Grand Canyon Watchtower Gift Shop Changes Hands

This historic 1932 building on the South Rim was owned by Xanterra, a hotel and restaurant concessionaire. The park bought it in January 1, 2015
Grand Canyon Watchtower Interior. Photo by Whit Richardson

Grand Canyon Watchtower Interior. Photo by Whit Richardson

There was a time when you would walk into the Grand Canyon's Desert View Watchtower, be greeted by art and cultural demonstrations by Native Americans, and sit to gaze at the view through the windows. The ground level of the tower was a large, round observation room with a spectacular view of the Grand Canyon. Upstairs the Hopi Room presented paintings by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie, who took the room's theme from the Hopi Snake Dance.

But in modern times, a huge gift shop was put in the main entrance and we lost the experience that architect Mary Jane Colter envisioned. (Watch a video about Mary Jane Colter's 6 Grand Canyon buildings)

Grand Canyon National Park Buys Watchtower

The Desert View Watchtower was actually not owned by the National Park until just recently. This historic 1932 building along the edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon Village was commissioned by the Fred Harvey Company and later owned by Xanterra, both hotel and restaurant concessionaires. The park brought it to the people's ownership on January 1, 2015.

"It was transferred to the National Park Service in January of this year," Ranger Maci MacPherson told Havasu News. According to MacPherson, the park had planned to purchase the tower for some time and had finally saved enough money to purchase the building.

Planned Changes to the Watchtower

In the next two years Grand Canyon National Park, with the help of a grant from American Express, will renovate the tower. The large gift shop has already been removed and replaced with a small gift shop at the back. Artists will restore the large murals that currently have water damage. And the park has invited the local tribes to resume cultural demonstrations.

Mary Jane Colter would be happy indeed.

Grand Canyon Desert View Watchtower. Photo by Whit Richardson

Grand Canyon Desert View Watchtower. Photo by Whit Richardson

Trivia: In 2008, two tourists were banned from all American national parks for the period of a year after using white-out and permanent marker to correct the punctuation on a sign on the Desert View Watchtower, which had been painted by Colter.


Sunset at Hopi Point on the South Rim. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Grand Canyon South Rim

Open 365 days a year, the South Rim offers plenty of activities, restaurants and, of course, gorgeous views. It is the most-visited part of the canyon.

Illustration of proposed gondola tramway and riverwalk. Click on image to see more rendering at

Plans for Grand Canyon Gondola Tramway & Resort

In what’s being called the Grand Canyon Escalade project, developers are hoping to build a cable-car that would transport tourists from the top of the Grand Canyon’s rim to its bottom, where a newly built river walk and resort area would await.