09/12/2012 07:25 am ET Updated Nov 12, 2012

Roadside Dinosaurs Are Far From Extinct (PHOTOS)

I have a soft spot for weird roadside dinosaurs. The bizarre tourist trap monsters always make me smile when I see them standing awkwardly along America's highways.

Even though, given my job as a science writer, I can be a bit of a pedant about the inaccuracies of aberrant dinosaurs, I nonetheless feel an affection for the Mesozoic-inspired highway kitsch. An aberrant roadside form isn't so much a dinosaur as the idea of a dinosaur boiled down into a mosaic of scaly, drab skin, elongated fangs and fearsome claws. And they most often appear in the places where the remains of real dinosaurs are still resting in the rock, waiting for paleontologists to discern their secrets and further change our understanding of dinosaur lives.

Over the past few years, I've been accumulating reader-submitted photos of Cretaceous celebrities spotted along highways, suburban sprawl, and other unexpected places. (And I've added a few of my own shots through my travels across the American west.) Thanks to my travels and my readers, I've seen the best, the worst, and the weirdest. My absolute favorite is along Vernal, Utah's main drag on the way towards the immense Jurassic bonebed at Dinosaur National Monument: a bikini-clad version of the town's mascot, Dinah, invites visitors for a swim. Although the monstrosities outside Stewart's Petrified Wood shop near Petrified National Park in Arizona are among my top sightings because they're so awful: A model in a shock wig rides a dilapidated sauropod surrounded by icicle lights, while a sad, roughshod theropod threatens to chomp down on a poor mannequin next door.

But then, of course, there's the strange "Wrinklesaurus" that stands outside the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center in Jurupa, California -- not to mention the sky-blue sombrero-wearing sauropod that grins at patrons from a gas station on the boarder of the Carolinas. The competition for most lovable is fierce.

So, take a peek through these 10 below, then check out all 33 of the best and weirdest roadside dinosaurs and vote fore your favorite here!

-- Brian Switek

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