April 17, 2008

Maris Brancheau
Staff Writer

Prehistoric gomphotheres return to Borrego Valley

After a 3.7 million-year hiatus, the gomphotherium is back in Borrego Springs.

Three sculptures of the prehistoric creatures that were predecessors to modern-day elephants were placed on Borrego Springs Road just south of Big Horn road on April 10. The statues, crafted of metal by Ricardo A. Breceda of Perris, California, have created quite a buzz in the community.

“I think they’re great,” said Borregan George McDaniel, an avocational paleontologist who wrote the chapter on mammoths in the 2005 “Fossil Treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert.”

“I’d like to have one in my yard.”

The sculptures were commissioned by part-time Borregan Dennis Avery and sit on land he owns and allows the public to use – Galletta Meadows. Avery carried a copy of the “Fossil Treasures” book under his arm as he watched a crew from Perris Jurassic Park unload the sculptures.

“I hope this enhances Borrego,” Avery said. “After all, this is where these animals lived.”

The project doesn’t end with the gomphotheres. Avery has asked Breceda, a former construction welder who created his first metal dinosaur 10 years ago, to sculpt camelops, sloth, turtles and other creatures that once roamed Anza-Borrego.

The first three sculptures cost about $14,000, but Avery said he’s already put $45,000 in to the project and he wants to keep going.

“This is just the beginning,” said a proud Breceda after he had carefully decided on the placement of the mother, father, and baby gomphotheria. “Borrego Springs is going to come alive.”

Avery could barely contain his happiness as he smiled and made elephant noises among a crowd of friends and curious passersby. The author Victor Villasenor accompanied the creatures out to the valley.

“This is what it would look like if time rolled back,” Villasenor said. “Imagine it was a Thursday at 2 p.m. about 3 million years ago when the last one of these was spotted.”

Villasenor’s son, Joseph, who grew up knowing Avery, said that the long-time benefactor to Borrego Springs had always spread magic to kids.

When a child sees this, even at a young age, it will make an impression that will last,” Joseph Villasenor said. “And, this isn’t random, it’s appropriate because they used to live here. So this inspires the imagination to find out more.”

The forthcoming animals will also be placed on Galletta Meadows properties, all of which connect to Borrego Springs Road, Avery said. A Web site is under creation to draw tourists to the creatures. “Flowers are only once a year, if that,” Avery noted. “I want to sprinkle these things around for people to see year-round. I don’t think the idea is completely rational, but is pretty amazing. Especially if you’re 8 years old.”

The largest sculpture stands about 12-feet tall and 20-feet wide. McDaniel confirmed they fit pretty well with how the species actually looked. Avery said it was important to him that Breceda follow drawings from the “Fossil Treasures” book. He helped pay for its printing and production with a $160,000 donation that was anonymous at the time.

Made from rolled sheet metal that Breceda then pounds into place, the sculptures will rust. The animals were fixed with cement in what was an all-day project, including transportation from Perris.

“We had people driving up alongside us on I-10 trying to get photos from their car,” Avery noted.

Quite a few people stopped immediately when passing the site, while others slowed down and stared.

“They look very at home in this field; you could see how they might belong here,” said Borregan John Delaney, who pulled over on Borrego Springs Road and walked out for a closer look.

“This place is a paradise; more and more we should be focusing on that. This is a welcome addition.” He said.

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