April 15, 2016

Photo Essay: The Extinction of Dinosaur Swampland

At some point, I had marked a place in Apple Valley on my map that I'd just called "Concrete dinosaurs." No address, no website, and no other details.

So when I was taking the long way home from Joshua Tree last weekend up Old Woman Springs Road through Landers and Lucerne Valley, I decided to swing by and see if I could track them down.

At first it just looks like any other abandoned lot with an RV parked in it...

...but upon closer inspection...

...this is some kind of post-apocalyptic wonderland where people coexisted with dinosaurs...

...and other prehistoric monsters...

...and they'd all seen better days.

This was the site of a children's amusement park called "Dinosaur Swampland," which was built sometime around 1970-1975...

...though it was never quite finished.

In the mid-1970s, there were at least 36 dinosaurs across four acres on a 17-acre parcel owned by retiree Lonnie Coffman, originally of Van Nuys.

Coffman "started out doing it as a hobby and couldn't stop," he told The Spokesman Review in Spokane, Washington in July 1977.

At that point, he was still building, even though he said he was broke and trying to unload the property to someone or some entity that would preserve it.

He'd already spent tens of thousands of dollars, without even counting the value of his own labor (sometimes as much as six or seven times a week)...

...or the money he never received from two of his tenants, who worked off their rent by helping him out.

In 2006, a man named Gregory L. Wicker posted on that Coffman had allowed him and his wife to work off part of their $65 a month rent "creating his dream"—which, he said, was eventually supposed to be a miniature golf course.

"At the time I did not have the foresight to recognize they or I would be part of Americana," he also wrote.

But indeed he is, and they are.

Though they're somewhat of a hidden treasure—and falling apart—apparently local kids still love them.

The standing ones were formed out of stucco wire (which looks a lot like chicken wire) covered in cement and then stuccoed over, giving them kind of a greenish hue that the sun has since bleached out of most of them.

The ones lying on the ground, however, were made from molded dirt covered in poured concrete.

Those horizontal ones—perhaps meant to be depicted as losers in a "to the death" dinosaur battle—seem to have fared better than the others, appearing as a kind of relief on a desert landscape.

Most of the other ones are falling apart beyond repair.

Coffman had built the menagerie as a kind of public art piece on his own property, but because of insurance issues and property taxes and other bureaucracy, he could never really get it off the ground as an official attraction.

When he spoke to The Sun-Telegram in San Bernardino in November 1975, he said, "Someday, if people want it, I can find a way to open it."

And I suppose that's what has happened. The flimsy wire fence has been trampled, and all there is to shoo visitors away are the bees...and the snakes...and all that broken glass.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Treasure Trove of Roadside Dinosaurs
Photo Essay: The Living Ghost of Yermo
Vincent Lugo's Monster Park, and Its Forgotten Namesake
Photo Essay: Unwanted Christ in a Desert Park
Photo Essay: Rhyolite's Ghost Town Ghosts

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