Article & Research by Allison Garton:
Constructed by Burt Vaughn between 1922 and 1928, the Desert View Tower is an imposing 70-foot tall rock tower that provides an expansive view of the boulder-rific mountains of East San Diego County and the flat reaches of the Imperial County desert from a lofty 3,000 feet above sea level.
The trek across the desert and mountains to San Diego used to take a month or more by car and Vaughn’s tower was a welcome respite from the heat and isolation. You could even refill your radiator!
Burt owned the entire town of Jacumba and constructed the tower as a roadside attraction. When family vacations consisted of week-long views from the back window of a station wagon rather than a shoe-less shuffle through an X-ray machine, roadside attractions were popular and Desert View Tower is one that has lasted the ages.
In 1963, Interstate Highway 8 was completed, which bypassed the park and many of the surrounding towns. You can see some original sections of Highway 80, the first road to Yuma, from the tower’s lookout and the road to the tower itself is Old Highway 80. You drive across a 1932 bridge complete with original white wooden guardrails right before the Desert View Tower parking lot. While the Interstate Highway system does an amazing job of moving people, it lacks the character of driving along nearly 100-year-old concrete; thunk, thunk, thunk, “Look at that!”
Since 1980, the Desert View Tower and adjacent Boulder Park have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s easy to see why, with the accumulated historic pictures, objects, folk art and the quirky construction of the tower itself. Make sure to say “Hi” to the pack of working dogs; they work hard keeping one sleepy eye cracked to watch the place.
Admission is cheap and includes entry to Boulder Park and a climb to the springs.
Personal Experience: This area is where it’s at! Well, at least in the winter/cooler weather. I will not touch 110+ degree weather. We went in February when the breeze was cool and truly perfect outside. Basically, if you’re planning this trip check the weather first so you have an enjoyable experience! On this road alone you will find this tower, a boulder park with carved animals, a UFO repair stop, hot springs and endless abandoned homes/buildings. It is a truly unique experience. The desert tower exceeded all of my expectations. Inside is like an oddities shop.
You will want to spend a decent amount of time here so plan your day accordingly. Pay the $2 so you can walk the 4 or 5 stories to the top (this also gets you access to Boulder Park). It’s completely worth it. Each floor has more oddities and unique artwork. There’s something about this area that gives me a little more hope with San Diego. Living in the city, where there is so much congestion, constant construction & pollution, it’s sooooooo refreshing to see nothing but pure, open land for as far as the eye can see.
We were greeted by a bunch of super-friendly dogs when we first arrived!
An instant bond:
The inside of the tower is brimming with unique oddities, many that you can purchase:
Let’s climb to the top! There are 5 stories total:
Man, what a view!
They offer camping trips out here as well. What a great place to look at the stars!