May 01, 2018

Photo Essay: A Stone Tower Overlooks The Conquered Desert Valley Floor

A little less than halfway between San Diego and Yuma, along a stretch that's allowed travelers to cross the Colorado desert in Kumeyaay territory (either by stagecoach, railroad, toll road, or otherwise), you'll find the aptly named Desert View Tower...

...a lookout point built in the 1920s by a local real estate developer who wanted to commemorate the pioneers who paved the way for other travelers to come through such a remote, sandy area (somewhat in hopes of Jacumba, a town he ended up buying, becoming a border crossing instead of present-day Tecate and El Centro).

Built of local rock, quartz, wood salvaged from the Old Plank Road, and other native materials, it's considered its own folk art environment—just like its neighboring Boulder Park (whose creator also helped build the tower)—though, in many ways, it looks much like any other makeshift structure that arises out of the desert.

Perhaps more important is its location—so close to a former wagon road, stage station, and mail route from 1862 to 1870, located just north of the tower and just across the border into Imperial County (though its historical marker is at the tower).

I'd arrived at least 90 minutes before the Desert View Tower's published opening hours, but the man at the front door drinking his morning coffee graciously let me in and gave me a $6.50 ticket to explore the top of the tower and Boulder Park next door.

And when faced with any kind of tower, I've got to climb it—even if that means running so late that I nearly miss the next adventure on my list.

At each landing along the 57-step climb to the top, there are various artifacts...

...pieces of artwork...

...and objects of intrigue that, along with the ground level gift shop (enclosed circa 1950), constitute a so-called "museum" (installed circa 1979).

But the view of the desert is really enough to beckon anyone with a pair of working eyeballs up there.

The very top of Desert View Tower is known as the "Hurricane Deck," used during WWII to look for Nazis who might be crossing the border from Mexico.

Now, the top of the fortress is an observation deck with 360-degree views of the Jacumba and In-Ko-Pah Mountain ranges, Mountain Springs, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and even the local border patrol station.

You're only 70 feet up off the ground while you're up there, but you're actually looming 3000 feet above the Imperial Valley floor. The expanse of the desert below is staggering.

And it's so windy up there (hence the nickname "Hurricane Deck," perhaps?) that it's a wonder you don't get swept up in a wind tunnel and blown out over the arid landscape like one of the UFOs that get repaired at a shop down the road.

It's pretty amazing that the tower itself doesn't even sway—despite the fact that there's no internal structural framework holding it up. The cylinder stands based on the strength of four-feet-thick rock walls alone.

As of the end of last year, the Desert View Tower is for sale—not because it's failing as a roadside attraction, but perhaps because it's proven to be too popular with tour busses and yogis for an owner who's eager to retire.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Faces of Boulder Park
On Refusing To Throw In the Towel (Or, The Campo Cemetery Tour I Almost Missed)
Photo Essay: To the Bell Tower

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