Desert View Tower is a unique roadside attraction along Interstate 8 between San Diego and Imperial County. The tower reminds us of good old fashioned roadside kitsch and is worth the stop.
The tower is ocated at 3,000 feet elevation near the town of Jacumba, approximately 70 miles east of San Diego and 45 miles west of El Centro.
Constructed out of cut-stone the tower stands four stories tall. It was built in 1922 by Bert Vaughn, a real estate developer who once owned the town of Jacumba. It was constructed over a six-year period and completed in 1928.
The tower base was made of solid rock, which proved to be strong enough to survive year of fierce desert wind as well as the blasting that was done to construct the adjacent Interstate in the 1960s.
Vaughn created the tower in memory of early pioneers who labored to travel across the desert. It took about 30 days to make the trek between Yuma and the Pacific Ocean, with desert temperatures reaching over 110 degrees Fahrenheit on the hottest days. Such travel is almost unthinkable now, with our air conditioned vehicles
The interior of the tower has some museum-like displays as you walk up the stair way. They hold a collection of “Desert Americana” items, such as Native American-inspired blankets, taxidermy animals, newspaper clippings and other ephemera.
Views from the Desert Tower let you see into Mexico, across the desert and even to the Salton Sea on a clear day. There is a telescope in the tower that takes quarters so you can have an even closer look.
You are likely to be surprised just how quiet the desert is, with the occasional punctuation of noise from passing cars.
Adjacent to the tower is Boulder Park, a collection of wind-weathered rocks that form a network of caves and walkways. Along the walkways are unique hand-sculpted animals and faces that were created by a depression-era folk artist, W.T. Ratcliffe. He took two years to complete the art work.
These quartz granite creatures have been painted in some areas to further accentuate their form. Animals include buffalo, bear, birds, and some animals that you may have to use your imagination with to figure out.
Kids love exploring the boulders, paths and animals and if you have been on the road for a while, it’s a great place for kids to expend some pent-up energy.
Adults also enjoy the fun of bouldering and exploring the craggy wind-blown caves. It brings out the kid in even the grumpiest adults. This is also fun place to snap a few family photos for the album or the holiday cards.
There is also a desert spring on the property which boasts vegetation that you would not typically expect to see in such an arid area.
Before you visit Desert View Tower
Winters are cold and summers are blazing in the desert. Pack and dress accordingly with plenty of water and sunscreen. Study shoes are recommended if you plan to climb around on the rocks.
Bring your own binoculars to enjoy the sweeping desert view from the top of the tower. Bring a camera to take some photos of the folk art and of the kids enjoying the boulders.
There is a nominal admission fee, which includes entry to the tower, museum and the Boulder Park. There are restrooms on site and you can purchase cold beverages to cool down after your boulder exploring.
If you want to make a weekend of it, camping is available in Boulevard, at the McCain Valley Recreational Area or in Anza Borrego Park.
Getting There: Desert Tower is located off of In-Ko-Pah Road, about four miles east of Jacumba. Take the In-Ko-Pah exit and follow the signs. The tower is open daily from 9AM to 5PM, but it is good to call ahead to confirm at 619-766-4612.
The In-Ko-pah exit gets its name from the Kumeyaay Tribe, who lived in the eastern mountains of San Diego County. In their language “in-ka-pah” means “place of the mountain people”. An apt name for a landscape that is mountainous and rocky.
In the Area: Other attractions in the area include Anza Borrego State Park, which can have stunning wildflower blooms in the spring. The Golden Acorn Casino, east of Alpine, has a travel center to pick up gas and snacks and hot deli items.
Grownups might enjoy a little time in the casino or a BBQ meal at the casino restaurant