Sunday, October 13 and Monday, October 14, 2019
We arrived at our campsite around noon on the Saturday of a Columbus Day holiday weekend. The half hour traffic jam at the entrance gate should have told us something about how busy the park was.
After setting up camp, we drove over to the Visitor Center. We gave up on the first parking lot after driving up and down isles. Lot #1 was full. People were parked illegally all over the place. We saw rental motorhomes also cruising the parking lot. Not a pretty site.
Based on the illegal parking also seen at the entrance to lot #2, we decided we had seen enough driving and parking drama. Change of plans. The Visitor Center would need to wait for another day.
During busy times, like Saturday afternoons on holiday weekends, there are strategies that visitors might employ to improve the likelihood of finding an open parking space. Visitor Center lots fill in order. Lot #1 jams up before lot #2 which jams up before lot #3 which jams up before lot #4. Working the lots in reverse numerical order may increase the chance of finding a spot. This strategy only works for cars as the only Visitor Center parking lot that accommodates RVs is lot #1.
Parking away from the Visitor Center Complex is another alternative when lots are full. Not all lots can accommodate RVs. The best place to park an RV is at a campsite in a campground.
Consult the National Park Service parking on the South Rim web page. Since the South Rim is often crowded, the park offers a visitor survival guide for dealing with crowding.
The best advice offered by the park is to show up before 9:00 AM. Our experience is that 8:00 AM is better for some of the smaller parking lots in the Village area.
On the way into the park, Rangers provide copies of the Grand Canyon National Park Pocket Map, South Rim Services Guide.
The Pocket Map turned out to be remarkably useful. While not perfect, the map does a good job of connecting the dots.
The Visitor Center is is the largest building in and is central to the Visitor Center Complex. The modern building is open and airy. Displays are spread out in a way that keeps people from getting too bunched up.
Sometimes the ranger desk is inundated with visitors but not the day or time this picture was taken. The Park Headquarters, around a mile away, also has a ranger desk where park rangers will answer questions. The park HQ might be a better location to seek ranger services when the park is busy.
Just standing on the rim and looking out over the canyon, it is hard to form a mental map of the canyon. Part of the problem is the canyon’s scale. It is so big, so deep. Displays like the 3D Canyon Map hanging on the Visitor Center wall help provide human scaled tangible physical models that can easily be explored.
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 finishing the trip.
The theater inside the Visitor Center runs the same movie every half hour. The movie covers a number of topics including a telling of the Powell Geographic Expeditions. The Powell Geographic Expedition stories were also told by the IMAX Movie at the Tusayan Grand Canyon Visitor Center. While the production of the National Park Service movie was simpler and less flashy, it was every bit as informative as the higher budget IMAX telling of the story.
The Visitor Center Complex restrooms are housed in the building shown below. It is within site of the Visitor Center main entrance. There are signs pointing in the general direction.
The Grand Canyon Conservancy, a non-profit partner to the National Park Service, operates park stores at a number of locations inside Grand Canyon National Park.
The Grand Canyon Conservancy store located in the Visitor Center Complex is large and airy, similar in construction and architecture to the Visitor Center.
Each of the Grand Canyon Conservancy stores has a different mix of gift shop items. A discount for Grand Canyon Conservancy members is available. Memberships can be purchased at the checkout counters.
Bright Angel Bicycles operates the bike rental and coffee shop concession in the Visitor Center Complex.
The Bike Rentals and Cafe building has a tiny inside counter for bicycles and tours. Most of the building interior is dedicated coffee shop functions.
Rental bikes are parked outside.
There is a bike rental counter inside. The counter is wide enough to serve two customers at a time.
Bright Angel Bicycles provides a Bike Route Map for cyclists. The map would also work for cyclists using their own bikes. The map provides three routes, with time estimates and difficulty level for each route.
For riders taking the Hermit’s Rest (AKA Red Bike Ride on the map) Route, Bright Angel Bicycles offers a shuttle package to make the Hermit’s Rest Bike Route more enjoyable. The shuttle package is only available to people renting bicycles fro Bright Angle Bicycles.
The Visitor Center has a Bus Station of sorts serving three of the South Rim’s four bus routes.
Orange route buses go to Desert View. Purple route buses go to Tusayan, AZ. Blue route buses drive around the Visitor Center and Village areas. All three of these routes come through the Visitor Center “Bus Station.”
Village (blue) Route buses go in a loop around the Visitor Center and Village areas. Village route buses also connect with Red route buses going to Hermit’s Rest at the stop in the above picture.
It is a short walk from the Village (blue) Route bus transfer point to the Hermit’s Rest (red) Route or the Village Route Transfer Point shown above.
On the return trip, a Hermit’s Rest (red) bus’ sign changes to “Village Transfer.”
The Visitor Center complex is within a stone’s throw of the rim.
Signs pointing to the Canyon Rim Trail are easy to spot.
Canyon Rim Trails are paved and wide around the Visitor Center and Village areas where higher foot traffic is common. Be prepared for crowds, especially during summer and shoulder holiday weeks and weekends.
At certain times of the day, guided tours are conducted on the trails to the canyon rim as well as on the Canyon Rim Trail.
Early morning, before the crowds show up, one might just get an unobstructed view of the canyon at Mather Point.
Afternoons are busier than mornings. As crowds grow, so grows drama.
It is the views that keep people coming to this park. In the afternoon, Mather Point seemed busy to me but it is much more crowded during the summer.
Visitors walking along the canyon rim are exposed to ever changing views.
Because of its proximity to the Visitor Center Complex, Mather Point is arguably one of the most popular places to peer into the mile deep Grand Canyon.
Like many of the other viewing points along the Canyon Rim Trail, Mather Point provides a wide unobstructed panoramic view of the Grand Canyon.
The time of day and perhaps the season affects canyon lighting and colors.
As the lighting changes throughout the day, different features of the canyon appear or disappear into the shadows. Colors change. Clouds create shadows, slowly hiding or revealing canyon features.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!
One thought on “Grand Canyon National Park – Visitor Center”
Nice post!! Great information and photos! As many times as I have been to the canyon I have not been here. I will have to check it out next time!!