On The Contrary: Jesus Loves Dinosaurs.
If you’ve ever traveled by car any kind of distance in the American Southwest, you are aware that a certain degree of forethought must be given to carrying enough fuel when crossing the great expanses of unremitting desert that lie between the rest stops. There are long stretches of nothing, and just when you feel like you’re never going to see another town again, there will appear a sign that tells you “Next Gas 50 Miles.” This can be especially disconcerting if the needle on your fuel gage is already leaning on E. Really, the desert portion of Eastern California has not changed much since the days of the Joad Family’s difficult crossing.
A few years ago, I was riding back to Los Angeles with my friend Diane after we had visited a college friend in Phoenix. In what seemed like the middle of nowhere, we noticed the fuel gage dipping down, and as a few minutes became a half hour with no gas stations in site, we started to get a little nervous. As the passenger, feeling completely helpless I nevertheless affected the illusion of being useful (to myself at least) by reading aloud the distances on every road sign we passed. After seemingly forever, I finally was able to “helpfully” announce that I had spotted a sign for an upcoming gas station. When we reached it, we were more excited about pulling into a gas station than a person who doesn’t have to pee should ever be. And our excitement was only beginning.
For this was not just any gas station outside of Palm Springs. This was an oasis, a destination, where giants stood upon the earth. We had stumbled upon the home of the World’s Biggest Dinosaurs.
What is this place? Well, if you have ever had the pleasure of seeing PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, this is the site where Large Marge drops off Pee-wee and he spends an evening in the Tyrannosaurus mouth with the lovely waitress Simone before her vengeful boyfriend Andy sets upon him. If you haven’t seen that movie, you probably have very little respect for me following the preceding sentence.
Whatever the case, the place has two large dinosaur statues—the afore-mentioned Tyrannosaurus (nicknamed Mr. Rex), and an Apatosaurus (nicknamed Dinny). At first glance this is merely a fun roadside attraction, but venturing inside of Dinny (who houses a gift shop in her belly), we learned that it is so much more.
The first thing that we noticed upon entering the lobby by Dinny’s foot was a diorama that depicted model dinosaurs attacking toy knights on horseback. This struck me as odd, as did climbing the stairs and seeing paintings of cavemen and dinosaurs with odd dates next to them noting “Pre-flood” and “Post-flood.” A large banner in the gift shop proclaiming “By Design, not chance!” and a painting of a confused-looking Charles Darwin revealed that this wasn’t just any roadside dino park—this was an Anti-Evolution Fundamentalist Christian Mesozoic Attraction (though I’m sure they would take umbrage to this designation, since the world is only a few thousand years old, and the Mesozoic Era of geological time never existed).
The gift shop seemed just like any other cheap gift shop, with postcards, key rings, toy guns, and whatever junk they think kids can bug their parents into buying. However, the walls were adorned with “educational” pictures and captions explaining how dinosaurs lived with humans, and since that was the case Noah must have had them on the Ark (hence the pre and post flood notations). The walls also pointed out holes in evolutionary theory and argued that dinosaurs do in fact appear in the Bible when it references “dragons.” There was an entire shelf of DVDs debunking evolutionary theory and arguing the Creationist perspective on dinosaurs. Being a frugal graduate student at the time, I refused to pony up the $12 for a video (something I regret to this day), so I can’t say I understand all of the ins and outs of the Creation-Dino movement, but I feel I got the gist. Basically, dinosaurs and cavemen shared the Earth with us, and while most cavemen bought it during the flood Noah saved the dinosaurs on the Ark. Mankind then wiped out the terrible lizards in later centuries (most were presumably slain by Christian knights).
What’s the point? Well, for one, this is a fantastic place to stop and get gas when traveling through California on the I-10. But strange as it may sound, this place represents progress. Some people would see pseudo science being espoused at an ostensibly “educational” attraction to be the ultimate abomination of science. But while it does misrepresent some things (well, just about everything), this is a kind of a concession by the Creationists. For years their stance had been that the entire fossil record was put in place by Satan to lead people away from God. This place, however, takes at least some of the fossils and tries to incorporate them into Biblical history. By acknowledging the existence of dinosaurs Creationists are making an allowance for something that isn’t specifically mentioned or described in their Bible (dragons be damned). The arguments they put forth come across as a last ditch effort to hold onto past ideas without denying the kids their dinosaur toys. It reminds me of a kid trying to talk himself into still believing in Santa after he catches Mom putting the gifts under the tree. These are baby steps, I know, but progress is progress. Evolution takes a long time, after all.
Diane and I only spent a brief time with Dinny and Mr. Rex, but they remained on my mind long after we pulled away from Cabazon, CA. I recently revisited the dinosaurs, and found that the attraction is being greatly expanded to include robotic dinos, fossil digs, and other wholesome family fun. I also found that the Creationist rhetoric has been toned way down. While the pictures and captions remained on the walls of the gift shop, the DVDs and literature were gone, as was the Knights Vs. Dinosaurs diorama. I found this a little disappointing, but it is probably for the best. Some people might be offended by the overt religiosity of the place. It wouldn’t do to drive them off, since it’s a long way to the next gas station.
Visit the World’s Biggest Dinosaurs on the web HERE.