5 Awesome Appearances of the California Dinosaurs

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You’ve surely seen these prehistoric monuments in pop culture, but which appearances can be considered the best?

The California Dinosaurs are some of America’s most iconic roadside attractions. Located a few hours east of Los Angeles in the CDP rest stop of Cabazon, these massive dinos represent the sight-seeing quirkiness that is the American open road. Dinny the Dinosaur and Mr. Rex have made their way into many films, television shows, and video games over the years, so here are five of their best appearances.

National Lampoon’s Vacation

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How appropriate that our list about a classic roadside attraction begins with one of the most classic road trip movies of all time. National Lampoon’s Vacation sets the stage for its cross-country antics by opening with a montage of famous American sight-seeing locations. Obviously, before the Griswold clan can even begin their journey to Wally World, we need to understand the travel-logging misadventures the film intends to capture, all the while listening to Lyndsay Buckingham’s “Holiday Road.”

Just as the name of reputable director of photography Victor J. Kemper appears, the audience is treated to a postcard from Cabazon’s Prehistoric Museum. And stealing the spotlight for those few short seconds is the museum’s marquis attraction Dinny the Dinosaur. The Brontosaurus was actually the only dino at the site at the time, which would explain why Vacation‘s title sequence neglects his T-Rex counterpart.

The appearance may be brief, but Vacation is certainly significant as the first film appearance of Dinny and Cabazon’s prehistoric destination.

Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”

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English synth-pop band Tears For Fears released their smash single “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” in 1985, with a music video hitting MTV not long afterward. The video follows vocalist Curt Smith on a melancholic drive in his Austin-Healey 3000 sports car, as he visits several roadside locales hidden away in the Southern California desert.

Midway through the video, Smith takes an exit off Interstate 10 in order to make a quick call from a diner payphone. It just so happens that the diner this pop idol has decided to occupy is none other than the Wheel Inn Restaurant, the very establishment that the California Dinosaurs advertise. Smith seems unaware of the magnitude of this coincidence, but the audience is treated to an artful shot of the singer driving past Dinny and Mr. Rex regardless.

This appearance marks the first time the California Dinosaurs earned international attention. From this point forward, they would prove a roadside draw for everyone, British pop superstars and common folk alike.

Fallout: New Vegas

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The world of Fallout: New Vegas acts as an abridged version of Nevada and Southern California, with several in-game locations taking inspiration from real-world places. The small town of Novac is one such location, drawing influence from a few tourist traps famous for the region. With a giant thermometer like the one seen in Baker, Novac is home to — you guessed it — a Tyrannosaurus Rex sculpture.

Dinky the T-Rex serves as a primary landmark for Novac, drawing visitors to the Dino Dee-lite Motel and Gift Shop, much like the California Dinosaurs do for the Wheel Inn. Dinky’s name is obviously a play on Dinny the Dinosaur, and his visual design matches that of Mr. Rex, down to the gift shop located in his tummy. Essentially, Novac’s Jurassic mascot is an amalgamation of the two dinos seen at Cabazon.

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While Dinky is merely a reference to the California dinosaurs and not an all-out appearance, his placement on this list stems from his role in Fallout‘s gameplay. The citizens of Novac actually use the T-Rex as a defensive stronghold, with his mouth acting as pretty solid crow’s-nest for snipers. The player can actually take on a side-quest that involves one of the town’s snipers investigating the disappearance of his wife. After identifying the culprit behind the kidnapping, the player can lead her in front of Dinky, where she’ll be sniped straight from the dinosaur’s mouth. You can even play sniper from atop Dinky if you so choose.

Dinky the Dinosaur may not be a true appearance by the Cabazon dinosaurs, but the T-Rex’s unique possibilities for gameplay and in-game set dressing make him a valuable inclusion for this list.

The Wizard

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Feature-length Nintendo commercial known as The Wizard follows child actors Fred Savage, Luke Edwards, and Jenny Lewis on a gaming-flavored journey to California. The cross-country trek is spurred on by Edwards’ unexplained fascination with “California” — I’m sure anyone who’s seen the movie can remember just how often the state’s name is muttered. The significance of the Golden State is left a mystery for most of the film, but the heart-felt ending offers up the reasoning behind California’s importance.

It’s revealed that Edwards’ fixation with California sprouts from a visit to the Cabazon dinosaurs years earlier, a time remembered fondly before the death of his twin sister. The prehistoric monoliths embody the carefree memories of California for the young boy, a time when his family was happy and together. Edwards and Savage decide to leave a collection of their dead sister’s belongings inside Mr. Rex, a place he knows she would have been happy.

The Wizard may be best remembered for Super Mario 3 and the Powerglove, but the movie actually had a few heart-warming moments sprinkled about. The resolution at the California Dinosaurs helps give the otherwise-pedestrian tourist stop a much-needed emotional punch, as they help to tie up the human conflicts carried throughout the film.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

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Here comes the big one: Pee Wee Herman’s journey across the US brings the eccentric man-child to various exotic locations along the American highway. One of his more prominent stops just so happens to be Cabazon, with visits to both the Wheel Inn restaurant and the Dinosaur statues.

After being dropped off by ghoulish trucker Large Marge, Pee Wee looks up at the florescent glow of Dinny and Rex, and cautiously enters the Wheel Inn. It is here that our quirky hero first hears the spooky tale of Large Marge and sparks the fears of the restaurant’s patrons. It’s pretty safe to say that the real Wheel Inn never had a memorial plaque for ol’ Marge, but other than that, Cabazon’s famous eatery is well-represented in the film.

Pee Wee also uses this visit to befriend Wheel Inn waitress Simone. The romantic tension flies as the two watch the sunrise from Mr. Rex’s mouth, but we quickly learn of Simone’s troubles with her boyfriend Andy. Little do Pee Wee and Simone know that Andy is actually eavesdropping on their conversation, growing severely irritated by their intimacy and mentions of Simone’s “Big But.” The angry boyfriend confronts Pee Wee and Simone after the two descend from the T-Rex, forcing our protagonist to flee from a clobbering by jumping onto a moving train.

Just when we think we’ve seen the last of Mr. Rex, the Tyrannosaurus makes one final appearance in one of Pee Wee’s horrific nightmares. This movie really does get a lot of mileage out of these dinosaurs.

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Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is surely the most iconic appearance of the California Dinosaurs, so much so that most people automatically associate the statues with the movie. In fact, on the DVD commentary, director Tim Burton shared that many viewers believed he created the dinosaurs specifically for use in the film. To this day, Dinny the Dinosaur and Mr. Rex have never looked better than during Pee Wee’s grand journey.

The California Dinosaurs have continued to stay in the public eye, beyond just the appearances seen on this list. If you’ve got a favorite appearance by these prehistoric road stars, please share it in the comments below.

Article by contributor RODTheMaster.

2 thoughts on “5 Awesome Appearances of the California Dinosaurs

  1. Cool article. Living in the north east most of the attractions we have around are usually related to the revolutionary or civil war. It’s interesting and all but not nearly as fun as giant fiberglass dinosaurs. I would love to take the classic American Road Trip across this place one day and see all of the interesting but not really interesting stuff along the way. Biggest ear of corn? Largest haystack? World’s tallest chair? Sign me up.

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