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Grand Canyon South Rim
Welcome to Grand Canyon National Park! As you approach the Grand Canyon, you are crossing the Colorado Plateau, a 130,000 square mile bulge in the earth’s surface spanning half of Utah and a good portion of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Around its edges are the upthrust Rocky Mountains, the stretched-apart Great Basin, the contorted rocks of Arizona’s Transition Zone, and ancient volcanoes. Despite all the geologic activity around it, the Plateau has managed to stay relatively flat and unfolded, but as a whole, it may have been uplifted nearly two miles.
It is the uplift and the down cutting that have created the canyon. About five to six million years ago, the Colorado River began to carve its way down through the domed region on its way to the sea. Like a knife slicing through a layer cake, the mile-deep river canyon exposed multi-hued layers of time, a geologist’s dream come true. However, you don’t have to be a geologist to appreciate the canyon’s grandeur.
Erosion by wind, water, and gravity not only widened the canyon, it created an amazing variety of towers and spires, ridges and side canyons, shadows and highlights. The rainbow of rock colors is most intense in early morning or late afternoon light. If you are lucky, you will see a storm chase through the canyon, casting shadows and mist as it goes.
Sightseers have been coming to view the wonders of the canyon since 1883. Prospectors soon found tourism more profitable than mining and built accommodations for them. One of the earliest visitors was Theodore Roosevelt, a lover of the West’s wide-open spaces. He pushed for federal protection and in 1893, the area became a Forest Reserve. In 1908, it received a promotion to National Monument and in 1919, the National Park was authorized by Congress. The most recent upgrade was in 1975, when its boundaries were expanded, doubling its size.
As you enter the park, you’ll receive a copy of the park newspaper, The Guide, from the National Park Service which is a great source of information on restaurants, lodging, parking, ranger talks, activities and other guest services within or near the park. It includes maps, hours, prices and other helpful information.
The canyon opens up at Desert View to reveal distant views of the Vermilion Cliffs, San Francisco Peaks, the Painted Desert, and the Colorado River. The views are even better from the 70-foot round stone tower.
Its designer, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, was a schoolteacher from St. Paul, Minnesota with an education in architecture and design, until Fred Harvey offered her a job in 1902. During her 40-year association with the Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad, she acted as architect, designer, and decorator. She embraced a new style of architecture with structures that seemed to grow out of the land and reflected the cultural heritage of the region rather than imitating European styles.
The distinctive Watchtower was designed as a re-creation of Ancestral Puebloan structures in the Four Corners region. Scholars debate if the original towers were built as lookouts or for ceremonial purposes, such as those preserved at Toroweep National Monument. This tower has elements of both.
Adorning the walls are images from the myths of the Hopi. Windows allow views in all directions. At the top of the first flight of steps, a door leads to a rooftop viewing platform. The top floor has large windows with views of the Colorado as it makes a grand turn and enters into the inner gorge.
The mighty Colorado River flows in via Utah, from sources in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Just east of here, it joins with the Little Colorado River which has its origins in the White Mountains of Arizona. Although much debated, a widely accepted theory is that the canyon is the result of headward erosion by a river that drained off the southwest corner of the Colorado Plateau. It worked its way eastward across the plateau eventually intercepting and capturing the ancestral Colorado River.
It’s something to think about as you look back into the Grand Canyon and out over the beautiful vistas to the east. From the ancestral Puebloans to modern day men and women, the canyon has an irresistible pull to come, to see, to explore, and … to wonder … to be in awe of the Power that created it.