The Desert View Tower and Boulder Park, California Historical Monument #939, has a long history.It has been a way station for travelers East and West for centuries, and you may find in the rocks many signs left of their passage (ask about the Yoni (yonee). The 1880’s saw Easterners begin to move into the area and use these trails. Still visible below the Tower is the old stage station at Mountain Springs. The original road (barely visible) required an ox team to assist the wagons and coaches up the hill.
In 1862-70, about a mile north of here Peter Larkin and Joe Stancliff used a stone house as a store from which ox teams pulled wagons up a 30% grade. The San Diego & Fort Yuma Turnpike Company used the site as a toll road station until 1876. The crumbling house was replaced in 1917 by another still visible to is east, but road changes, beginning in 1878 and culminating in today’s highway, have left the older stone house ruins inaccessible.
Around 1900 saw the first road complete by the Tower. We have a picture of at least one of the opening days of the “new” road – seems like all of San Diego came in their Model A’s. The road continued down below at least partly on sections of the “Old Plank Road.” The wood in the Tower was salvaged from the old road. The Desert Tower was built by the 1900 road builders. You can see sections of the old road below the Tower, broken by the Interstate highway in 1965.
Usually the interstates stayed away from the older roads that had homes and businesses, but in this case the cut below the Tower is the only possible way through the pass, so they blasted right on through the old road to build the new interstate.
Bert Vaughn of San Diego is credited as the developer of the “new” road and had the Tower built as “a monument ot the pioneers” in 1923. He had bought the whole town of Jacume (now Jacumba), which he believed was scheduled to become a border crossing. You can imagine what a big deal Jacumba would be now if he had been right! Vaughn also had much to do with the development of El Centro, including the Barbara Worth Hotel. He was a bigshot, indeed, out here, then.
Vaughn somehow had title to this land (the Indians didn’t count) and wages were cheap “a dollar a day and a jug of wine.”
Originally located where the freeway intersections the old road, below its permanent site, The Tower was built as an advertisement for his bar and became a roadside attraction because of the cooler temperatures and, of course, the spectacular view.
The justly famous Boulder Park was created in 1933 by an unemployed engineer, out of work during the (last) depression, named Merle Ratcliff, who sculpted representations of mostly reptiles and fanciful animals out of the huge stone boulders.
In 1947, Dennis Newman bought the Tower from the Vaughns. He added the round lower floor to the Tower in 1950, which made it much as you see it today. It is now the last functioning roadside attraction on the San Diego to Yuma corridor.Ben Schultz, a native San Diegan, first visited the Tower when he was four years old. He bought the Tower from Jane Knapp in 2002.