In the middle of the Sonoran Desert, near California’s borders with Mexico and Arizona, sits the town of Felicity, which contains the “Center of the World.”
Those who visit can enter a 21-foot-tall, pink granite pyramid and stand on top of a metal plaque that officially marks the spot that is the “Center of the World.” While recognized as such by both California’s Imperial County and France’s Institut Geographique National, the designation doesn’t stem from science or a specific historical event, but rather from the imagination and subsequent endeavors of its founder Jacques-André Istel.
A French-American, Istel has a varied background, working on Wall Street and serving as a marine in the Korean War before becoming well-known for being a famous parachutist. He co-founded Parachutes, Inc, the country’s first parachuting school, and is often credited with bringing parachuting to the American mainstream.
Istel had a habit of purchasing land, and in the 1950s he bought 2,600 acres in the Sonoran Desert. “I told my wife, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with this bare land, but it has to be entertaining,'” he told Roadside America.
Istel then decided that the first step to making this a reality was to write a children’s book. “My problem was that laws are logical and my concept lacked logic. Answer: find something no one argues about,” he said to KCET. Istel reasoned that no one argues with children’s books. “Who argues with a fairy tale? Or states that Red Riding Hood wore a blue dress?” he writes on Felicity’s official website.
After writing his book—Coe the Good Dragon at the Center of the World—he convinced Imperial County to legally recognize the area on his land as the official spot of the Center of the World. Next, he established his town in 1986, naming it Felicity after his wife, Felicia Lee.
Besides the pyramid marking the Center of the World, Istel has built several other monuments in Felicity.
Chapel on the Hill
The Chapel on the Hill was the second structure he decided to build, along with an accompanying hilltop so that the church could be the highest point in Felicity. “I’m not particularly religious,” he told Roadside America, “but if you’re going to build a House of God, it’s got to be on the highest spot.” He brought in 150,000 tons of dirt for the hilltop.
Stairs to Nowhere
The 25-foot spiral staircase is actually from the Eiffel Tower, although its purpose in Felicity is decorative.
Museum of History in Granite
Istel’s on-going project is the Museum of History in Granite. He has placed a series of triangular granite blocks in Felicity, on which he is having the history of the world inscribed. The panels include everything that he deems worthy of telling future generations, from the history of humanity to the Marine Corps Korean Wall Memorial. There are currently close to 500 engraved panels.
Tips for visiting
From Thanksgiving to Easter, a 15-minute tour of Felicity is offered to visitors. It costs $3 at the entrance and another $2 for the certificate stating that you’ve been to the Center of the World. While there is no tour in summer, visitors can stop by on their own, although the temperatures get incredibly hot in the desert. There are driving directions on the official town website.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.