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Feb 17th
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Home National & State Parks Grand Canyon Grand Canyon National Park’s Desert View Watchtower Threatened By Time, Weather

Grand Canyon National Park’s Desert View Watchtower Threatened By Time, Weather

Xanterra South Rim, Park Concessioner, Plans Major Renovations to Save Building, Historic Murals

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Grand Canyon National Park's Desert View Watchtower, One of the West's most venerable man-made icons, is in trouble.

Constructed in 1932, the 70-foot tower, popular with the thousands of tourists who visit Grand Canyon each year, is suffering from roof and windows leaks. Its mortar and many wood elements are deteriorating, threatening the integrity of the structure and damaging its famous murals.

But help is on the way for the tower, designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Xanterra South Rim, L.L.C., the concessioner that manages the gift store located at the watchtower and also maintains the structure, announced in early January 2010 that it will be undertaking a two-phase renovation project that some reports value at about $1.3 million.

During phase one, the tower's aging roof will be replaced. Work is expected to begin before the end of January. While visitors will have access to the interior of the tower throughout the renovations, it will be necessary to close the observation deck for approximately three weeks while the roof is replaced, the consessioner said. Work should be completed sometime in March 2010.

Phase two will involve repairing masonry mortar joints and repair or replacement of windows and exterior wood elements. Public access to portions of the exterior of the tower may be restricted in the immediate vicinity of heavy equipment and the ongoing repairs. Phase two of the project is expected to begin sometime in March.

According to the National Park Service, D. L. Norton will be the general contractor for the Watchtower renovations. Completion of the project is expected late in 2010.

The watchtower's history reaches deep into the park's history.

Prior to 1901, vistors had to travel by stagecoach from Flagstaff, Arizona, an all-day trip, if they wanted to stay at the Grand View hotel, built in the late 1890s, and experience what we now know as Grand Canyon National Park. 

Then in 1901, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway opened a spur from Williams, Arizona to Grand Canyon Village, a three-hour journey instead of the bumpy day-long ride by stage.

In 1932 the Fred Harvey Company, the railroad's hospitality partner, commissioned its full-time architect, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, to design and oversee the construction of a view and rest area at Desert View that would be an attractive feature for its visitors.

Colter modeled the design of the watchtower after the architecture of the ancestral Puebloan people of the Colorado Plateau. She collaborated on the design with Hopi artisans of the day, including well-known Hopi artist Fred Kabotie whose murals adorn much of the second level of the tower.

Colter even used the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe's engineers and bridge builders to erect the steel framework upon which the watchtower's masonry walls stand.

Along with Kabotie's murals, visitors can see incised petroglyphs created by Chester Dennis, another Hopi artist, as well as the work of Fred Geary, who was the Fred Harvey company's artist.

But it's the views from the watchtower that visitors seem to enjoy the most.

On a clear day, visitors have a panoramic view from Desert View for well over 100 miles, and can see the Colorado River make a big bend and continue to the west, while the Painted Desert disappears into the horizon.

With the planned repairs to the Watchtower by Xanterra South Rim, Visitors can expect many years ahead for the historic structure, and many Southwest sunsets to enjoy.

Desert View is the eastern-most developed area on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. For more information about visiting Grand Canyon National Park visit the Web site at
www.nps.gov/grca/ or call (928) 638-7888.

National & State Parks