Oddly fitting for the Chinese year of the water dragon, the newest addition to Dennis Avery’s steel sculpture studded ranch surrounding Borrego Springs is a 350-foot serpentine "sea" dragon erected last July in the sands adjacent to the Anza Borrego State Park. The detail in the giant leviathan implanted in the earth 86 miles north east of San Diego has got to be one of the most intricate of all the pieces erected to date at Galleta Meadows Estate. Within two hours of the metro region, Avery’s ever growing sculpture park is well worth the plunge over the mountains into San Diego County’s outback.

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Avery’s “Sky Art” exhibit began to take form in 2008 when he first contracted a group of multi-sized sculptures comprising a family of gomphotheres, extinct four-tusked elephants that grazed in the area nearly 4 million years ago. Paying tribute to the area’s fame for fossil discoveries that demonstrate the longest continuous history of life, the larger of this first group measures 12-feet tall by 20-feet long. Avery has since contracted self-taught artist Ricardo Breceda, who he calls the Picasso of Steel, to bring the past as well as the present to life. To date, Breceda has created more than 130 freestanding welded sculptures which have been placed throughout Avery’s expansive estate surrounding the small oasis town.

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Regarded as one of the best archaeological sites in North America, anatomically correct life-sized replicas of slinking muscle strapped saber tooth lions, grazing mammoths, nursing camels and battling raptors (including nonresident Spinosaurus, Velociraptor, Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex) now stand out against the desert sky along with the gomphotheres as the real McCoy did eons ago. Newer groupings set back off the highway consist of oxidized bucking prehistoric stallions, lumbering roadside tortoise and a nested eagle (Aiolornis Indredibilis)-- the largest ever found on the continent--with a 20 foot wing span and coiled snake in its claws. Elsewhere, images of the otherwise elusive and solitary current residents, the Peninsular Long Horned Sheep, the Borrego, can be found in herds as well as a massive scorpion with pinchers forward and tail hovering to strike an unsuspecting grasshopper.

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Avery and Breceda pay homage to early settlers as well. Spanish conquistador, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza who in the autumn of 1775 embarked from Sonora, MX with 240 people to colonize California stands outside the Visitor’s Center. With the aid of the locals such as the Yuma Indian chieftain, Salvador Palma, and the well established network of “Indian trails”, Anza and his entourage reached the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel outside LA in less than three months. That trek was designated the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail in 1990. Palma is represented emerging from the very earth in full headdress.

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Franciscan replacement to the expelled Jesuits, volunteer explorer for the Viceroyalty of New Spain, Francisco Garcés one of three padres to accompany Anza to the Pacific, (Monterey Bay to be specific), stands with his loyal canine immortalized beneath the Santa Rosa’s. Not surprisingly, the Yuma revolted against the Spanish shortly thereafter for treaty violation, killing brave stout Garcés and retarding the conquistadors’ colonization of an already occupied—and civilized-- domain. A prospector, (if not the infamous desert icon himself, Peg Leg Smith), and those that lay the miles and miles of electrical lines across the badlands are also among Avery's collection.

Like other deep pocketed philanthropists, the heir to the Avery-Dennison dynasty continues to expand his outdoor exhibit because he can. I, personally, am always inspired by the generosity of some people and Avery dishes up a double helping. Not only has he dropped a pretty penny contracting the sculptures placed visibly throughout the area, but he also grants public access to his private museum. The sign on his property indicates that visitors may hike, bike, horseback ride, and camp for up to three days on the estate amidst the statues—FOR FREE.

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Although generally well received, Avery’s pet project has received criticism as well as praise. He's been accused of blasphemy by the creationists for having had the audacity to suggest that some of these creatures predated the formation of the universe (ascertained biblically rather than scientifically). In order to temper their wrath, Avery conceded that he would make no further conjectures pertaining to the age of the animals depicted in his collection. He further agreed to NOT install explanatory/educational placards. Mind you, this collection is on his own private land and funded exclusively with his millions. The man’s more than generous by my standards.

By far the more surprising criticism came from supporters of the Chicano Civil Rights/Labor Movement. Spurred by labor union leader César Chávez, Borrego Valley grape-pickers were incited to strike against the DiGiorgio Company. But apparently, Mexican-America Breceda included inaccurate details in his farm workers piece. The sombreros, for instance. Breceda originally had some of the men wearing the wide brimmed hats which the complainants suggested had not--in fact--been not worn. Nor, if you can believe it, did women ever pick grapes in that simmering East County community, let alone with babies strapped to their backs. Avery again conceded and directed Breceda to replace the offending pieces with those that would represent the “cause” more authentically. So much for artistic license.

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Considering Avery was born in China, funds the Avery China Adventure Program and is affiliated with the Chinese School of San Diego, we might see future sculptures that represent the Chinese immigrants who worked on the Southern Pacific Railroad as well as on the San Diego and Arizona Railway owned by the self serving Sugar King, Spreckel. Chinese immigrants laid rails across the Colorado Desert until the sixty year discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act later found to be unconstitutional left a gap in the burgeoning industrial labor force, which the Mexicans then filled.

A Galleta Meadows Estate Sculpture Installation Map, (which needs updating but identifies many of the sculpture groups), can be found at www.galletameadows.com.

Comments

MackZender March 7, 2012 @ 6:59 p.m.

Well timed. We were just discussing making the drive out to Borrego Springs as it's been years. Where is this serpent, in the northern section or in the southern?

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Ruth Newell March 7, 2012 @ 10:15 p.m.

Northern, within sight of the tortoises. Have fun!

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quillpena March 7, 2012 @ 11:06 p.m.

I want to see the serpent too, but visiting the desert is so troublesome.

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Ruth Newell March 8, 2012 @ 7:17 p.m.

How so, QP! It's a gorgeous drive if you've a car and a bit of spare gas money--and really, you never have to even get out of your car to see them although you will want to given the artistic detail. Find some friends and pile in a heap. It'll be a grand day trip. Stop in at Agua Caliente for a dip in the hot spring fed pools along the way.

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Twister March 8, 2012 @ 8:44 a.m.

Top-drawer writing. It's a sin for the Reader to fail to pay you.

I have two or three minor quibbles; none worth mentioning. But mostly I'm impressed by the combination of a top-flight reporter's nose for detail, and instinct for story-telling, and prose that gallops along poetically.

And your CONSISTENCY in this regard has been well and generously demonstrated. I hope you're not eating dog-food in some garret or evading the fuzz whilst sleeping in your car . . .

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Ruth Newell March 8, 2012 @ 7:21 p.m.

I'm honored that you found my essay to be worth your time reading. Thank you. Your 'quibbles' are welcome...always good with constructive criticism or spelling/grammar related editorial. Knowing your past comments though, I'll bet they relate more to historical accuracy? And no, I am not a paid staff writer for the Reader or any other publication. Not yet.

And how'd you know I sleep in my car?

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nan shartel March 8, 2012 @ 8:36 p.m.

ditto to twisters remarks...i knew i wasn't the only one who perceived u this way...so talented...hahahahahahahaha

i dreamed u got a job writing 4 Condé Nast Publications, Inc. Travelers edition...

http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Condeacute;-Nast-Publications-Inc-Company-History.html

check them out cutes...best doll...sending u a new down pillow and throw 4 the car

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Twister March 8, 2012 @ 9:40 p.m.

If I didn't have a shack I would have to too. We live in a culture that despises depth and drools at the prospect of torturing the pee-ons. I'm looking at a ROOM tomorrow for $700 a month. I'm gonna tell them no--who can afford that? And I have a small truck camper.

You are a better writer than most "travel" writers. You should be able to get paid as a free-lancer. Have you tried other places? I honestly think that you would be throwing pearls at swine in the case of the slick "travel" mags. But send out proposals. Your "fans" can put pressure on the Reader. Have you thought of doing a feature? They used to pay pretty good for those.

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Visduh March 8, 2012 @ 10:35 a.m.

Could those sculptures provide the spark for tourism in Borrego that has for so long been lacking? A few more of them, and they could become the latest in tourist destinations. The town sure could use a boost.

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Ruth Newell March 8, 2012 @ 7:23 p.m.

There were plenty of folks roaming the meadows when I arrived, however that hasn't always been the case. I believe there was a convention in town. Next time I go I'll be on the hunt for something other than over priced diner food.

Thanks for reading, V.

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nan shartel March 8, 2012 @ 8:39 p.m.

spring flowers there soon hun...lovely display!!!

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richzombie March 9, 2012 @ 10:25 a.m.

hard to add anymore - to those posts - wow very enjoyable and you really are a superb writer - always amazed how your words flow and how much i am entertained - its so so good -

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Bodhi March 13, 2012 @ 1:36 p.m.

We in Borrego Springs are very grateful for the Avery generosity and the talent of Brecada. The sculptors have been a wonderful addition to our beautiful community. It is quite amazing that the man has ceded to those who are intolerant of what a man can put on his own property. He is well within his rights to ignore the complainers and whiners. They are certainly free to contribute their own statues on their own land. Thank you for writing about Borrego. Good article.

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Ruth Newell March 13, 2012 @ 3:33 p.m.

I'm glad you enjoyed reading the article and I appreciate your comments, Bodhi. Thank you.

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