Big changes in roads, parking and other facilities are nearing completion at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. The result should be a much-improved visitor experience, beginning this month. The real payoff, of course, will come with next summer's crowds.
If you're been to the South Rim, but if your last visit was prior to the year 2000, you probably won't recognize the layout in the Village. Long-time visitors who recall the difficulty finding a parking place in the congested visitor center and park headquarters area should appreciate the changes.
The primary visitor center for the park was relocated from the center of the Village to a site near Mather Point nine year ago. You'll find that facility described as part of the "Canyon View Information Plaza" in some park literature. A Village Map is available on the park website, and will help you navigate the area.
For decades, the entrance road to the South Rim passed right by Mather Point, the first place visitors entering the park from the south could stop for a look at the canyon. The result was traffic congestion, safety concerns and a lot of frustrated visitors who couldn't find a parking spot, but new facilities being completed this month should greatly improve that situation.
The work is part of Phase I of the South Rim Visitor Transportation Plan. Realignment of the South Entrance Road away Mather Point was completed in September, so visitors trying to enjoy the view of the canyon no longer have to contend with vehicle traffic. If you want to stop at Mather Point, you can use nearby new parking facilities for the visitor center.
Paving, striping and signing of the new visitor parking lots is nearing completion, and the park expects to open these 600 new parking spaces in time for Thanksgiving. A separate parking area will provide space for 40 commercial tour vehicles. Revegetation, irrigation, fencing and miscellaneous clean-up work will continue into early December and will conclude the Phase I improvements.
Better yet, the combination of the new parking areas near Mather Point and the park's free shuttle system means visitors can avoid the need to drive into the Village area, where parking can be a challenge.
Veteran visitors to the South Rim will find a couple of other changes in the Village. One of the oldest buildings on the South Rim was operated for more than a century by the Verkamp family as a gift shop; it now houses the Verkamp's Visitor Center, and features an information desk, displays telling the history of Grand Canyon Village and a bookstore. This building is located near the El Tovar Hotel and train depot.
Another area landmark, the Kolb Studio, was once the home and business of the Kolb brothers, pioneering photographers at Grand Canyon. The building has been restored and includes free art exhibits and a bookstore.
You'll find plenty of information on the park website to help you sort out all of these changes, including maps, brochures, a trip planner and park newspaper.