North Rim Lookout Tower
The North Rim Lookout Tower helped to protect the area of the Grand Canyon. One can still appreciate immaculate views of the Grand Canyon from high above northern Arizona’s ponderosa forests at the North Rim Lookout Tower which is available to hikers.
Following the Great Fire of 1910, which devastated much of the northern Rocky Mountains, the Forest Service prioritized wildfire suppression. By the mid-1910s, it constructed three small platforms along the Canyon’s edge to spot fires. The North Rim platform, constructed at Bright Angel Point, provided forest rangers and tourists with impeccable views of the forests which lined the Canyon.
As one of the natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is widely considered one of America’s environmental gems. Federal attempts to preserve the Canyon date all the way back to the late nineteenth century, when the then Indiana Senator, Benjamin Harrison, proposed three bills in the 1880s to set aside the canyon as a national park. Though each of the bills failed, President Harrison eventually granted the Grand Canyon status as a Forest Reserve in the waning days of his presidency in 1893. After President Theodore Roosevelt visited the area in 1903, he granted the site status as a National Monument in 1908, replacing Harrison’s reserve . The National Park Service wouldn’t be founded for another eight years, so the Monument fell under control of the fledgling US Forest Service.
The Grand Canyon gained status as a National Park in 1919. The Park Service continued the Forest Service’s policy of fire suppression, and in 1928, it replaced the platform with a seventy five-foot tall steel tower. Topped with a tiny observation cab, fire lookouts lived in a small cabin beneath the structure. Under contract, the Aeromotor Company constructed the Bright Angel Lookout Tower. Aerometer also designed and produced the iconic windmill water pumps which became a symbol of the American West during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) updated much of the North Rim’s infrastructure. This included moving the Bright Angel Lookout roughly fourteen miles away to the Park’s northern entrance. In 1933, the CCC renamed the structure the North Rim Lookout Tower.
From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, writer and environmentalist Edward Abbey spent four seasons working in the tower. Abbey’s time in the station inspired his book Black Sun, a novel which tells the story of a fire lookout in the Grand Canyon who falls in love with a tourist. When she goes missing, the lookout is blamed for her mysterious disappearance. In his book Fire on the Rim, Stephen Pyne references Abbey as the reason the Park ceased lookout tower operations. “Whether [Abbey] was even in the tower, no one could say. He was a writer, and the only smokes he reported were the ones in his novels… he was absent so often that he demonstrated that we did not need a lookout, because having [Abbey] in the tower was the same as having no one.” Ultimately, the Park opted for aerial fire spotting instead.
Though abandoned, North Rim Lookout Tower is still accessible. Hikers can reach the site via a short hike from the Park’s northern entrance toll booth.