Spotlight Thursday- Desert View Tower

I love roadside attractions. They seem to be a bit of a dying breed so when I hear about a good one, I make sure to schedule in a pitstop to our road trip itinerary. Several months back, I was watching California’s Gold (I have a slight obsession with ultra enthusiastic public television icon Huell Howser) and became infatuated with a place called Desert View TowerDesert View Tower is located off Interstate 8, near the tiny town of Jacumba which is not far from the Mexican border in the eastern reaches of San Diego County. Built in the 1920’s by Bert Vaughn who owned the town of Jacumba, this four-story, cut-stone structure sits 3,000 feet above sea levels with sweeping views of the desert beyond. Before the advent of the highway system, the trek to the Pacific Coast was very difficult coming from the desert so Vaughn built the tower to honor those early pioneers who made the journey.

Fast forward nearly ninety years later and enter a tower filled with random relics of an eclectic past. After coughing up $2.00 to explore climb the tower, visitors are greeted by tanks filled with turtles and fish, framed photos of random landscapes hanging on the walls with price tagged affixed, and the occasional sleeping dog on a ratty couch. Stop to enjoy the player piano and little bits of history sprinkled throughout the journey up the staircase to the lookout point. It’s a strange time capsule of mementos passed down by past owners of this unusual spot out in the middle of nowhere. The view from the top is quite scenic with a boulder strewn mountainous landscape occupying the foreground and a desert stretching out to Mexico beyond.

While the tower is certainly quirky and fun, kids will have an even better time exploring the giant boulders nearby. Sure, the rocks are great for climbing but the real attraction are the boulders carved into all sorts of animals and designs by a quirky folk artist named W.T. Ratcliffe in the 1930’s. Ratcliffe hung around Desert View Tower for several years, hand carving designs into the rocks and then leaving one day, never to be heard of again. Explorers will find a snake, bison, lizard, alligator, and even an Indian Chief carved into the granite, all making for a whimsical display. Spend ten minutes or an hour as you climb, weave through, and discover what this unusual pile of rocks offers to its visitors.

Desert View Tower may not be in its prime but it is still a roadside attraction worth stopping to see. The owners are friendly, as are their entourage of dogs and cats that call the tower home, and those crazy carved rocks are just aching to be climbed.

Find the details on visiting the tower on trekaroo »

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About the author

Sharlene Earnshaw is Trekaroo’s Editor in Chief. She lives in sunny Orange County, CA, with her husband and 10-year-old son and daughter (twins!). She is a self-proclaimed National Park junkie and has the goal of visiting each and every one with her kids. When she isn't traveling to places like Norway, Peru, Disney World, and Hawaii with her family, she enjoys hiking, beach days, obsessively rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, and planning her brood's next trip.
5 Responses
  1. You never quite know what you’re going to find at a roadside attraction…isn’t that part of what makes them so fun?

    Those giant boulders look like a great place to explore!

  2. Bocas Girl

    Absolutely right and looks like the kids are really enjoying it. Great adventure 🙂 I might visit the Tower during our scheduled reunion at Tijuana on July, this will be a good surprise for my little ones.

  3. What are the hours of operation? We are heading from San Diego to Phoenix in a few weeks and I’d love to take the kids,but we need to be out in Arizona early afternoon, so we may miss it

  4. doubleadventure

    The hours vary but typically follow normal business hours. I would call ahead and ask. Its a mom and pop operations and it just depends on pop’s schedule I think . 🙂

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