Sand Serpent Lives in the Borrego desert!
A big surprise awaits Borrego Valley visitors, even those who are “regulars” and know of the Sky Art metal sculptures will have something to talk about when they see the 350-foot long, out of this world, sand serpent straddled across Borrego Springs Road. It has a head of a dragon, the body of a sea serpent, and the tail of a rattlesnake. It is the 129th sculpture to be installed in Galleta Meadows since April 2008 when they first began to appear. The sculptures are called “Sky Art” because they are situated outdoors under the sky and fully integrated into the landscape, which is surrounded by the vast Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California. Galleta Meadows is open to the public and in size is three square miles of non-contiguous lands scattered in Borrego Valley.
The sculptures built to date represent creatures that lived in this desert area millions of years ago as well as some of historical nature and others for pure fun that include a variety of dinosaurs. All of these wondrous sculptures were made by the very talented Ricardo Breceda. A decade ago, no one, including Breceda, knew that he would become a renowned artist. He had never had any art training. An accident at his construction worksite set him on a new course in his life. He became a cowboy boot salesman, and one day he traded a pair of boots for a welding machine that he began playing with for fun. Then his seven year-old daughter Lianna asked him to make her a lifesize dinosaur for Christmas after seeing the 2001 summer blockbuster Jurassic Park 3. He did not want to disappoint his daughter, and in the course of welding a dinosaur for her, he set out on a journey that has shaped his life. This December marks the tenth anniversary that this “accidental artist” made that first life-size metal sculpture—a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Each sculpture since has become better than the last one, showing more lifelike features and expressions. Each new one includes more intricate details, culminating with his latest—the sand serpent. Breceda has a shop at his home in Perris, California, adjacent to Interstate 215. Only a fence separates his yard from the freeway. Hanging over that fence is a wild menagerie from Indians to mermaids, giraffes, and dinosaurs casting long shadows over the freeway. That is Breceda’s only form of advertising besides word-of-mouth. It was enough to attract Borrego landowner Dennis Avery who commissioned Breceda to create the sculptures on his open land in Borrego Valley designated as Galleta Meadows.The original sculptures were inspired by the Plio-Pleistocene animals that appear in paintings and sketches found in Fossil Treasures of the Anza-Borrego Desert. Avery thought that if the early animals of the area could be recreated in a three-dimensional form, then they would give greater understanding to visitors of the area as to what the area may have been like millions of years ago. He was especially interested in arousing children to learn more about historical science. So in fast succession came elephant-like gomphotheres, early llamas and Camelops, giant tortoises, sabertooth cats, extinct horses, Columbian mammoths, tapirs, peccaries, and a giant bird called an Aiolornis that had a 17-foot long wingspan.
Then followed a band of Peninsular bighorn sheep, a miner and his mule, an Indian, a padre, Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, and farm workers harvesting grapes. For fun several dinosaurs were added including Spinosaurus, Velociraptor, Allosaurus, Carnotaurus, Utah-raptor, and Tyrannosaurus Rex. Borrego Valley now has its own “Jurassic Park”. The “last” sculpture before the latest was a perfect metal replica of the first Willy’s Jeep CJ-3A. The jeep was to be the last until Avery was inspired to have Breceda create this new sculpture. For each sculpture, Avery gives Breceda some general ideas of what he has in mind, and then he leaves it to Breceda to figure out the details. In the case of the serpent, Breceda has certainly outdone himself. The serpent, located on Borrego Springs Road, just south of San Ysidro Road in Borrego Springs, took three months to design and construct and another three months to install on location. It began with a simple sketch drawn by Avery to show what he had in mind. The sketch had a rattlesnake tail on one side of the road and two loops of a sea serpent body on the other side of the road. Avery had various photographs of dragon heads that he had printed off the Internet. He also had information about Ohio’s 1,400-foot long prehistoric Serpent Mound. His general instructions were to build a serpent that would appear to dive under the road. The serpent would have the head of a dragon and a tail of a rattlesnake.
Breceda studied Avery’s sketch for a few minutes, and then he began to make changes. He added a loop on the tail side of the road and suggested that the sculpture be large so that it would not appear to be a giant “worm”. He originally suggested making it one-tenth the size of the Serpent Mound—140 feet. That eventually changed when he realized that it needed to be longer to look right diving under the road. It grew to 350 feet. The head, loops, and tail were constructed in Breceda’s shop in Rosarito Beach, Baja California. When more and more business began coming Breceda’s way, beyond what he could handle himself, he hired and trained a crew to help him on the most tedious parts of the construction of all of the sculptures— cutting the sheet metal and pounding it with hammers to give it various textures. In the case of the serpent, it called for literally thousands of individual scales that had to be welded on to a frame, one at a time. Having the shop in Rosarito Beach helps save on the cost of labor and materials. The serpent was so large that it had to be transported to Borrego Valley in eight sections, hauled in a trailer, one section at a time. Installation began in May and did not end until July, with Breceda working daily while temperatures soared into the 100s. What makes this sculpture “the best” to date is the incredible detail that Breceda added to the head, fins, and tail sections. It is definitely worth a visit to Borrego Springs to see this sand serpent. A new book will be available beginning in October 2011 that will offer more information about Breceda’s unusual story and describe details about all of the sculptures found in Borrego Valley. Ricardo Breceda: Accidental Artist is a 256-page, hardcover coffee-table book, retailing for $24.95, and includes a detailed map showing the location for all of the assemblages. The book is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, the publisher’s website at www.sunbeltbooks.com, and at many stores in the charming desert community of Borrego Springs.
Story courtesy of Diana Lindsay
ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Diana Lindsay —
Biographer and historian Diana Lindsay is largely known for her many publications about the Anza-Borrego region of Southern California. Her master’s thesis on the history of the state park was published in 1973 by Copley Books. Wilderness Press published the area guidebook The Anza-Borrego Desert Region in 1978. It is now in its fifth edition and remains in print along with several other publications. She is also an award-winning photographer. She developed her investigative reporting skills while working at a Texas tri-state newspaper, the Amarillo Globe- News, where she wrote “Ask Adam,” a popular daily hot-line column for many years.