This place is wonderful...
A short 57 miles from the Cameron Trading Post off Highway 64 in northern Arizona is found one of architect Mary Jane Colter’s greatest Arizona buildings, the Desert View Watchtower. This site was selected by Colter to build her unique Watchtower because of its stunning view of the Colorado River as it comes out of Marble Canyon and continue its journey on through Grand Canyon National Park.
It was entrepreneur Fred Harvey who came to understand in the early 1900s that Americans and people from all over the world had a fascination with visiting the Wild West. He took a chance and hired a rare woman architect, Mary Jane Colter, to design and build his tourist-attracting buildings. Colter would design and build five such treasures in Arizona, including the Watchtower at Desert View.
Desert View Watchtower opened in 1933. Colter designed this masterpiece to provide “the widest possible view of the Grand Canyon yet harmonizes with its setting.” The 70-foot high tower was to reflect the Anasazi guard towers which once rose above the pueblo homes of these ancient people. It was not designed to be a replica (no Anasazi tower was every 70-feet high) but was to be another of Colter’s interpretation of the Southwest cultures that she had come to know and love.
Colter oversaw ever aspect of the construction including the placement of nearly every stone. She would wrap local stone around a steel frame and use natural elements to reflect both the modern and the prehistoric cultures of the people of the Four Corners area. Her use of extreme texture in the masonry created a visual depth in the 5-story tall tower.
Colter designed the main entrance to the tower to be the largest room of the building. It is circular in form and was designed to resemble a Kiva. Logs from the historic Grand View Hotel and Horseshoe Mesa at the Grand Canyon were used to make the ceiling. The logs were laid in a prehistoric Native American pattern that Colter had once seen and remembered. Today this room acts as a gift shop for the 1000s of yearly tower visitors.
The interior of the tower is the most impressive section of the building. An open shaft circular staircase leads up through the tower’s additional four levels. At the second level is found the Hopi Room with a snake altar at its center. The walls are covered with murals painted by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie. Here he depicts the snake legend, wedding scenes and other Hopi symbols. Small windows randomly appear on the wall creating a cave-like atmosphere within the historic tower.
The third and fourth levels highlight the replica of many petroglyphs found throughout the Southwest. Artifacts and other museum-like displays highlight the ancient stories of the people who once made this part of Arizona their home.
Upon arriving at the fifth level one finds a series of viewing windows. From here, at an elevation of 7,522 feet, the visitor can view the South Rim of the Grand Canyon from the highest possible viewpoint. A good telephoto lens can bring one to believe that they are standing on the canyon floor. To say that the views from here are spectacular is a grand understatement.
The Desert View Watchtower of Mary Jane Colter was declared a United States National Historic Landmark on May 28, 1987. With the canyon’s cottonwood trees changing from green to orange and yellow, fall is the perfect time of year to visit as the summer crowds have also disappeared.
A bookstore, cafeteria, restrooms and the Desert View Campground are all available for visitor use. The campground, open mid-May to the end of October, has drinking water but no hook-ups. There is a $10.00 fee but no reservations are taken.