Desert View Watchtower at the Grand Canyon East Rim
I will never forget my first view of the Grand Canyon.
I dreamed of going to the Grand Canyon for a long time, ever since I was a kid (I wrote a tall tale about it in school) and then more so after reading Through Painted Deserts by Don Miller. I had dreamed about it so much that when we finally were heading down to see it I was jumpy with anticipation and a little scared that it wouldn't live up to my imagination.
Something you need to understand about me is that I have an extremely robust and well exercised imagination, so it is understandable that I might have thought the Grand Canyon would underwhelm. I couldn't have been more wrong; my first view of the canyon took my breath away and each view after that continued to do so. My eyes simply could not drink it all in. My imagination had been taught a lesson: God can create wonders beyond what I can dream.
Perhaps that is why the Desert View Watchtower has a special place in my heart, because it is where I first beheld this long anticipated wonder.
How to Get There:
Once you get to the East or South rim of the Grand Canyon reaching Desert View is not difficult. We entered from the East side and Desert View Watchtower is the first large turn off, the ranger at the gate told us that we would be the best place to stop first. It is clearly marked where you should turn off and when you do there is a large parking lot. Besides the Watchtower the parking lot is one big advantage of stopping here for your first look if you come from the East side, there will be many turn offs as you drive to the South rim, but most of them have very small parking lots and your may not find a place to park, especially if you are driving an RV or hauling a trailer.
What You Will See:
From the parking lot you will head in towards the Canyon rim. you will be able to see the Watchtower on your left. You will almost immediately encounter a set of faucets that dispense the Grand Canyon spring water, piped over from the North Rim, so if you've been traveling for a while (which of course you probably have) you can refill your water bottles here.
There will be a building on your right that houses the Desert View visitors center and bookstore, but, of course the main attraction is getting to the canyon rim. I was so excited to get down to the rim that we didn't even go into the visitor center.
Paved paths lead all the way down to the Watchtower. At the towers base the rim juts out and there is a completely accessible lookout area. This is where I first saw the Grand Canyon and started snapping photos.
From the lookout area, which is similar to other outcroppings around the Grand Canyon, you enter the watchtower which is a unique experience allowing you to view the canyon vistas from 70 feet above the rim. You enter at the ground level (the stairs and ladders on the outside are just for show). There is a small gift shop on the first floor and from there you climb up narrow stairs to the first tower level. This area opens up and there are murals on the walls and ceiling with windows around the edge. From here you can enter onto another main lookout area that is over the gift shop. You can also continue up to the higher levels of the tower.
Looking through plexiglass windows isn't my favorite way to see the Grand Canyon, but it is cool to see it from up high.
I would say that Desert View Watchtower is close to a must stop for visiting the South rim of the Grand Canyon. If you come in the East entrance then it makes perfect sense to stop here first, and if you come in on the South it is not very far away (about 30 minutes) and gives you a completely different view of the Canyon.