If you live in the Inland Empire and are driving on the 60 Freeway from Riverside towards Los Angeles, you might have seen the HUGE steel "elephant"-like statue looming in the distance on the hill above the freeway. Many people don't know it's acutally a sculpture of an ancient mammoth. Lots of drivers have wondered what it is, how it got there, and why it sits on that Jurupa Valley hill. As part of our listener-interactive reporting project, The Inland, KVCR's Shareen Awad went on a mission to find out more.
There’s a huge, shadowy figure high on the hill that can be seen if you’re driving in or out of Riverside on the 60 Freeway. That may sound menacing, but it’s not alive and hasn’t been since the Ice Age. It’s actually a steel sculpture of a Columbian mammoth named Eddie and while many people have seen it, many also wonder what it is and why it’s there.
KVCR listener Cami Wendlandt, a grad student at UC Riverside, noticed the mammoth immediately after moving to the area from Portland, Oregon, and reached out to The Inland for answers, KVCR’s community reporting project.
“It just seemed random,” she said about the sculpture. “And I've seen monuments on the sides of freeways before and I guess I wonder why someone put it up in the first place, and if anyone maintains it now or is it just there until an earthquake knocks it down?”
To get the full story, I met up with Wes Andrée, Executive Director of the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center, which owns the sculpture.
“Eddie is kind of the icon if you're entering the Inland Empire or you're leaving the Inland Empire on the 60,” he said.
Back in the early 2000s, a construction crew in Mira Loma found a couple of mammoth tusks from the Ice Age. The Discovery Center acquired the fossils and decided to make Eddie as a tribute.
Andrée jokes that Eddie gets upset when people refer to him as an elephant.
“When people say it's an elephant or a woolly mammoth, we'll say, ‘Well, Eddie's gonna be really offended and he may come down that hill and stomp on us.’ Because he is a Columbian mammoth.”
At the time of the Ice Age, there were lots of Columbian mammoths roaming the Inland Empire. Unlike woolly mammoths, they have shorter hair because the Inland Empire wasn’t actually that cold during the Ice Age. It felt a lot like Northern California does now, with a lot of greenery, snow-capped mountains, and rivers.
While you can find plenty of dinosaur sculptures alongside the trails and scattered throughout the botanical gardens at the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center, another misconception is that dinosaurs roamed the IE.
Geologists at the Discovery Center ensured me that Jurupa was underwater during the age of the dinosaurs, so it makes sense that Eddie the mammoth was chosen to represent both the Center and the region, instead of a T-Rex. But when I hopped off of our golf cart during my tour and stood next to Eddie, reaching only halfway up one of his legs, I certainly felt like I was standing next to a T-Rex.
“He's running close to 20 feet tall and close to 35 feet in length,” Andrée said. “He's much bigger than something that would have been here in reality. But you need big in order to see it from the road.”
Building the Mammoth
I wanted to know more about the process of constructing Eddie the Columbian mammoth, so I reached out to Klaus Duebbert, the sculpture artist. He had no idea that his creation had been given a name.
“They call him Eddie?” he asked when I mentioned the name. “Eddie the mammoth. Sounds good.”
Originally from Germany, Duebbert comes from centuries of blacksmiths in the family. In 2003, he was commissioned by the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center, known then as the Cultural Center, to build a mammoth. He accepted the job and quickly found out just how large of a task he agreed to take on.
“The mammoth was the biggest piece I’ve ever done and it was a challenge to build it,” he said.
To make sure the mammoth was anatomically correct, Duebbert made multiple visits to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles to view the fossils of mammoths that had been found trapped in the tar.
Using mild steel, he constructed the mammoth in two halves, and then welded them together at the bottom of the hill. The whole process took over seven months.
But the most dramatic part of the whole process might have been office politics.
“For a lot of people, it is a landmark, and people in office buildings were fighting over which one can have the desk with the view of the mammoth,” he said.
Then there was the challenge of lugging it up the hill.
“We used a D9 Caterpillar to just drag it up,” Duebbert said. “It was on skids, like a sleigh.”
He said the first glimpse of the mammoth from drivers on the 60 freeway was a spectacle in itself.
“The traffic was slowing down. And people stopped and looked. You don't see a four-ton size mammoth dragged up the hill every day,” he said.
When I shared KVCR listener Wendlandt’s concerns about an earthquake threatening the mammoth, Duebbert said he’s not worried. “It's stuck to the mountain. It sits on 40 tons of concrete. It has a lot of ballast in it, so it's more secured. So it won't blow down there.”
Eddie looks like he’s holding up pretty well, with only a few dents and some strips of steel missing from his legs and on his back.
Andrée says Eddie’s actually more in danger from tourists.
“What they'll do is they'll peel pieces off of him because they wanna take it home for souvenirs,” he said. “We’re in the process right now of talking to a sculptor up in Eagle Rock and he's gonna reskin Eddie and give him a face lift. Because it's one of those things you gotta do periodically. It's our intention to have Eddie here for as long as Eddie wants to be here.”
Next time you spot Eddie the Columbian Mammoth just outside of Riverside off the 60 freeway, consider giving him a visit at the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center. He’ll be there standing the test of time high on the hill, a reminder of what was here long before we were.
If you have a question about the Inland Empire, ask The Inland! You ask, we put your questions up for a vote, the public decides which topic we should investigate, and then we go out and report back with answers.