Historic Roadside Attraction and Landmark

The Desert View Tower is a 70-foot tall structure that stands 3,000 feet above the desert floor of California’s Imperial Valley.

It was constructed by the owner of the nearby community of Jacumba (hə-KOOM-bə), Burt Vaughn, who erected the tower as a roadside attraction to promote his bar and restaurant.

Vaughn used portions of the Old Plank Road to finish out the interior features of the iconic building. It took six years to complete the project (1922-1928). The contractor was already well-known for constructing El Centro’s Barbara Worth Hotel in 1915.

The mountain pass, where the tower stands, has been used for centuries by the indigenous peoples. Spanish Conquistadors and pioneers traversed the route between San Diego and Yuma, and south to Mexico’s Baja peninsula. It also served as the corridor for the Western Union stagecoach and Old Highway 80, portions of which remain today.

The tower was the last remaining roadside attraction along U.S. 80 after it was displaced by the Interstate system in the 1960’s. Unlike the iconic Route 66 from Chicago to Southern California, businesses along the “80” shriveled up and died. Because the tower is visible from Interstate 8, it still attracts motorists traveling east or west.

The area attracts visitors from around the world who come to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of Jacumba’s mineral hot springs.

– Images granted Fair Use by Creative Commons for non-monetary presentation –

Looking East from the Tower

Boulder Park

The tower is located within the In-Ko-Pah mountains (left) in the western portion of Imperial County. (In recent posts, we visited the Old Plank Road to the east, and Slab City to the north.)

Boulder Park is the remnants of mountains that were blasted to forge a path for the Southern Pacific Railroad and Interstate freeway. Merle Ratcliff, an unemployed engineer, arrived here during the Great Depression and created folk art out of the giant boulders.

The Impossible Railway

Readers of this blog will remember that the Old Plank Road was built because the Southern Pacific Railroad faced great difficulty in carving a path eastward across the mountains. Portions of the terrain were so challenging that the railroad had to detour across the border, east of Tijuana. Consequently, Los Angeles became the terminus of the transcontinental railroad.

Eventually, track was laid all the way to Yuma, but service stopped after Hurricane Kathleen (1976) destroyed the tunnels and tracks near Carrizo Gorge. The Carrizo Gorge Railroad still operates as an excursion train from San Diego’s east county to Jacumba.

The trestle across the gorge, not to mention having to blast a tunnel through the mountains, was considered an impossible engineering feat — which is why the Southern Pacific dubbed it The Impossible Railway.

Any sort of radio transmission was prohibited during the construction of the railroad and, later, the Interstate due to the fact that electronic static could set off the dynamite and trigger a catastrophic explosion. Motorists traveling the old highway had to turn off their radios to avoid a potential disaster.

Mountain Springs Station

Mountain Springs Station (1862-1870) was operated by the San Diego and Fort Yuma Turnpike Company. Located just north of the tower, the station became inaccessible due to construction of the Interstate.

It served as a toll station to assist wagons heading west from Yuma. A team of oxen would pull wagons up the steep, 3000-foot climb from the desert floor. The station is a national historic landmark.

In 1980, Congress recognized the Desert View Tower and Boulder Park as a national folk art treasure.


Copyright © In Pics and Words

6 thoughts on “Historic Roadside Attraction and Landmark

    1. It does look like a defensive lookout — maybe a remnant of the Mexican-American war. The border is right there. Burt Vaughn established Jacumba because he thought it would become a port of entry. He guessed wrong. The community never grew. Only 300 people live there today.

      Liked by 1 person


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