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I’ve always been more of a go-with-the-flow type of traveler, particularly when it comes to road trips. When I don’t need to follow a strict itinerary, I like to make some extra stops and discover a few hidden gems.
But last spring, as I made the drive from Utah’s Zion National Park down through Lake Powell, Ariz., to Grand Canyon National Park, a few too many stops put me in a predicament: The light was fading fast, and I had yet to reach the Grand Canyon.
As I passed through the entrance booth at the Grand Canyon, I opened up my map and looked for the nearest viewpoints. I spotted the Desert View Watchtower on the map and made a split-second decision to stop there. My anxiety disappeared a few minutes later when I reached the viewpoint parking lot and spotted dozens of families and groups making their way to the Watchtower. I joined visitors on the walkway and scrambled up the steps to the entrance of the Watchtower.
Designed by Mary Jane Colter in the 1930s, the Watchtower blends into its natural surroundings, making it almost impossible to tell where the tower ends and the canyon walls begin. Inspired by the architecture of the ancestral Puebloan people in the region, Colter designed the Watchtower with a careful attention to detail: The internal steel frame is covered in decorative stones, including some that depict ancient petroglyphs, and embellished with deliberate patterns and cracks.
Inside the Watchtower, stone flooring and bare ceilings replicate the tower’s authentic exterior appearance. In addition, beautiful artwork is strewn across the walls (excluding the top level, which was left blank so as not to distract from views of the Grand Canyon). The artwork makes use of storytelling techniques, educating visitors about the many Native American tribes that originally inhabited the region and the spiritual Hopi lifestyle. And although the illustrations are alluring in their own right, the real treat is the view from the top of the Watchtower.
The Watchtower overlooks the Painted Desert in the east, the Colorado River and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is just 10 miles away. On a clear day, it is said that visitors can see for more than 100 miles.
And as the sun set that day, I was able to make out the intricate coloring of the canyon walls from years of erosion and weathering for miles. The canyon walls, which are made up of many different types of rocks — the youngest being the Coconino Sandstone at the very top — consist of muted red, orange, tan and white hues. Meanwhile, down below, the Colorado River winds through the valley as far as the eye can see (and then some).
Post-trip, I made note to leave more time to explore the Grand Canyon in the future, but I certainly stand by my spur-of-the-moment decision to visit the Desert View Watchtower.
Note: Desert View Watchtower is currently open from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily. Hours vary by season.
The DetailsGrand Canyon National Parkwww.nps.gov