The stained glass of my Sabbath’s cathedral was red and white and black and yellow rock. The buttresses and arches were walls etched by wind and rain and river. The clouds were the soaring frescos and triumphal dome. And my altars were mesas and buttes named for numerous beings worshipped by man throughout his recorded history.
I woke Sunday morning sore but excited. I couldn’t pull myself out of bed for sunrise, but I made it to the canyon while the sun was still low with dawn dramatically singing its ballad. It was an awakening experience. This day at the canyon was dedicated to the eastern part of the South Rim. Desert View drive extends from the visitor center to the east entrance and Mary Colter’s spectacular Desert View Watchtower.
This drive also has some of the best views of the canyon from the various overlooks. I would say that Grandview Point and Lipan Point are the two best vistas within the National Park on the South Rim. However, to benefit from either of these sweeping sights is to go beyond the parking lot viewing platform.
At Grandview, I went down the trail 50 yards or so and was treated to some spectacular views from the edge of the cliff. The canyon is very wide here and has a few formations including Horseshoe Mesa extending out adding drama to the dimensions and layers of the expanse.
From the lookouts on this drive I also learned more about the geology of the canyon as the signs told me all about the what I was looking at right down to the Vishnu bedrock, the lowest, oldest layer of stone exposed by the river and the bottom geologic formation in the region. When aircraft aren’t heard the thundering rapids below break the quiet if the wind isn’t howling up the cliffs.
Since Lipan Point is further east, the views change from the younger canyon to older canyon with lower, flatter expanses offering views toward Vermillion Cliffs and Lee’s Ferry. Granted you can’t see river crossing and the cliffs are just low lumps on the horizon, but having driven that route many times I could see the colors in my mind’s eye and realized how close I really was to the canyon without knowing it. This is also why the drive and the point with the watchtower in the distance is called Desert View.
The Grand Canyon holds significance for a multitude of Native cultures. It has played important roles in their legends and origin stories for centuries or longer. There are more than 4,800 archeological sites discovered throughout the canyon.
Along the Desert View corridor lies one of these ancient human remnants called Tusayan, which was occupied about 900 years ago. It was a small settlement with farming, a plaza, large and small kivas and a few structures of multiple rooms. All that’s left now are low walls in ruin, but this site and the small visitor center next to it tell an important story of Grand Canyon and the people who have called it home for millennia.
Desert View Watchtower
That tower was my next destination. I was ready to be critical of how it ruined the canyon being built right on the edge, but quickly changed that opinion as I fell in love with Mary Jane Colter’s fabulous piece of architecture—the Desert View Watchtower. This National Historic Landmark was inspired by all of the ancient southwestern architecture and cultures. It was designed to look like a relic itself though under the façade is a steel frame.
With sections appearing to be repairs and alterations, she gave the structure a fantastic feeling that it is as old as the canyon itself. Of course she also used natural materials from the site to achieve the final result. In addition to the architectural influences from the ancestral people of the region, she also took inspiration from their art and the art of their descendants.
This building was designed for the sole purpose of being a lookout tower. It offers great views both out and in with the whole interior being decorated with Native-inspired artwork. I did feel sad while experiencing this work of art because I realized it would never be possible to create today due to too many people being oversensitive.
She consulted with Native artists and used Native workmen to create this architectural masterpiece, but today if someone other than a person of native descent tried to pay homage to the ancient architecture and art he or she would be derided as culturally insensitive.
Just below the tower on the mighty canyon wall was a rookery for a conspiracy of ravens. They were soaring around the tower and gliding up over the abyss on the thermals. It was poetic how they danced with each other upon the winds circling and twirling and diving and floating.
However, this unkindness flitting about croaking gave a rather sinister and mystical aura as if it were the tower of a witch, wizard or shaman. I was transported to another world and time because of this.
From this viewpoint, you can also see another National Historic Landmark, which really isn’t a place or building, but a remembrance of a terrible tragedy and how that changed things forever. In 1956, the United States experienced its first major commercial air disaster as two planes collided over the Grand Canyon killing 128 people, everyone on both planes. This tragedy led to the creation of the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA.
This is one the newest National Historic Landmark in the country being designated in April this year. Where ever the pieces of wreckage lie in the canyon that is where they will remain as a memorial.
I wish I had more time at the Grand Canyon, but alas, it had to come to an end. Someday I will return and do the Rim to Rim hike over a few days to take my time experiencing its grandeur again. I’ll also make it to the North Rim to look down on the southern side. Until then, many other adventures will be had.
On my way home from this special place, I took the scenic route stopping at two National Monuments, which I’ll share with you tomorrow.