The Press-Enterprise
07:59 AM PDT on Monday, June 30, 2008

By JULISSA McKINNON

Perris sculptor populates Anza-Borrego 'creature desert' with dinosaurs, extinct mammals, more

After years of being penned up in a paved yard next to the Interstate 215, Ricardo Breceda's Perris-born dinosaurs are migrating to the wild.

In twos and threes, Breceda and workers load the prehistoric beast look-alikes into trucks and haul them off to the desert surrounding Borrego Springs on the eastern edge of San Diego County.

Built from scrap reinforcement bars, wire, and metal, the sculptures, typically dozens of feet tall and wide, are Breceda's tribute to a long bygone era.

"Anything that was roaming around this area millions and thousands of years ago, they will be here again," Breceda said as he gazed across the desert expanse, which boasts the longest continuous fossil record in North America.

Ricardo Breceda was commissioned by a multimillionaire to sculpt a “creature desert,” including dinosaurs, in Anza-Borrego.

But Breceda's herd will not be dinosaurs-only. The sculptor said his creations will include modern critters such as camels, turtles and llamas, as well as long-extinct residents such as saber-toothed cats, giant sloths and gomphotheres -- relatives of the woolly mammoth.

Artwork Commissioned

The artwork is being commissioned by Dennis Avery...

Like Breceda, Avery shares an obsession with the prehistoric. Avery joked that he likes dinosaurs because he can somewhat relate.

"I'm old. I'm in my late 60s and I've had a long life," Avery said by telephone. "I see these old animals and I feel young compared to them."

Ultimately, Avery said the goal is to build a "creature desert" on 3 contiguous square miles of land he owns around Borrego Springs. He said he bought the land in the mid-1990s in the wake of the savings and loan crash.

Though he did not particularly desire a "bunch of desert," Avery said he got an offer too cheap to refuse.

"I didn't put up 'No Trespassing' signs. There are flowers out there," Avery said of an area that draws scores of tourists every spring for its wildflower blooms.

Only later would he learn that the Anza Borrego area contained a significant fossil record. Fascinated, Avery helped fund a book cataloguing the fossils of the area, "Fossil Treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert," published in 2006.

'Creature Desert' Planned

The vision of a "creature desert" did not occur to Avery until he crossed paths with the dinosaur-obsessed Breceda.

Avery discovered Breceda's shop as he drove down the I-215 and spotted a 30-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex leaning over a chain-link fence.

Avery could not help but turn around, taking the next exit at Ramona Expressway and winding his way back to the Perris Jurassic Park, which is part welding shop, part sculpture garden. Avery found Breceda punching away at his punching bag, Avery recalled.

Before long, the two men had brainstormed the mammoth art project that is now under way and will probably take two more years to complete, Breceda said.

As of Father's Day, when a camel and an adult and baby sloth arrived, there were 17 sculptures dotting the plain around Borrego Springs Road. Eventually there will be 100 or more, say Avery and Breceda. Visitors have already worn paths leading from the road to the giant metal creatures.

For Breceda, the project is "a dream come true." He said this between pants as he tried to catch his breath after he and six helpers half-lifted, half-wrestled the sloths sculpture off of a tow-trailer onto the desert ground in 112-degree heat.

The former carpenter took up sculpting as a hobby 13 years ago after he fell from a second-story and broke his back while working construction. Even when he first moved to California from his native Durango, Mexico, and took jobs washing dishes and bussing tables, Breceda said he had faith greater things were in store for him.

Passion for Sculpting

Once he stumbled upon sculpting, Breceda said he knew this was his new calling.

When his mother came to visit his asphalt patch of metal animals, she said, "Why don't you do something else?" Breceda recalled with a grin. He responded, "This is what I want to do."

Compared to construction Breceda said sculpting is not hard work. But it's tedious.

Sculptor Ricardo Breceda, owner of PerrisJurassicPark.com, works on one of his prehistoric creatures. He makes other animals as well, but the dinosaurs have been his best sellers.

He uses various sized hammers, from screwdrivers to sledgehammers, to pound texture into the patches of metal he welds into animals. Though he builds more commonplace beasts like donkeys and birds, dinosaurs by far are his best sellers, he said.

Breceda believes there is something universally fascinating about prehistoric things.

"It's something we can just dream about. It's a fantasy. We find the bones and we think we know how they looked, but really we can't know," Breceda said as he gestured to a sloth whose metal coat was still being welded on.

"It's fun to dream. I like them (my sculptures) to move. Every one has a personality."

Reach Julissa McKinnon at 951-375-3730 or jmckinnon@PE.com
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