We had already seen a ton in our first couple of hours at the Grand Canyon. We saw the view from Mather Point, hiked a couple of miles of the Rim Trail, looked around the Grand Canyon Village, and hiked about a quarter of a mile down into the Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. But now, it was time to see something different. I wanted to check out the Desert View Watchtower.
From the Grand Canyon Village, we took the shuttle bus back to the main Visitor’s Center where our car was parked, and we drove 26 miles to the east in the park, to where the Desert View Watchtower is located. Along the drive, you are met with views of the Pinyon Pine forest, along with signs announcing that this is elk country. And there is even a sign announcing that there are cougars crossing the road! Sadly, we didn’t see any cougars, and the only elk we saw was a dead one by the side of the road. Please people! Slow down – what’s your hurry!?
In short order, we got to the Desert View Watchtower, went to the Visitor’s Center for this section of the park to get my stamp and made our way over to the tower. The Watchtower was another of the Grand Canyon’s historic structures that was designed by Mary Colter and built in 1932. Colter spent six months researching Puebloan ruins to try to emulate the style. It is believed that the ruins at Hovenweep National Monument were a major influence of the final design. Although the Watchtower is much taller, at 70 feet, than any Puebloan architecture, she created a structure that contains some similar stylistic elements.
The Desert View Watchtower is four stories, with a gift shop on the first floor and a series of narrow stairways leading to successive floors. There are windows of various sizes throughout the tower, giving visitors impressive views of the canyon. There are also murals painted on the walls inside by Fred Kabotie, a Hopi artist who also served as the caretaker for the Desert View Watchtower for a period of time. The furniture inside the tower is original to the structure, and has held up well over time, given the millions of tourists who have visited.
When viewing the Watchtower from the outside, you notice that Colter did not do any shaping of the stones used to build the tower. She believed that marks from the mason’s tools would detract from the visual appeal of the structure, so stones were chosen and placed without any shaping. It gives the tower a very natural look. You can also tell that she created and filled in T-shaped doorways, to replicate the structures at Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
There is a patio in front of the Watchtower that gives visitors panoramic views of the Canyon. The Grand Canyon Village, Cape Royal on the North Rim, and a cinder cone to the east are all visible from the Desert View Watchtower’s patio. We enjoyed just looking at the view for awhile.
But we couldn’t linger too long, because we were going hiking next!