Southern California’s Desert Sculpture Park
Eagles and Dragons at the Anza-Borrego desert
By James Michael Dorsey
In the baking hot Anza-Borrego desert of Southern California, the dream of two visionaries has gifted the public with a surreal world of myth and fantasy.
130 welded metal sculptures, some life-size, others truly gigantic, stand watch over the primeval desert, all of them the work of a single artist. There are bucking broncos and unicorns, camels and tortoises, but they are just the teasers.
A twenty-foot tall Scorpion does battle with an enormous grasshopper while velociraptors stalk visitors from behind cactuses. A life size T-rex hunts for a meal while a gigantic, undefinable bird of prey is carrying off a full-sized cow in its talons.
Serpent with a Dragon Head
Most impressive is a 350-foot long creature with the body of a serpent and head of a dragon, whose massive torso undulates both above and below ground. Its giant head brings to mind the fire breathers that we all associate with Chinese New Years.
It is a modern artistic vision imposed on an ancient ethereal landscape and the two are blending splendidly.
This story of creation began when local entrepreneur, Dennis Avery, who owned a massive land track known as “Galleta Meadows,” in and around Borrego Springs in Sothern California’s low desert, commissioned local artist Ricardo Breceda, to sculpt 130 pieces, now called, “Sky art,” and place them randomly over a three mile area of open desert.
Breceda was already a well know commodity whose metal creations may be found on numerous ranchos and along the rural farm roads of the lower central California area. Avery gave him free reign to create whatever he wished and Breceda did not disappoint.
The effects are stunning. With a dramatic backdrop of purple mountains, sage, and cactus, the animals, both real and imagined, come to life. You expect the T-Rex to roar, and the dragon to spit fire.
In the morning sunrise their long shadows resemble an ebbing tide and in the golden hues of the desert sunset, the terracotta colored steel seems to glow from within.
If you look at them long enough, they begin to move.
Breceda was born in Durango Mexico but has lived in southern California for a quarter century. He was so taken with the movie, “Jurassic Park,” that he created his first life sized dinosaur soon after, using welded chunks of thin sheet metal.
He has never looked back. His works can be found at the most unlikely places. As you drive through one tiny pass between hills, enormous Mustangs are leaping over the highway above you, and from various hilltops, along the back roads, you will find dinosaurs of various eras eyeing you with curiosity.
Eagle Takes Wing
Rounding a curve, a larger than life eagle prepares to take wing while across the road a twenty-foot creature resembling a giant sloth seems to be awakening from its sleep.
Breceda has also sculpted a giant cactus, fifteen-foot tall bear, enormous octopus, and a full-size stage coach, complete with a team of six horses; his imagination seems to be endless.
It is monumental folk art, and it is meant to be viewed outdoors where the juxtaposition of Breceda’s vision and local reality, collide to entertain the viewer.
Historical creatures, now extinct, are rendered as Breceda imagined them when they roamed the land, while actual modern day animals wander among them. The further you drive into the desert, the more mythology merges with reality.
This magical world owes its birth to the late Dennis Avery, who donated the land track for such a vast palette.
Avery was the heir to a fortune created by those self-sticking labels we all know by his family name and used his wealth to fund philanthropic ventures while being a major patron of the arts. He died in 2012, but his legacy lives on.
A Desert Palette
Like visionaries before him, he saw the vast desert as a palette to be used for creation rather than a wilderness. His only request of Breceda was that he create a homage to the local farm workers, without whom the low desert would be an unlivable wasteland.
To this request Breceda sculpted over two dozen life sized braceros, hoeing the land, plowing it, picking grapes, and harvesting crops.
Under the heat of the desert sun, Breceda’s steel people labor around the clock, much as they do in real life, giving visitors insight to the labors of these indigenous people who have helped to make the desert habitable.
Avery passed away in the summer of 2016, but not before seeing his dream take shape in the desert home he loved so dearly. The creation of “Galleta Meadows” is part of the trust he left behind to assure the community of Borrego Springs of the continued presence of its favorite denizens.
Ricardo Breceda continues to create his sculptures of wonder who will hopefully populate the southern California desert for years to come.
Borrego Springs is surrounded by the Anza-Borrego Desert about a one hour drive northeast of San Diego and due east of the great Salton Sea. “Galleta Meadows” covers 15 miles of open land from north to south of the city.
Visitor information is available at the Chamber of Commerce website at borregospringschamber.com, or you may call (800) 559-5555.
You can pick up a driving map of where each sculpture is located from almost any business in the city.