Whether you drive yourself, take the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, or enjoy the convenience of Silver Spur’s VIP Grand Canyon Loop Tour from Sedona or Flagstaff, tourists can expect panoramic views beyond the most imaginative expectations. While the Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim offers all the usual tourist venues, for those who seek more than just a souvenir view of the Grand Canyon what lies beyond the Village will inspire nothing less than awe.
Beyond the village, the ethereal faces embedded in the rock and the time-drawn lines come alive with the rising and setting of the Arizona sun. Only fleeting clouds above are large enough to paint their shadows along the walls of these gargantuan cliffs. Jagged layers of multi-colored rock harbor sporadic outcroppings of desert vegetation and keep careful watch over the secrets of the past as they stand sentinel over time. To stand in the midst of this canyon of the gods, surrounded by exquisite sculpture and haunting beauty, can awaken the soul. Through a stand of pines, gazing down at the seemingly lazy, meandering Colorado River, it almost feels as if you are witnessing something private, something not meant for public consumption. The water and the rocks seem to speak their very own language, traveling together through time, plotting the course of their infinite entwinement.
Once you embark east along the Desert View Drive, leaving Grand Canyon Village, there are several viewpoints that, while still more highly populated with binocular-bespectacled onlookers, offer tremendous views from the Canyon’s southern rim. To escape the noise and clutter, however, one must continue to head east, where peace, tranquility and solitude await the harried soul. Two miles past Mather Point, off the beaten roadway, rests the South Kaibab Trailhead which winds hikers down along Cedar Ridge. Overhead, past the trailhead, Yaki Point, which casts a view over the most of the central canyon area and the Tonto Platform awaits. Hiking and bicycling are popular methods of arrival; however, if traveling by car, this road is only accessible during the winter. A shuttle from Canyon View Information Plaza runs directly to the trailhead during the remainder of the year.
A short two mile jaunt past Yaki Point comes Shoshone Point. A one-mile, unpaved road leads out to this secluded vista. Permits from the National Park Service are required in order to use the picnic facilities, a popular spot for weddings and private parties. The path is blocked by a locked gate to prevent private car traffic. With only a small parking area by the gate to denote the lookout’s existence, hikers and sporadic visitors are not required to carry a permit. A narrow outcropping at the edge affords a 180 degree view, where one can look back at Yaki Point, or down at Cremation and Phantom Creeks, which run along the north rim. The Lyell and Newton Buttes, tall narrow peaks of tan Supai sandstone lie directly ahead, and beyond are the Zoroaster and Thor Temple buttes. Painted in varying shades of russet, orange and red, more of these notable outcroppings are visible when looking farther out past Grapevine Creek.
Leaving Shoshone, continuous photographic scenery lines the drive. Itâ€™s nearly 10 miles to the next lookout, Grandview Point. Hovering atop Horseshoe Mesa, this resplendent visual oasis allows visitors to view the intricate, exquisite detailing of the Grand Canyon, while surveying the seemingly infinite horizon. It takes a bit of walking down an unmarked footpath, but the destination-the sparse remains of the Grandview Hotel-offers a more secluded perch from which to commune, uninterrupted, with the breathtaking views. Moving two miles east of the Grandview Point turnoff, an 80-foot steel tower constructed in 1936 offers a wide scope of the lush, vibrant greens that abound from the Kaibab National Forest below. Traveling down a rugged dirt path, about two miles south of the lookout tower, one will encounter Hull Cabin, nestled under cover of the surrounding Ponderosa pines. This former sheep ranch, accessible by automobile in dry weather, always extends a warm, haunting welcome to visitors.
Five miles east of Grandview Point sits one of the more popular stops on the Desert View Drive. Moran Point, named after landscape artist Thomas Moran, provides a plethora of vivid color and intensity for the visiting eye. The brilliant red hues of the Hakatai shale in Red Canyon below merge into shades of grayish-green in neighboring Mineral Canyon, and all of this glorious color is better appreciated by hikers who choose to venture on the New Hance Trail which winds through and meets up with Escalante Route, sitting opposite of Hance Rapids, which is only slightly visible from above.
Just a short distance away, the Hance Rapids come more clearly visible with a visit to Zuni Point. Further examination of the vibrant, prehistoric color scheme continues, from different angles of Mineral Canyon, Asbestos Canyon, and glimpses of the Colorado Gorge. Getting to this point is half the fun, however, since it is the only lookout area that has no marked trail, road or notable signage to indicate its presence. An exhilarating hike through half a mile of fairly open forest, within sight of the canyon’s edge is the only way to find this splendid escape from other heavily-trodden outlooks along the southern rim. Zuni Point, in all of its silent, awe-inspiring glory, is the ideal location for seclusion, meditation, and communion with nature. A brilliant mix of forest, cacti, and prehistoric rock bursting with life and color is more of a portal to a more serene inner seat of the soul. From this tranquil sanctuary of reflection, looking towards the North Rim, the inspirational vistas of Vishnu Temple, Krishna Shrine, and other Hindu-named points, can help to form a truly religious connection with the Grand Canyon.
Neighboring Papago and Pinal Points offer more wilderness connection, resting on opposite sides of a square-shaped peninsula, about two miles north of the roadway. There are no trails here, either to or between these outlooks, but the determined foot traveler can hike through low-lying pine forest land, and more sporadic gatherings of Yucca and flowering cacti along the rim to reach an unencumbered view of the Colorado River below. One can survey the rapids of Unkar Creek, Tanner, Sockdolager, and Hance, and get some fabulous shots of Seventyfive Mile and Papago Creeks, which lie just below the rim. The Papago outlook provides a veritable feast of scenic wonders. Looking west in to Bright Angel Creek, or northeast towards Tanner Canyon, or across the horizon at the strong, silent peaks of Solomon Temple and Tabernacle, the size and scope of the Grand Canyon are forever embedded in the mind.
Shortly after leaving Pinal Point, at the top of an 80-foot incline, Lipan Point brings visitors back from wilderness, as the Desert View Scenic Drive begins to wind down. When day begins its lazy retreat into the darker reaches of night, this is the ideal location for viewing the settling Arizona sun. Looking out over an expanse of verdant pine woodland to the east, or west for different angles of the rapids and creeks seen earlier, one can get up close and very personal with the point where sky and rock meet.
Before the sun completely escapes the shackles of the southwestern sky, the perfect end to a perfect day awaits at Desert View, sitting at the easternmost point of the scenic drive. Juniper trees and Piionn pines scatter the landscape around this, one of the highest points of the south rim. Turning to the east, far across the horizon, the Painted Desert gives resonance to all who view its palate of preciously-tinted hues. All these breath stealing vistas can be seen from one of the canyon’s most memorable structures, the Desert View Watchtower. Designed by architect Mary Colter in the early 1930’s, this stone and steel tower pays credence to the tribes of the Four Corners region. For those who choose to camp here overnight, a burst of vibrant color, wrapped in morning mist, greets sleepy eyes as the sun ascends in the eastern sky.
No matter the approach to this 25-mile, winding scenic drive, the mind, soul and body will have touched the hand of greatness, and stared into the eyes of creative forces long since past. From beginning to end, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon brings mankind in direct contact with all that is truly inspirational in nature.