Go back a century and a long auto trip meant stopping frequently for more than just snacks or gas. Cars needed sometimes hourly maintenance to fill the radiator, change tires and add oil.
Along the two-lane highways of the day, garages sprang up every few miles. Later, entrepreneurs built roadside attractions. Most survived into the 1950s and 60s, only to be bypassed by the Interstate highways.
Update: Desert View Tower for sale, November 2017.
What little roadside kitsch remains today is struggling to survive and is well worth getting off the beaten path for a visit, and one classic is just on the edge of San Diego’s eastern mountains.
Take the whole old Highway 80 experience in my book, Joyrides Around San Diego. Get your copy today.
The Desert View Tower continues to welcome visitors to its perch high atop the Borrego Desert, just as it has for three-quarters of a century, at the In-Ko-Pah Park Road exit from Interstate 8, east of Jacumba and just at the top of the Mountain Springs grade (619-733-4612).
The tower offers visitors a great view of the desert, an opportunity to climb through rocks and caves, and view some goofy rock sculptures.
Built by Jacumban Bert Vaughn from 1922-28, the tower was originally a water stop for the Model T Fords and other horseless carriages of the day making the treacherous trek up the steep Mountain Springs grade, or over the long, rocky ride from San Diego.
From the tower, visitors can see four versions of today’s Interstate 8, an automobile-age archaeological vista. Beyond are the Borrego Desert, Imperial Valley and, on a clear day, Arizona.
In the early 2000s, it was purchased by San Diegan Ben Schultz, who uncovered the first floor windows and changed the downstairs shop from selling rocks to books, tower t-shirt and hats, beverages and other tourist trinkets. He also has plans to build a small outdoor amphitheater, good for corporate retreats or family parties.
There is a small admission charge, but pay it. It’s worth seeing the view.
Route and Info
- Interstate 8 to In Koh Pah Park Road.
- Head northeast to old Highway 80 alignment and tower.
- 1 Inkopah Rd. Jacumba, CA 91934