Mysterious Desert View Tower Still Inspires Roadside Visitors

stuart-blog-imageI’ve traveled Interstate 8 between Phoenix and San Diego dozens of times and every time I reach the crest of the mountains just west of Ocotillo, California, I have seen the landmark Desert Tower out of the corner of my eye near the 3,000-foot summit of the boulder strewn mountains. I am always happy to make the steep climb up the highway out of the scorching sea-level Imperial Valley with my radiator hoses intact and with my sights set on my toes being in the cool Pacific Ocean before sunset, I always speed by the intriguingly named IN-KO-PAH Road exit, which would lead me to the mysterious roadside attraction. For anyone who has driven this route, pulling off at Exit 77 and back tracking past a bunch of tow yards to the mysterious tower with the beaches of San Diego ahead of you, especially if you have a family with kids in the car, does not appear to be a great idea. But, recently, heading East back to Phoenix from San Diego, my curiosity about what was at the end of the IN-KO-PAH Road had to be satisfied, so down a sliver of old U.S. 80 we went, past the tow yards, to a gravel driveway to a magical roadside rest with an endless vista of the Mojave Desert. The 70-foot tower was the vision of Bert Vaughn, who built it from 1922 to 1928. (Vaughn owned the nearby town of Jucumba, which he bought with the belief it would become a border crossing.) In 1950, the wrap-around gift shop was added. Today for $4.50 you can climb to the tower, hike the boulder-strewn desert hill-top and tour Boulder Park. The uniqueness of the public art in the park dates to 1933 when W.T. Ratcliff, an unemployed engineer, carved a series of the wind-weathered rocks into whimsical creatures. So, next time you are speeding by IN-KO-PAH Exit 77 on I-8, don’t just speed by; stop, enjoy the view, and wonder about all those who have traveled that desert highway and reveled at the wondrous, vast desert below.

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