Desert View Tower and Boulder Park Caves

Desert View Tower and Boulder Park Caves – Bert Vaughn and M.T. Ratcliffe

Off I-8 on In-Ko-Poh
Jacumba, CA
Environment with rocks

In 1920, when Bert Vaughn started work on his Desert View Tower, people motoring across the mountains that jut up out here near the Mexican border inevitably needed a place to stop and cool down. Vapor lock, you know. Vaughn saw Desert View Tower as a monument to the early Western pioneers who crossed the desert. Of the many roadside attractions that dotted the area, this is the only one left.

The thick-walled, circular three-storey tower was constructed of large blocks of local stone and completed in the Fifties by another builder, Dennis Newman. It’s a heck of a stone construction, with an added bonus of M.T. Ratcliffe’s carvings nearby – folk art renderings of animals, Indians and other mysterious shapes. Ratcliffe, a retired engineer, came to the area for health reasons in the Thirties. He set about carving faces and animals, real and mythical, into the huge boulders around the Tower.

Many of them, especially the powerful skull-like faces, follow the natural shapes and features of the rock, while the lions, snakes, and lizards blend easily with the desert landscape. The carvings and statues became known as Boulder Park Caves. Today the Tower is a well-maintained tourist attraction containing a display of artefacts.

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(Photos & text © copyright 2006-2014 Kelly Ludwig, all rights reserved)


“Detour Art—Outsider, Folk Art, and Visionary Folk Art Environments Coast to Coast, Art and Photographs from the Collection of Kelly Ludwig” by Kelly Ludwig, Kansas City Star Books, 2007.

On DVD – Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations, “Cali-Zona, Here We Come,” KCPT, Kansas City Public Television, 2007.

“Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Environments” by Roger Manley and Mark Sloan, Aperture, New York, 1997.

“American Self-Taught Art: An Illustrated Analysis of 20th Century Artists and Trends with 1,319 Capsule Biographies” by Florence Laffal and Julius Laffal, 2003.

“Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations Coast to Coast Travel-o-Pedia” by Randy Mason, et. al., Kansas City Star Books, 2009.