Where dinosaurs still rule the earth - Hi-Desert Star: News

Where dinosaurs still rule the earth

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Posted: Friday, August 20, 2004 12:00 am

CABAZON - The earth trembles in Cabazon. Is it big rig trucks rumbling down Interstate 10? Or huge RVs snaking along dirt roads looking for the ideal camping spot? Or maybe, just maybe the dinosaurs are roaming around the barren desert, looking for shade.

Dinney and Rex have been Cabazon landmarks for nearly 50 years. Dinney is a 150-ton concrete brontosaurus or apatosaurus and fearsome Rex is a 100-ton tyrannosaurus.

While a child in New Jersey, Claude K. Bell saw a concrete elephant on display and the seed was planted in his young mind.

Bell later ran a pastel portrait shop at Knott's Berry Farm and was given the opportunity to satisfy his urge to make statues. The 9-foot-tall gold prospector and the two saloon "girls" sitting on a bench at the amusement park are his creations.

Thinking bigger than statues of people, Bell began the design and construction of Dinney. Eleven years later, a 150-foot-long, 40-foot-tall brontosaurus or apatosaurus took up residence in Cabazon.

Most people envision the brontosaurus as a giant dinosaur with a long neck and a long tail. But the approved scientific name of the creature Bell brought to life in Cabazon is actually apatosaurus.

In the late 1870s, two rival dinosaur bone hunters, Othniel Marsh and Edward Cope, went to the Morrison Formation in Colorado. Marsh named his discovery of huge bones apatosaurus, while Cope named his specimens atlantosaurus.

Two years later in Como Bluff, Wyo., the Marsh exploring team found another fossil skeleton and called the specimen brontosaurus, the thunder lizard.

Because of the bitter rivalry between Marsh and Cope, the fossilized bones were quickly assembled to reconstruct the skeleton of a new dinosaur. Bones from other sauropods were used to fill in the missing pieces. With better studies, scientists eventually realized that apatosaurus, atlantosaurus and brontosaurus were the same type of dinosaur.

Apatosaurus, found by the Marsh Team first, is the official species name of "Dinney."

Other fossilized bones were found with apatosaurus remains and assumed to be part of the dinosaur. Prior to 1975, the wrong skull had been accepted as part of the apatosaurus. The deep, high foreheaded skull actually belongs to camarasaurus, a dinosaur similar to apatosaurus but with a shorter tail and plumper body. Apatosaurus has a smaller, lower head. A recent skull find shows nerve and blood vessel pathways indicating a sensitive nose for smelling food and danger.

Apatosaurus, "deceptive reptile," was a plant eater belong to the order of Saurischia - lizard-hipped reptile. Apatosauri were 70 feet long, 25 feet tall and weighed 25 tons. A lot of salad was needed to keep this beast full.

Apatosaurus lived during the late Jurassic Period, 155 to 140 million years ago. They roamed in Colorado, Utah, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Baja California and, since 1964, Cabazon.

In 1981, Bell began constructing Rex, a 65-foot tall, 100-ton tyrannosaurus, the king of the dinosaurs.

In January 1986, Bell retired from Knott's Berry Farm and was able to work full-time on his lifelong dream of creating a dinosaur park. He never got to see his dream fulfilled. He died in September 1988 at 91 years of age. Rex was not finished when his maker died. Bell had planned on using Rex's massive, muscular tail as a slide for children.

In reality, tyrannosaurus rex would not be a cuddly animal for children or any breathing creature to play with. The king of the tyrant lizards was a meat eater and swift hunter. Its 50 teeth were 7 inches long and had two serrated ridges like steak knives. Rex would clamp on its victim and with its powerful neck muscles shake its head, tearing meat off with the serrated teeth.

Rex's tiny forearms still baffle scientists. They are too short to bring food to the mouth, catch prey or successfully scratch an itch.

Scientists thought Rex was a lumbering, slow-moving dinosaur dragging its tail along the ground. In the early 1990s, two almost complete skeletons found in South Dakota and Montana offered a new vision: Tyrannosaurus moved with its head, body and tail level. The massive tail balanced the head, neck and legs. With this body structure, Rex could maybe reach speeds of 25 miles per hour and successfully hunt and pursue prey.

Tyrannosaurus rex specimens grew to 44 feet long and 18 feet tall and weighed 6 tons. Tyrannosaurus rex lived in the Late Cretaceous Period, 68 to 65 million years ago. Its territory covered Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wyoming, Alberta, Saskatchewan and since, 1981, Cabazon.

Dinney and Rex are two times life-size and are familiar landmarks.

With the death of Claude Bell, their fate is unknown. If a developer buys the property where Dinney and Rex live and demolishes the concrete statues to build a strip mall, the last of the dinosaurs will truly be gone.

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