By People Staff
June 23, 1975 12:00 PM

Motorists tool unsuspectingly down Interstate 10 northwest of Palm Springs, Calif. Suddenly, Great Godzilla! There it is, a brontosaurus looming 45 feet high and 150 feet long against the bleak Mojave landscape.

The monster is the first inhabitant of Dinosaur Garden, the brainchild of sculptor-artisan Claude Bell, 78. Bell got the idea of using iron and cement left over or rejected as substandard during construction of the Interstate and spent 11 years erecting the prehistoric beast. “Once I bought this property next to the highway, I got to thinking,” he says. “Every day thousands of cars go flying by at 70 miles per hour on their way to Palm Springs. I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna stop ’em.’ ”

Stop them he does. Every day scores of drivers screech to a halt and pile out of their cars to touch the monster’s concrete hide, sit on its colossal toes and gaze up at its rather brutish face. Building Dinney the Dinosaur—Bell’s cutesy name for his offspring—was a gigantic undertaking. Bell improvised without blueprints and almost single-handedly. “While they were building the highway,” he recalls, “floods came and bent all the steel they were going to use. They said I could have it. All I did was bend it some more to make the frame for Dinney’s body.” On another occasion, a shipment of concrete delivered to the highway crew was found to be substandard. It quickly went into Dinney.

Bell is turning the creature’s hollow belly into a combination gift shop, prehistoric museum and puppet theater, and soon will open the wooden door in Dinney’s tail to the public—for a 500 fee (250 for children), of course.

“Kids really are fascinated with this thing,” claims Bell, “because it’s big or ugly or strange-looking. I’m not sure why. But where the kids go, Dad goes too.” Bell’s next project to attract Dad’s wallet is the king of the Mesozoic era: a 200-foot tall Tyrannosaurus rex.