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Historic Grand Canyon Village

el tovar hotel

While this isn’t a travel blog, I occasionally like to share some of my travels with y’all especially when they involved historic sites and architecture that you may not have had the chance to experience. Well, as fate would have it I am just returning from a trip to the Grand Canyon, and I have some very cool history that I can’t wait to impart here.

My wife and I took a week long getaway for just the two of us to Sedona and the Grand Canyon and for someone from Florida, the weather, landscape, and architecture was a refreshing change. I won’t go into the time we spent in Sedona other than to tell you that the gorgeous red rock formations are a must see at some point in your life. It’s stunning!

What I did want to share here was about the Historic Grand Canyon Village which is a little town built right on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s all inside Grand Canyon National Park, and has a rich history dating back to 1895. Being the history geek I am, I enjoyed the historic old buildings almost as much as the awe inspiring views of the canyon.

The Grand Canyon Village is a series of historic buildings all clustered together inside the park right on the south rim. The design of which were almost exclusively completed in the early part of the 20th century by architect Mary J. Colter, one of the few women architects at the time. I’ll lay out a few of the highlights of the trip below that are must see’s for their history and amazing design.

Buckey’s Cabin

Buckey's Cabin
Buckey’s Cabin: The oldest structure at the Grand Canyon Village

The oldest remaining building on the rim is Buckey’s Cabin built in 1895 by William Owen “Buckey” O’Neill. The cabin was a 2 room office and bunkhouse for the forthcoming Bright Angel Hotel which was built on the rim the following year in 1896. This was the first lodging directly on the rim for visitors and though the hotel was torn down, Buckey’s Cabin still remains a lodging option for visitors.

El Tovar Hotel

Designed by architect Charles Whittlesey and built in 1905 El Tovar was the place we stayed on our trip. Built in the style of a European hunting lodge built with local limestone and Douglas Fir imported from Oregon. The hotel is largely unchanged with the wide porch which is an extremely early hint of the Craftsman Style that would soon dominate the architecture of the US.

el tovar grand canyon
El Tovar Hotel: built 1905

From the historic pictures I noticed that very little of the lobby and sitting areas have changed over the years. The front desk is basically the same as the original as are the large sitting areas with huge stone fireplaces that served to keep us warm when returning from our hikes around the canyon.

There were originally 103 guest rooms and only 21 bathrooms. A large-scale renovation was completed in 1983, and the number of rooms was decreased to only 78 so that each room could have a private bath, which I appreciated. Sadly, the original paired wood casement windows were replaced with aluminum units which burned me something awful considering this building is a historic landmark. The original wood windows remained in the lobby and I could see no issues with them after 118 years unlike the ugly new windows.

The hotel contains the El Tovar restaurant which also looks just like it originally did in 1905. The food was alright, being the foodie that I am I enjoyed the historic atmosphere more than the food which tasted more like theme park quality dining.

Hopi House

Hopi House
Hopi House: built 1906

Completed in 1905 along with El Tovar the Hopi House is a large building of stone masonry. Shaped and built like a Hopi pueblo, it looks hundreds of years old and many people would think it was a traditional Hopi Indian building giving the impression of Puebloan architecture, but it was yet another structure well designed by architect Mary Colter. Hopi House was originally designed to house the main sales rooms for Fred Harvey Indian Arts.

Verkamp’s Curio Store

Built in 1906, is now Verkamp’s Visitor Center it’s a touristy haven now located right next to the Hopi House on the south rim. Built by Ohioan John George Verkamp, who sold Native American crafts and souvenirs, the two-story building has an odd combination of styles being a Mission Style structure, but with the odd cladding of wood shingles. Stop by for information as well as gifts for the kiddos.

Bright Angel Lodge

Bright Angel Lodge
Bright Angel Lodge: built 1935

Built in 1935 as a lower priced option for lodging on the rim compared to El Tovar the Bright Angel Lodge (don’t be confused with the Bright Angel Hotel which no longer exists) is a combination of cabins and the main lodge consisting of 90 guest rooms. It has the same rustic pioneer cabin feel as El Tovar, but with a little less pomp.

Right out the back side you can walk the famous Bright Angel Trail down into the canyon and make your way all the way to the Colorado River at the bottom. The trail was icy and snow covered when we visited so that meant a hard “no” for both me and my wife who felt that the risks of falling to our death was probably something we would pass on for this trip.

I will have to say that the ambiance of the restaurant at the lodge we visited for breakfast was possibly the worst part of the trip. I felt transported to a diner that hadn’t been cleaned or renovated since 1989 with the dingy booths of formerly fluorescent colors. I was impressed to get such a cheap breakfast right on the canyon’s rim though, spending less than $20 for both of us.

Look-Out Studio

Look-Out Studio
Look-Out Studio

Possibly one my favorite little buildings in the village, the Look-Out Studio appears to almost rise out of the canyon stone being built right onto the ledge. Designed by architect Mary Colter and built in 1914 this stone building is so well designed that it’s hard to tell where the canyon ends and the building begins.

Complete with the original wood casements this little gift shop sports some of the best views of the canyon on its back lookout. You can step safely out onto the platform and view headlong into the canyon without fear of falling since it’s one of the few places that actually has a railing.

We only a spent a couple days at the Grand Canyon, but with good weather we managed to hike the Trail of Time and almost all of the Rim Trail which for our portion amounted to about 7 miles of hiking. The historic buildings, the fair prices food and of course the stunning views that just can’t be captured adequately in pictures all made for one heck of a memorable trip.

Grand Canyon panorama
The Grand Canyon in all its splendor!

I hope you’ll make the trip sometime if you have the chance because there is just nothing quite like the Grand Canyon to make you feel the awesome scale of this planet. For me, the historic village was an added and unexpected bonus that added some much more color to the already expansive canyon, and I think it will do the same for you too.

1 thought on “Historic Grand Canyon Village

  1. Thanks for this post. When we went to the south rim on a trip probably 20 years ago, we somehow missed Grand Canyon Village. I wish I had known about it, I too, love old architecture. It is definitely a spectacular sight that everyone should get to see if they can.

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