Prehistoric Playa Prowler

As the annual Burning Man Festival approaches, Justin Lanphear prepares The Triceratops for its 385-mile journey to Black Rock City, Nev. The repurposed Frito-Lay delivery van that now looks like a prehistoric beast is Eugene’s most prominent art car.

“About six years ago I realized I could buy a house, or I could build The Triceratops,” Lanphear says. “I realized that if I bought a house, I would never build the triceratops. So I found out where to get these decommissioned delivery vans, and I went for it.”

Lanphear says that the vehicle type and shape was what gave him the idea to create a triceratops. Together with a small group of friends, he designed and modified the delivery van into a “mutant vehicle,” using aluminum and plexiglass. It took them six months.

Lanphear doesn’t own any other vehicles, mostly because he believes in promoting environmentally sustainable forms of travel. This is why The Triceratops is run on biodiesel, and is capable of holding up to 40 passengers. 

“My group of friends just kept getting bigger, and I wanted something that could be sort of a camp hub at Burning Man.” Lanphear says. 

After six trips to the world-renowned festival at Black Rock City, the inside of The Triceratops looks like a space ship that’s returned from a distant galaxy. Fur and cushions line the inside seats and walls, a ladder leads to the top hatch and upper open-air level, giant flasks, funhouse mirrors and oversized stuffed animals adorn the bar area, trinkets, toys and bizarre memorabilia hang all over the front cabin. It’s a party mobile that looks like dinosaur, drives like a tank and gets about 15 miles to the gallon on the highway. 

“Yeah, I get some looks driving this thing down the highway sometimes,” Lanphear says. “It doesn’t drive very fast, it peaks out at about 57 miles per hour. I’ve never had any trouble or ever been pulled over or anything.”

The whole thing can light up like a Christmas tree. Lanphear explains that in accordance with Burning Man’s Department of Mutant Vehicle laws, The Triceratops uses lights to demarcate the front, rear and passenger-loading portions of the vehicle. This is so no one out in the desert at night can miss the several-ton art car and accidentally slam into it. 

At four o’clock in the morning on Friday, Aug. 24, Lanphear and a crew of about 14 dedicated “burners” will embark upon their journey into the desert of Nevada. The bright lights and pointy horns of The Triceratops will lead the way.

“This year is supposed to be pretty harsh, weather wise,” Lanphear says. “But as always I’m looking forward to it.”