Its hangar and building now abandoned and nearly forgotten in the Kaibab National Forest, the Red Butte Airfield was the Grand Canyon’s original airport, and it hosted some notable guests in its time.
Retired army pilot J. Parker Van Zandt and engineer B. Russell Shaw, who had worked with aviation pioneers the Wright Brothers, opened the airfield in 1927 as Scenic Airlines, Inc. Soon after it opened, the stock market crash that sparked the Great Depression forced them to sell the airfield. The new owners renamed the airfield “Grand Canyon Airlines.” Today, the paint on the hangar has faded enough that both of the original names are faintly visible.
Over the years, many notable visitors landed at the historic airfield. Charles Lindbergh, famed for his nonstop flight from New York City to Paris, landed at Red Butte in 1928. Comedian Will Rogers flew out of Red Butte, chartering a scenic flight to observe the striking Arizona landscape from the air. Legendary aviatrix Amelia Earhart spent several days at Red Butte having her plane serviced by the airfield’s mechanics.
The current Grand Canyon National Park Airport was opened in 1967 in Tusayan, Arizona. Closer to the canyon and more modern, the new airport quickly became favored over the one at Red Butte. Helicopter tours, firefighting vehicles, ambulance flights, and private planes all use the newer airport seven miles south of the canyon rim.
Several of the buildings at the Red Butte Airfield burned down in 1994, and a local ranch used the property until 2003. Although it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, it is largely passed by unnoticed by the Grand Canyon’s thousands of daily visitors.
Know Before You Go
The easiest way to get to the abandoned airfield is by taking Forest Road 305 off of Highway 64. Take a slight right at the fork immediately after the exit, and remain on 305, which becomes Old Grand Canyon Airport Road, and drive for a few miles until you reach a fork. Stay to the right again. An unlocked gate meant to keep in cattle crosses the road. Close it behind you, and the airfield is just ahead.
Signs in the area warn of security cameras and against trespassing, so it is advised that you observe the abandoned airport from the surrounding roads and not enter any of the buildings.