save lives! (citation needed)

    Hey have you ever heard of the abandoned concrete dino sculptures out in the mojave desert? My friend Katie (who you met, Matt) has been out there and her pictures are pretty wonderful.

    Egad! No, I had not heard about these, and I’m already dying to see them. I would twist your arm for the coordinates but I like the idea of trucking out there together, so I will hold off until you’re back down here in Babylon. We’ll go see Tiamat, take photos, talk BS, and commune with the beasts.


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