Powell Point ~ Grand Canyon National Park
During the winter months, the character of the Grand Canyon National Park changes dramatically. Because the canyon rim is over 7,000 feet above sea level, the winter temperatures can be down right icy cold and the snowstorms are not uncommon. The cold winter weather tends to thin out the crowds and the long waiting lines in Grand Canyon Village also disappear. With less vehicular traffic congestion, there are more opportunities to explore what the South Rim has to offer and this includes touring Hermit Road, which is only open from early winter through early spring.
Hermit Road opens up for vehicular traffic from December 1st till March 1st. Hermit Road runs west for seven miles from Grand Canyon Village to the Hermits Rest National Historic Landmark. There are several scenic overlooks along this road and the parking is easy to manage. The reason why Hermit Road is closed to private car traffic during the spring and summer tourism season is easy to see on a busy day. This intersection is located in an awkward spot in the busiest traffic area in the entire National Park. Next to the Hermit Road access point is where most of the tour buses unload visitors and this area is where the busiest canyon rim lodges and restaurants are located. Thousands upon thousands of cars, buses and even the Grand Canyon Train passes through this area, so closing Hermit Road seasonally helps to alleviate some of the chaos.
When Hermit Road is closed to private motor vehicle traffic from March till December, the only way to experience this section of the Grand Canyon South Rim is by hiking, biking or tour bus. During the busy summer season the limited vehicular access is like a blessing for those who want to escape the crowds. During the slow winter season from December through March when private vehicles are allowed access, the points of interest along Hermit Road can be crowded, especially if Desert View Road is closed because of snow. With no vehicular traffic, there is more elbow room at the popular scenic overlooks and some peaceful quiet can be found.
The first point of interest on Hermit Road going west from Grand Canyon Village is Powell Point. Powell Point is a canyon rim spur that juts far enough into the canyon to provide visitors with unobstructed views that extend nearly 360º around. Powell Point not only offers endless views of the Grand Canyon landscape, this spot overlooks the lodges on the South Rim. One can also clearly see the Bright Angel Trail as it zig-zags down the canyon wall. The Grand Canyon mule ride staging area is close by and remnants of the old Orphan Mine Superfund Cleanup Site can be seen from this scenic overlook.
The abandoned Orphan Mine is closed to tourists because this area is heavily contaminated from years of copper and uranium mining. This mine site is listed as a Superfund Environmental Cleanup Site because of high levels of radioactive waste material, so viewing from a distance is all that is recommended. The Orphan Mine has an interesting history in itself and the markers along the Rim Trail provide plenty of information. If one can imagine being hoisted in an ore bucket tied to a cable, then lowered 1,000 feet down to the adit on the canyon wall, then one can imagine just how dangerous the working conditions must have been back in the day.
The Powell Point Trail is paved, so those who have mobility challenges will have no problem enjoying this scenic overlook. There is a trail branch that leads to a steep staircase that extends downward to a canyon pocket overlook. The staircase trail offers the best views of features along this section of the South Rim and it is the best place to view the mule ride caravan on the Bright Angel Trail. When using binoculars or a telephoto lens, onlookers can clearly see the mule riders making their way down the trail to the Phantom Ranch by the Colorado River. The mules have no fear of heights and the steep slope of the Bright Angel Trail can be quite intimidating for riders, to say the least.
There are many historic markers along the short Powell Point Trail, so the walk can be a good educational experience for visitors of all ages. At the end of the trail near the Grand Canyon overlook is where the John Wesley Powell memorial is located. The memorial is dedicated to the two Colorado River expeditions that John Wesley Powell led through the Grand Canyon in the mid 1800s. The Powell Memorial is quite a site to see and as John Wesley Powell probably would have wished, the top of the memorial structure was designed as an observation post that offers views that extend well into the horizon.
There truly is something special about Powell Point that words simply cannot describe. When standing atop the memorial it is easy to get the feeling that one is standing next to John Wesley Powell himself.. It is also easy to drift back to a time when members of local native cultures stood there and enjoyed the spirit of this unique place. There is something about Powell Point that causes visitors to take their time while transcending, with no hurry and no worries. The silence of the canyon fills the air and the majestic views do all the talking as one stands at Powell Point. The views from Powell Point will create memories that will last a lifetime and this is reason enough to plan a tour of Hermit Road when exploring the Grand Canyon!