Boulder Park builder allegedly paid a buck a day

Imagine climbing the 30% grade to reach this outpost along an old emigrant trail

Kids will be fascinated by the sculptures in Boulder Park.
  • Kids will be fascinated by the sculptures in Boulder Park.

The sculptures of Boulder Park have amused and surprised people for more than 80 years. W.T. Ratcliffe, an unemployed engineer during the Depression years, carved the stone sculptures in the 1930s where the natural shapes of the granitic boulders inspired him. Allegedly, Ratcliffe was paid a dollar a day for his work during the two-year period over which he created his many sculptures. The carved stone animals and figures that are scattered among the boulders are now recognized as one of California’s unusual and exceptional examples of folk-art environments. Both Boulder Park and the Desert Tower are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (No. 80000801), and as a California Historical Landmark (No. 194). Mountain Springs Station is located just 100 yards from Desert Tower landmark plaque.

Boulder Park monster

Boulder Park monster

The 70-foot tall, three-story cut-stone circular Desert View Tower was built by Bert Vaughn of Jacumba from 1922–1928 to commemorate the pioneers and the road and railroad builders who had opened the area. The view east into Imperial County from Desert Tower is expansive from this 3000-foot elevation perch. A walk up to the observation deck of the tower gives an even more broad view of the area.

Desert View Tower has had several owners over the years. The current owner, Ben Schultz, opened an attractive gift shop with a good selection of books. He has also increased the folk art on the property, adding many murals and art pieces. There is a small fee to visit the observation deck of the tower and to explore Boulder Park.

Boulder Park sculpture

Boulder Park sculpture

Among the stone sculptures are lizards, serpents, a buffalo, an Indian head, a hawk, and several fanciful creatures. There is a path among the boulders, but to see them all, a little exploration among the rocks is required. It is a great place for children who are fascinated by all of the sculptures and enjoy discovering them hidden along the trail.

Also of note, sections of Historic U.S. Route 80, the first coast-to-coast route commissioned in 1926, can be seen here and along I-8. U.S. Route 80 incorporated original auto trails that included the Imperial (Algodones) Sand Dunes Old Plank Road that consisted of wood planks originally 2 feet wide for each wheel. In 1916, it was widened to 8 feet across with a turnout every 1000 feet. This section was in support of direct traffic to Arizona. The Old Plank Road was replaced in 1926 by a paved road that terminated at U.S. 101, initially at Broadway, then Market Street intersections. A drive on the remnants of Historic U.S. Route 80 is an interesting trip to see the towns that were by-passed by I-8.

Map to Desert View Tower and Boulder Park

Map to Desert View Tower and Boulder Park

Boulder Park and Desert View Tower

Distance from downtown San Diego: 78 miles. Allow 1.5 hours (vicinity of Jacumba). From SR-163N, take I-8E; after 75.2 miles, take exit 77/Old Hwy 80 and drive under the highway and turn right on In-Ko-Pah Park Road. Follow this road 2.8 miles to Desert View Tower and park.

Hiking length: 0.25 mile.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate due to scrambling over and around boulders and up and down stone steps. Elevation gain/loss of 40 feet. Small fee to visit Boulder Park and the view from the tower. Gift shop and facilities.

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