Oklahoma’s roadside reptiles
No signs mark the spot. There is no interpretative center, no historical marker, no souvenir kiosk. The bleached bone stands, as tall as a man, on a cement pedestal overlooking the curve of Highway 325 east of Kenton, not far from the shadow of Black Mesa.
The minimalist masterpiece marks the quarry where the state’s first big dinosaur discovery was unearthed in 1931, when the blade of a Cimarron County road grader uncovered a massive rib bone. It was one of a series of discoveries of remains from five distinct dinosaur species, and included the recovery of an intact femur of an apatosaurus. Weight: 425 pounds. Length: 5 feet, 11 3/4 inches. Diameter: 24 inches at one end and 21 inches around the other.
A nine-year Works Progress Administration dig, led by J. Willis Stovall of The University of Oklahoma and halted by World War II, removed 18 tons of bones and fossils to the archives in Norman, 375 miles to the southeast. The best are now featured in the Sam Noble Museum’s Hall of Ancient Life.
Back beneath the skies of Cimarron County, the true-to-size cement cast of the femur drawn from the pit is mounted on its end, standing in wordless salute on the north side of the highway. The original has been replaced over the years, worn down by the elements, vandals and its sporadic use as target practice. It is the state’s oldest monument to its prehistoric past.
A tour of western Oklahoma reveals other roadside salutes to dinosaurs, with inspiration ranging from civic pride to salesmanship to philosophical beliefs to “just because.”
1) CIMMY of BOISE CITY
The prize find from the dig near Kenton was the giant femur and fossilized bones that formed an apatosaurus skeleton that was 80 percent complete.
Norma Gene Young (1925-2010), longtime publisher of The Boise City News, was determined to memorialize the creature that once surrounded those bones. She donated proceeds from self-published books on local history to commission a $20,000 life-sized creation from Texas-based sculptor Joe Barrington.
The 9-ton iron landmark – 65 feet long and 35 feet high – looms over Highway 3 on the north side of the rambling museum, its long tail and neck designed to sway in the face of strong winds.
It has come to be known by the name coined by a Boise City grade-school student: Cimmy, the Cimarronasaurus.
2) STEGOLEX of WOODWARD
The statue of a child riding a stegosaurus installed at the corner of 11th and Oklahoma, in front of the Woodward Christian Academy, was inspired not by local fossils, but by a carving in the Ta Prohm Temple in Cambodia, an ambiguous artwork that creationists cite as evidence that people and dinosaurs co-existed.
The signs mounted outside the gate surrounding the sculpture explain its story:
Evolution is a fairy tale for Adults
A Dinosaur like this roamed the Earth 5,000 years ago
About 6,000 Years Ago God Created the Earth, You, and Oil & Natural Gas
Commissioned by Randall Gabrel, the Academy’s headmaster, the work was created by Joe Taylor, director and curator of the Texas-based Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum, who bills himself as a “creationist paleontologist/paleoartist.”
Stegolex was built of lacquer-coated foam, which was then painted and sealed. The work was dedicated Oct. 29, 2012, as part of the Woodward Christian Academy’s grand opening, which also featured guest speaker Ken Ham, president of the Creation Museum of Kentucky.
Gabrel also owns B and G Productions, an oil and gas company founded by his father, longtime college football coach Pug Gabrel. He believes in a literal translation of the Bible, which he promotes by featuring a rider on the back of the dinosaur.
“It’s just a kid – not Jesus as a child or anything,” he says. “I doubt that people actually rode dinosaurs. It’s just a kid to show they both were alive at the same time. I think humans saw living dinosaurs.”
How do creationist views reconcile with being an oil and gas man?
“I think that oil is – some oil is – made of dinosaur bones, like they say,” says Gabrel. “But there is just too much of it. I believe oil was put there by God when he created the world, for our use.”
Regardless of its historical accuracy, Stegolex is likely the most famous of Oklahoma’s outdoor dinosaur tributes, with recent mentions in national and international media coverage of Oklahoma, in stories ranging from climate-change skeptics to roadside wonders.
3) THE BIG GREEN DINOSAUR of GAGE
Originally more of a hunter-green shade, the turquoise Big Green Dinosaur was created out of tire rims by folk artist Jim Powers. The Gage native returned home after a military career and ended up purchasing a salvage yard, which inspired his creative side. Several of his pieces were purchased for exhibition by Ripley’s Believe It or Not, which dubbed him the “Junkyard Picasso.” Although he died in 2006, his Big Green Dinosaur continues to hold court at the intersection of Highways 15 and 46 in his hometown.
4) DINO of PERRY
The state’s oldest gas station in continuous service is the Kemnitz station on the courthouse square in Perry, dating to 1937. Originally affiliated with Mid-Continent Petroleum and Apco, the family-owned station now carries Sinclair Oil, and was presented with a new station dinosaur in 2016 as part of Sinclair’s centennial celebration.
Sinclair Oil’s ad team hatched the idea for a dinosaur-themed campaign to promote a line of oils and lubricants refined from deposits of Pennsylvania crude, touted as 270 million years old. Of the dozen different dinosaurs used in advertising, the fan favorite was the apatosaurus. The company trademarked the familiar long-necked dinosaur in 1932, and gave it the name Dino.
5) I-35 DINOSAUR of OKLAHOMA CITY
The life-sized brachiosaurus, billed as 65 feet long and 33 feet tall, made headlines when it was put on display outside the new location of Statuary World in 1996. Designer Clay Seibold worked with Agustin Olivares, Victor Trejo and Cirilo Ramirez to shape rebar to form a skeleton, covered it with used chicken wire, three layers of fiberglass and resin and paint to seal the skin. “He’s gonna really be a showpiece,” Seibold told a reporter from The Oklahoman the month before the dinosaur was installed. Twenty-two years later, the creation continues to tower over the playground sets and yard ornament displays overlooking southbound I-35.
6) THE DINOSAUR ROADSIDE RANCH of RUSH SPRINGS
The Chickasaw Country Travel Guide touts The Dinosaur Roadside Ranch, located off Highway 81 in a farmer’s field five miles north of downtown Rush Springs, as a key attraction. Although visitors are not allowed within the fence, the work “is accessible daily to all bypassers for roadside viewing.” The collection’s masterpiece: a horse trailer transformed into a dinosaur, which had once enjoyed a career as a parade float, featuring moving parts.
7) THE BOOKWORM DINOSAUR of OKLAHOMA CITY
The feel of the Great Plains – images of wheat fields and windmills, Route 77 signs, architectural elements evoking oil derricks – is integrated into the design of Oklahoma City’s first new public library in 30 years. The Patience S. Latting Northwest Library opened on May 22, 2012, featuring outdoor artwork including a 7-foot saurophaganax, created by California-based artist Solomon Bassoff. The steel armature, covered with sculpted cement, portrays a dinosaur in red Converse and yellow polka-dot socks, juggling a tumbling stack of natural history books, his glass eyes trained on the traffic on NW 122nd Street. The library notes the artwork is “intended to encourage library use, to touch hearts and inspire minds of library guests for generations to come.”