A Desert Jaunt: Anza-Borrego and Desert View Tower

View to the East from the Desert View Tower

01 May 2005

All photos copyright John or Ondine Kuraoka.

Sunday morning, Ondine made a tub of sandwiches, we loaded up the Mazda with lots of water, and we headed out to the desert to look at the wildflowers!

The rain a few days ago made for a spectacular bloom along Interstate 8 as we drove out. We missed the turnoff to Ocotillo Wells, which meant a long drive to the Plaster City offramp to turn around. Plaster City is home to a state prison and it’s where the model rocketry club goes to fire off the “big rockets.”

We stopped at the Carrizo Badlands overlook for a short walk around. The boys loved the rocky sand, and happily pointed out wildflowers. The ocotillo was in bloom, and we spotted chuparosa, desert agave, desert cassia, desert dandelion, rock daisy, brittlebush, and verbena. So, where are the wildflower photos? Well, John didn’t have time to set up a tripod (even though he brought one along), and wasn’t really equipped for flower close-ups. Plus, the wind was really whipping.

That wind, though, plus a light cloud cover kept things comfortable. We considered going on, but decided that the boys had seen enough, and headed back to the Desert View Tower, off the I-8 at In-Ko-Pah.

The Desert View Tower is a roadside attraction straight out of 1958. It’s a four-floor tower built of local rocks, perched atop a ridge overlooking the whole of the Anza Borrego Desert. We parked in the small dirt lot, where a sign announced “Please do NOT beware of the dogs!” Some kids in a group of fellow tourists coming the other way gleefully announced the presence of a rattlesnake on the trail to the springs. “A real one,” they said, in the serious, warning tones of children telling grown-ups something important and real.

We muscled the wooden door open against the wind. There is a wonderful, musty shop on the ground floor, with exhibits of local animals and artifacts inside dusty glass cases. A full pot of coffee steamed on a burner. And, as the sign outside announced, dogs sprawled comfortably about the place in quiet canine contentment. Leo petted them all, and tried to engage them in conversation; Roy reported that there were four dogs in all.

The price of admission to the Desert View Tower and the Boulder Park is $2.50 for adults, $1 for kids over 5 years old, and kids younger than five are free. A real bargain, we think! We paid our $5, and climbed up the central wooden stairs, circling through the two landings with their own dusty exhibits showcasing local history.

It was 57 steps to the covered viewing deck with its beautiful panorama unblocked by windows or grates. Leo wanted to be held up again and again, to look out over the desert. But Roy, who could just see over the top of the wall, insisted that he didn’t need to be picked up. Instead, he peered over the wall on tiptoe. He willingly let John hold him to look through the telescope, though. The view above is looking back down the I-8, as it winds down into the Anza-Borrego Desert. The photo on the right is a preview of the Boulder Park’s wonderful sculptures, visible from the tower. Wind started really gusting through the open deck so we headed back down.

We bought postcards and souvenirs for the boys (Roy got a Texas state flag, and Leo got a squishy dinosaur), then went to the Boulder Park, a tumbling maze of rocky paths and wind-carved caves punctuated by large, hand-carved “monsters” and creatures and faces. The boys were delighted at every turn as they clambered up steps and slid down boulder slopes.

We had a picnic lunch under the shade of a large smoketree. One of the dogs, a gentle salt-and-pepper fellow, scented our lunch on the breeze and slowly made his way over to lay next to us as we ate. He scored a drop of tri-tip sandwich from Ondine, whom he then followed around with a hopeful, slow wag to his tail.

After lunch, John took the boys into the Boulder Park again for one last look at the “monsters.” The photo on the right shows the tower peeking over a split boulder within the park. What a wonderful place and a great time!

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