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Desert Tower
In-Ko-Pah Park Road,
five miles east of Jacumba
(619) 766-4612

You get no idea of the vast size of the "Biggest Puddle in the West" -- the Salton Sea -- until you see it from above. That means either hiring a plane or driving east to Jane Knap's place. Jane lives in a tower teetering on the edge of the gorge, just before the plateau tumbles 3000 feet into the Imperial Valley. Leave Interstate 8 at In-Ko-Pah Park Road, curl under the freeway, head half a mile east. The strange-looking tower rises up, like some lighthouse or prison watchtower. Little has changed since realtor Bert Vaughn built the monument to pioneers in 1922 and '23. In the silence you'll hear every foot crunch. Go in, notice antiques and collectibles for sale in the circular shop, pay Jane $1 per person, pass through the snug fireside living room, and climb the 57 steps and four floors to the "hurricane deck" (and the winds do howl). Cast your eyes far over the distant dog-bone-shaped Salton Sea. And the Imperial Valley. And the Chocolate Mountains. And, hey, Mexico. It's almost like a NASA space-shuttle view. But be warned: haze, the burning season, and pollution can obliterate the view. Avoid summer. Best views: after it rains.

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