As the sun sets over the desert sand outside of Santa Fe, N.M., dinosaurs stand silhouetted against the sky. Made from insulating polyurethane foam, the gang of prehistoric creatures watch the passing traffic from their pen along Interstate 25, just 60 miles off old Route 66. The creator of this miniature dinosaur zoo is Larry Wilson, a Santa Fe resident with an unusual flair for foam. Wilson, a roofer and owner of Thermal Coatings & Insulation Construction Corp., began his hobby of creating polyurethane dinosaurs eight years ago. Since then, his dino-saur attraction has gained worldwide attention and draws hundreds of curious sightseers each year.
Using a polyurethane foam typically used for insulating walls, Wilson creates the ancient lizards based on molds he makes from rebar and screen mesh. Once the foam hardens, he uses saws and butcher knives to carve the creatures' eyes, teeth and other features.
For the final step, Wilson uses a rubberized protective roof coating called acrylink to spray the foam.
``This protects it from [ultraviolet] rays and helps make the dinosaur last,'' Wilson said.
Going from roofer to dinosaur maker was a step Wilson said he never anticipated. He first began making the dinosaurs after gaining inspiration from his grandchildren.
``All the kids are studying dinosaurs nowadays,'' Wilson said. ``So, one day they asked me if I could do it.''
Wilson's many creations include two 14-foot-tall tyrannosaurus rex, a 50-foot-long brontosaurus, and a stegosauraus stretching 30 feet long.
Because he does not consider himself an artist and has never taken art lessons, Wilson said he mostly sticks to dinosaurs because he considers them safe subjects.
``If people say, `That doesn't look like a dinosaur,' I just ask them, `How do you know?' '' Wilson said.
Despite his usual reluctance to create anything other than dinosaurs, Wilson said he did design a scene with a cowboy and horse roping a giant tyrannosaur.
``I just took a pair of my old Levi's, a shirt and my boots and filled them full of foam,'' Wilson said. ``That was kind of fun.''
He also claimed he is surprised by the popularity of his foam prehistoric pets.
``There's a constant stream of cars going past here,'' he said. ``I even heard stories that people have seen pictures of them in Saudi Arabia.''
There's no question the dino-saurs have become celebrities, appearing in several magazines and advertisements. The Adolph Coors Co. recently shot a commercial using the dinosaurs and National Geographic magazine took photos of them a few months ago for a future issue.
Despite the dinosaurs' popularity, Wilson does not charge an admission fee to see his foam pets. In fact, he rejects offers from companies for the use of his dinosaurs as representatives.
``I ask them what it will cost me, and when they say, `Nothing,' I say, `Well, that's what I'll charge,''' he said. ``I just ask them to clean up whatever mess they make.'