In the mid 1920s, Bert Vaughn, a hotel owner in nearby Jacumba, built a four-story tower in the empty Anza Borrego desert to “commemorate the pioneers and road and railroad builders who opened the area.”
The Desert View Tower and Boulder Park (California Historical Monument #939) has a long history. It has been a way station for travelers East and West for centuries, and you may find in the rocks many signs left of their passage (ask about the Yoni yonee). The 1880s saw Easterners begin to move into the area and use these trails. Still visible below the Tower is the old stage station at Mountain Springs. The original road (barely visible) required an ox team to assist the wagons and coaches up the hill.
During WWII the “hurricane deck” of the tower was used as a lookout to make sure Nazis didn’t enter the states via Mexico. Today, not far from the tower, the border patrol keeps watch to make sure undocumented immigrants don’t enter the states via Mexico.
The tower provides a stunning view of the boulders and rugged desert plants surrounding the area. Interestingly, from the tower one can view another curious site; the whimsical carvings of W.T. Ratcliffe, an engineer who, while unemployed during the Depression, used his skills to carve lions, Indian chiefs, and lizards in the boulders and caves around the tower.
Inside the tower there is a haphazard Americana museum and a gift shop, all of which give the site a “lost in time” feeling, as if one had been transported to the 1920’s when Vaughn built the tower. There is little in the beautiful surrounding desert to suggest otherwise.
Know Before You Go
The Desert View Tower is just a few miles north of the Mexico border, about 75 miles east of San Diego out Interstate 8.
Take exit 77 and follow In-Ko-Pah Park Road all the way to the end. You can enjoy the ground level views for free, but to climb the tower admission is $6.50 for adults, $3.50 for kids (which also includes exploring the Boulder Park).
They are open year-round, generally daily from 8:30am until dusk. Sometimes the site will close for weather or other things come up, but you can call ahead at 619-766-9139 for information and weather conditions.