desert view tower


ever since my first trip out to imperial county in 2006, i noticed the tower standing watch from the easternmost edge of the mountains.  i’d always wondered what was up with it but never had a chance to stop in until earlier this week.

WELL, FUCK. i was missing out on a whole world of quirk! we pulled up to the tower, not really knowing what to expect.  the yard was full of dogs lolling around in the shade and a couple little houses and assorted outbuildings.  as soon as we stepped into the tower, it took a moment to adjust to the dim light inside…the place was half tourist trap, half home.  knicknacks, bumper stickers, bits of rock for sale and shoddy, decaying taxidermy pieces interspersed with historical photos, reptile tanks, couches, a stairmaster (overlooking the desert valley! quite the view) and dogs.  dogs everywhere! sprawled in the shade, curled up on couches, wandering around from person to person.  although the tower is clearly labelled as a public space, i felt like an intruder.

the man behind the counter was really friendly.  we bought tickets–$3.50 each gains admittance to the tower, the boulder caves, and the walk up to the springs.   first off, we headed up the tower.  it’s 70 ft tall and was originally built in the early 1920s as a testament to the difficulty pioneers had in crossing the desert from yuma to san diego.  it used to take a month to cross the colorado desert and cuyamaca/laguna mountain ranges, but now it only takes a few hours to get from yuma to sd!

there are four or five levels inside the tower, each with a little bit of history or art or taxidermy stuffed in display cases and nooks.  we got to the top & found there was a lookout that protruded above the roof!  as someone who isn’t totally comfortable with heights, i was a little nervous, but for no good reason.  it was really peaceful at the top of the tower.  the small crevices in now it only takes a few hours, in the relative comfort of an air-conditioned car (it’s less comfortable without a/c, but one can still roll the windows down…) but it used to take a month to traverse the colorado desert and mountain ranges that stand between yuma & sd.the stonework of the tower make it an excellent nesting spot for tiny birds and their chirping was all around us as we poked our heads out of the tower.  the highway below gave off a dull roar but it was whitenoise and fell behind the birdsongs.  a cool breeze blew across and we pondered the desert floor 3,000 feet below us.

next up was the boulder caves.  this is hands-down one of my favourite things i’ve seen in southern california.  the “caves” are open spaces between boulders that you can crawl through–none of the claustrophobia or darkness i associated with a cave.  the sun was shining in all over.  there are a tonne of carved boulders that were incredibly charming. the day was hot, but inside the caves there were pools of shade and sun and it was entirely pleasant.

after the little delight of the caves, we headed up to see the springs.  “springs this way” signs proclaimed! it was a hot day, and a bit of a steep scramble up the hill.  we were looking forward to wetting our hands and faces in some cold water, but  it was not to be.  behold, the springs…

bed springs, leaf springs, springs of various origin, but none of the kind we’d envisioned on the hike up the hill.  curse you, desert weirdos, and your quirky sense of humour!!


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