Grand Canyon’s Desert View Watchtower to Become Native American Cultural Center

Jul 30, 2015

The historic Desert View Watchtower at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is transforming into a Native American heritage center. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, the multimillion dollar center is designed to present the canyon from a tribal point of view.

The Desert View Watchtower was designed by architect Mary Colter in the 1930s to mimic Native American structures.
Credit NPS

Officials with the Park Service say the project marks one of the first opportunities for Native American tribes to directly present information to the public in a national park. Eleven tribes and bands with ancestral ties to the Grand Canyon will collaborate with the National Park Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs as well as nonprofit organizations. 

Looking up through the first and second parapets of the watchtower.
Credit NPS

One of the organizers is Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. He says the center will show visitors the canyon’s tribal history.

“The Hopi people have been around the canyon for thousands of years and they are still a living culture, there’s still a deep relationship with the canyon. That’s what we want to tell the visitor.”

Hopi dancers at the dedication of the watchtower in 1933. Lead Hopi dancer Chester Dennis is at far right.
Credit NPS

The Desert View Watchtower was designed by architect Mary Colter in 1930s. It was built to mimic ancient Native American structures and is included on the National Register of Historic Places.

A Hopi mural inside the watchtower circa 1933 with Mary Colter's notation drawn over.
Credit NPS

The watchtower itself will not be changed, but the facilities around it will be converted to house Indian art exhibits and other cultural programs. The project is expected to take five years to complete and is being funded by a collective of organizations.

Hopi artist Fred Kabotie, who painted the murals on the walls and ceiling of the Desert View Watchtower.
Credit NPS