Thursday, April 26, 2018

Photo Essay: The Faces of Boulder Park

People who explore boulders often describe them in anthropomorphized terms, like "Skull Rock" in Joshua Tree. Humans are inclined to recognize patterns where there are none—and seeing faces in inanimate objects is so common that there's a name for it.



I think the man who created Boulder Park in Jacumba, CA must've had it—that is, a case of "facial pareidolia."



But instead of simply recognizing the accidental facial features or suggested biological forms in the geologic formations...



... he took two years to carve the granite into fully realized beings.



For the avoidance of doubt as to what's been created out of the rock, their features have been outlined in red, black, and white paint.



The result is a sculpture garden and folk art environment that immerses you in caves and slots...



...while you're surrounded by lizards...



...serpents...



...alligators...



...and, perhaps, a long-eared dog?



The entrance to the park is clear—just off to the side of the Desert View Tower, where you can buy a ticket to both the tower and the park for $6.50. (More on the tower in a future post.)



But you have to kind of look for some of the animals that are tucked away in the outcroppings...



...along a path that's not always so obvious (or clearly marked)



But, as with much of the desert, the path is both everywhere and nowhere. If you can scramble over a particular boulder, then that's your path—even if someone (or Mother Nature herself) hasn't actually cleared it for you.



After enough time in Boulder Park, every rock starts looking like a sculpture of a creature. There's a name for those familiar-shaped rocks, too, be they of eagles, Indian heads, or what have you— mimetoliths.



I began wondering whether the paint had just faded on some of them, camouflaging their limbs, wingspans, hunched backs, and propped-open jaws as though they were just another natural feature among the batholiths.



On the nearby historical marker installed by the Clampers (a.k.a. E Clampus Vitus), the sculptor of Boulder Park is credited as W.T. Ratcliffe—but erroneously so. Unfortunately, that misnomer has spread widely throughout much of what you can find about Boulder Park on the internet.

His name was actually Merle T. Ratcliffe (and not Radcliff, as sometimes also reported), and he was in his mid-30s when he created his masterpiece during the height of the Great Depression.

The official story seems to be that Ratcliffe, an engineer by trade, had come to Jacumba from San Diego (or, more specifically, El Cajon)—either despite or because of a bout with tuberculosis from which he was recovering—to work on building the Desert View Tower next door. It seems that he was paid for that work, but he spent his spare time creating Boulder Park.

Based on the fruits of his labor, M.T. Ratcliffe was a folk hero of this unforgiving desert environment, just east of the San Andreas Fault. And while his material of choice wasn't recycled junk (as with other folk environments like Nitt Witt Ridge or Bottle Village), there's plenty of both art and spectacle here that draws visitors and especially children to explore its crevices and crevasses.

Related Posts:
In the Footsteps of the Great Movie Cowboys
Photo Essay: A Pumpkin Smiles Down Upon Horsetown USA
Photo Essay: The Longest Mile, At Devil's Punchbowl
Photo Essay: The Creatures That Conquered the Desert