There’s no shortage of interesting day rides around San Diego – but sometimes you want to do the same adventure more than once! One of my favorite little-known places in the outskirts of San Diego is the Desert View Tower and Boulder Park.
The Desert View Tower has been a roadside attraction between Yuma and San Diego since highway 8 was completed in the 60s – but it was built in 1923 by Bert Vaughn. Vaughn had bought most of the region (now called Jacumba) because he speculated it would become a border crossing between the US and Mexico. He was wrong on that count – but we do have him to thank for the tower, which he had built as a “monument to the pioneers.”
A mere 10 years later, an out-of-work engineer (Merle Ratcliff) would spend his time shaping huge boulders near the watchtower into reptiles and imaginary beasts.
Both times I’ve stopped at the Tower, I’ve done it on the way back from a ride through Ocotillo. You can see it perched above the highway as you wind up the grade, then you get off at the In-Ko-Pah Park exit and loop back to it. Though – of course, you could also come at it from Old Highway 80 and come through the desert town of Jacumba, or if you’re feeling like you want to take a car (what? Who uses cars?) you could just take the 8 east.
On your way up to the Tower and Boulder Park, you’ll pass by another roadside stop – Coyote’s Flying Saucer Repair. Coyote is a friendly guy – he’s happy to show you around the little compound he’s created out of other people’s refuse. The flying saucers are always good for a photo, and I hear he has movie nights out under the stars (though I have not attended any of them).
As of this writing, it’s $6.50 per person to climb to the top of the tower and to explore the boulder park – and it’s totally worth it.
The base of the tower is currently used as a gift shop and museum dedicated to the history of the attraction. I found a great water-resistant hiking map of the Anza-Borrego region in this gift shop that I bring with me on rides (and hikes) just in case.
There are little nooks and crannies to explore on every floor of the tower – paintings, relics, and merchandise are all there to distract you as you wind your way up the stairs. Once you get to the top, you’re rewarded with an incredible view of the surrounding region. Look to the east and you can see the edges of the Salton Sea, as well as the highway winding down into the desert. Toward the west and you can see the entirety of the boulder park.
After you head back down to the ground floor – you’ll cross over to the Boulder Park. Don’t forget to stop and pet some of the local dogs! (I guess you don’t have to…but I don’t really see why you wouldn’t – they’re pretty cool dogs.)
The rocks in the Boulder Park take about 30 minutes to quickly explore, but you could easily spend more time wandering, posing and admiring. Every scramble reveals a new hidden gem, and sometimes you’ll get somewhere and wonder how you got there. There are signs all over warning you about snakes, but I’m going to warn you too. Watch out for snakes. If you’re often in the So-Cal backcountry then you know the rules about rattlesnakes, but visitors might not. Always look before you put your hand down somewhere, and keep an eye out for snakes in shaded overhangs – especially ones just off trails and on the ground. They like to get out of the sun too!
On my last visit to Desert View Tower/Boulder Park, I went closer to sunset and the views were phenomenal. The sun was low enough in the sky to make the light magical through the rocks, and (most importantly) it was only about 72 degrees! Sometimes when you get out to the desert, you discover that it’s over 100 degrees and clambering up rocks feels like you’re cooking your palms up for a hand sandwich.
All in all, the Desert View Tower makes for a pleasant diversion on a weekend ride – one of those vaguely-aimless destinations that makes a regular motorcycle day feel like a little baby adventure.
Tower history courtesy of www.desertviewtower.com