The Search is On
The road trip from Palm Desert to Galleta Meadows is speckled with rolling hills, dramatic crevices, and a few ocotillos. We saw a couple four wheelers and an off road motocross trail, but the drive is rural, i.e. make sure to fill up on gas beforehand. This was my first trip into the desert and my interest was piqued — I needed to see these massive desert sculptures for myself.
We put ‘Galleta Meadows’ in the GPS and drove with no real idea of where we were going. While we eventually ran into some of the sculptures, what we should have done first was visit the Borrego Springs Visitor Center. The Center sits off of a roundabout park known as Christmas Circle. In the general area there is a gas station, public restroom, and a few restaurants with good reviews. The Visitor Center staff gave us a map of all the sculptures spread throughout 28 different locations.
Borrego Springs, CA
We also learned a little more about Borrego Springs and the local area. Anza-Borrego State Park surrounds the town, and therefore there are a wide range of outdoor activities available. Many people go there to camp, hike, bird watch, etc. It was very popular a few weeks ago during the super bloom, but our guides told us the last remaining blooms can only be reached with four-wheel drive — something we were lacking. If you are interested in the less-flashy local flora, there is a Borrego Botanical Garden not far from the sculpture location. The Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association maintains it and also hosts year-round activities. One of the most interesting offerings is the Borrego Night Sky Tours. Borrego Springs is an International Dark Sky Community, one of only two in the world! This tour is highly unique, led by an astronomer, and I’m sure is ‘out of this world’.
Galetta Meadows, where the sculptures are, is an unfenced private estate open to the public. In 1774, Seb Tarabal, a Cochimi Indian guide, led Comandante De Anza and Jose Joaquin Moraga across the territory. De Anza went on to become the governor of New Mexico and Moraga founded the Presidio of San Francisco.
About the Artist
The sculptures are the creation of California-based artist, Ricardo Breceda. He first began sculpting after seeing Jurassic Park 3 with his daughter. When she asked for her own dinosaur for Christmas, his inner artist revealed itself and the rest is history. His studio is located in Aguanga, CA, where you can see his work inspired by prehistoric creatures, wildlife, and the Wild West. The late-owner of the Galleta Meadows land, Dennis Avery, commissioned Breceda to turn the meadows into an outdoor art gallery. There are several themes: desert wildlife, extinct wildlife, and local history and culture.
Desert Sculpture Exploration
With our map and new knowledge in tow, we were ready to discover each sculpture location. We could, for the most part, see all of the sculptures from the main road. For those wanting to take a closer look, there are dirt roads leading up to them with room to park. Surprisingly for a Friday afternoon, we were the only people at most of the sites. The serpent and scorpion had a few people around them, but we had all the other sculptures to ourselves.
While we were glad to have some people around to take our picture, having the rest of the artwork alone was refreshing. It gave me a moment to take in the landscape and the sculpture’s location in that landscape. Next to the mountains and the oversized animals and figures, it reminded me of how small I am. The remoteness and stillness of the surroundings led my mind to wander about this place before people. It probably hasn’t changed that much. Nature will keep being Nature whether we’re here or not.
We saw giant ground sloths, giraffes, elephants, and an Indian Head – but my favorites were the scorpion and grasshopper. Isolated in a sandy patch, they’re poised in a dueling stance. None of the other sculptures interact in this way, the species sticking amongst themselves. The powerful tail (Metasoma) of the scorpion towers overhead, while its’ mouth parts (Chelicerae) are close to the ground. It’s perfect for those overly-dramatic-yet-mandatory “Ahh I’m being eaten!” pictures.
We spent about three hours wandering the Meadows and taking photos in the early-late afternoon. The sky was beautiful, but the desert sun was harsh and made it difficult to capture certain photos. If I were to go again, I would wait until closer to the Golden Hour, when I can imagine the warm tones of the sculptures would really pop on camera.
As a designer, the entire experience was inspiring to me. People accustomed to the desert see it as a barren landscape, but I look at it with wonder. Everything looks new and exciting, and for once in my life I’m not sweating due to 99% humidity. I was able to get a good picture from almost any angle and play with multiple lenses — something that doesn’t happen often in a busy gallery or crowded street. This sculptural gallery in the ‘wilderness’ allowed me to take my time, and to appreciate the slight breeze and the silent mountains. There were no expectations and I was able to have fun and be in awe of the art both in front of me and surrounding me.
The ride back to Palm Desert took us through a few small towns near the Salton Sea. My first trip to the desert was a success. Looking back, I’m so happy that Dennis Avery had the foresight to turn his estate into an open air gallery, and that Ricardo Breceda had the vision to make it a reality.