Sunday, October 13, 2019
Tusayan Arizona is the last town before the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park when driving north from Williams on AZ-64. One of Tusayan’s attractions is the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
This is not one of the Grand Canyon National Park’s Visitor Centers operated by the National Park Service (NPS).
This visitor center is hard to miss. The imposing building houses a restaurant, IMAX Theater, gift shop, book store, clothing store and museum. It is also a starting point for a number of private Grand Canyon tours.
The main entrance and parking lot are on the backside of the building, away from the highway.
Outside the entrance is a replica of a boat used by Powell’s Grand Canyon expedition. American Naturalist John Wesley Powell led the first European American Grand Canyon expedition in 1869 and again in 1871–1872. The Powell Geographic Expedition goal was to create accurate maps of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The first expedition met severe hardships. Men, instruments, supplies and boats were lost. The second expedition completed the original mission.
I first heard the about the John Wesley Powell and the Geographic Expedition through an America’s National Parks Podcast a few days before arriving in the area. The podcast episode, called “The Great Unknown” had all the elements of a great story. Drama, heartbreak, danger and ultimately triumph.
Tickets for the IMAX Theater movie, “Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets,” were purchased at the ticket and tour desk just inside the main entrance.
Visitors walk through the store to get to the theater.
The theater entrance is past another Powell Expedition boat replica.
The IMAX Theater was different from standard movie theaters. IMAX screen was much larger. The seating area started lower and went higher than standard theaters. Each row of seats is much higher than the previous row. viewers had a fuller unrestricted view of the movie screen no matter how tall the person in from of them was. Sound is clearer and more directional. The images on the screen were brighter, sharper and more focused.
The movie opened with a bird’s eye view of flying over the canyon rim into the canyon and then skimming along the Colorado River at the canyon bottom. In the IMAX Theater, it really felt like flying. Then the movie transitioned to the story of the first Powell Geographic Expedition. Stunning rides through extreme whitewater in wooden row boats. The realism was uncomfortable. The brain was worrying about ramming into the rocks and being caught in the extreme undertows and drowning. The whitewater action scenes were full of action.
The Powell expedition story was told exceedingly well.
After the IMAX movie, we took time to walk through the store.
One display of Lego-like toys looked interesting. The store clerk said he had bought most of the different animals. He also said that he found building the models to be challenging. The instructions started from the lowest piece. To start building the Elk, he had to build each leg separately before trying to layout the stomach pieces on top. Only the first stomach layer needed the second and third layers to hold together.
We cruised through the restaurant section before 10:00 AM. Looked like they were getting ready for serving lunch in a few hours. Probably a good place to eat lunch.
In the book section of the store, there were a number Grand Canyon guide books. We bought the Lonely Planet Grand Canyon guide book. It looked to be the best of the bunch for what we wanted.
Back at the campsite, I used the guidebook with National Park handouts to create tours customized to our needs for the coming week.
Hope to see you on the road ahead.