The Desert View Watchtower is a remarkable location within The Grand Canyon. Here are 5 reasons why.
Not the view you traditionally see of the Grand Canyon, eh? This view certainly receives fewer visitors than the notorious South Rim that tourists flock to, but it isn’t because it isn’t a phenomenal location. In fact, many people prefer this calm and serene oasis to the hustle and bustle of the larger tourist attractions. The Watchtower lies twenty-five miles east of Grand Canyon Village, which is the home of the South Rim’s many attractions and amenities, and, of course, more visitors than you can count. While you might overhear siblings arguing or parents chastising children at the South Rim, if you venture over to the Watchtower, you’re much more likely to hear the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves and the beautiful song of a nearby canyon wren.
It stands out, and it fits in! The Desert View Watchtower is sometimes also called the Indian Watchtower at Desert View because American architect Mary Colter designed it to be reminiscent of the structures of ancient Pueblo people. Rather than simply recreate any known archeological structure, Colter took care of incorporating elements from multiple structures to create a unique design that still reflects the southwestern heritage. She was tireless in her attention to detail when having the Watchtower built. She dictated that the stones used to comprise the exterior of the tower be rough and uncut so that the structure seamlessly blended into the canyon walls of its surroundings. One story about the construction of the Watchtower details a time where builders worked on the tower without Colter present for a day, and later had to undo all their work to change one stone that she wasn’t satisfied with!
The Watchtower was originally designed to be a welcoming destination for travelers as far back as the 1930s! It was important that they not only be comfortable but also that they were afforded a breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon. The Watchtower accomplishes both of these goals — and more! The inside of the tower is where you really become immersed in the heritage of the ancestral Puebloan people that inspired Mary Colter. No less care was taken with the interior of the tower than the exterior. The walls lining the staircases that wind their way up the tower are packed with paintings and artwork. Murals and galleries incorporating copies of prehistoric pictographs fill the open spaces as well. Even some of the ceilings are decorated! Much of the art is by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie, and depicts Hopi mythology, like the physical and spiritual origins of life!
Though much of the tower is filled with artwork, the upper floor of the tower is an exception. Colter had the utmost respect for the surrounding landscapes and insisted that nothing detract from the jaw-dropping views. The majority of the structure has small, irregularly placed windows, but the top floor of the seventy-foot tower features huge plate glass windows. Just eighty-five steps stand between you and a gorgeous 360-degree view of the Grand Canyon in all its glory. Not only can you see the powerful Colorado river bending toward the north, but also the Painted Desert stretching out toward Hopi and Navaho Indian reservations, and the North Rim some ten miles in the distance. On a clear day, you can expect to see well over a hundred miles. You might find it’s hard to tear yourself away from this lookout and its beautiful vistas.
The most important quality on the checklist? Views that will make you speechless, of course! And the Watchtower has them! But, that isn’t all it has to offer. It might not come with a list quite as extensive as the happening South Rim, but it has plenty of merits. Unlike some of the Grand Canyon viewpoints, the Watchtower is open year-round, so your options for when to plan your visit won’t feel limited.
The Watchtower is the official visitor contact center at Desert View. The Kiva room at the bottom of the tower – the structure’s largest room – offers not only plenty of windows so you can constantly enjoy the view, but also a Grand Canyon Association shop. Here, you’ll find books, souvenirs, and all kinds of odds and ends to remember your visit by. Make use of restrooms, a 24 hour a day gas station, general store, trading post, and snack bar. The only downfall is that you won’t find any lodging here. However, if you’re the adventurous sort, grab a space on their seasonal first-come-first-served campground. Here you can watch the stars come up over this remarkable feat of nature.