Skywalk at the Grand Canyon
Hualapai Indian Reservation
by Felice Prager
Before the Grand Canyon Skywalk a $40 million glass and steel structure surrounded by simmering controversy even opened to the public, it received a huge amount of national and international attention. It prompted more than 2500 articles in countries around the world, including Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, Australia and the United States. Popular Mechanics called it the “best of what’s new” in engineering. Famed astronaut and Apollo lunar explorer Buzz Aldrin lead the first walkers onto the Grand Canyon Glass Skywalk in a private ceremony on March 20, 2007.
With all the hype, the opening of Grand Canyon Skywalk in a remote part of Arizona has been promising. Since March 28, 2007, the official opening day, the lines to get onto the glass bridge have been long and interest has been strong despite high summer temperatures and high cost.
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is located, not in Grand Canyon National Park, but at Grand Canyon West, on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, approximately halfway between Las Vegas and Grand Canyon’s South Rim. It is a three-hour drive from Las Vegas by way of Hoover Dam, a six-hour drive from Phoenix through Wickenburg and Kingman, or a five-hour drive from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.
No matter what route you take to the Skywalk, you will have to negotiate Dolan Springs Diamond Bar Road, a 15-mile-long unpaved and deeply rutted drive, to complete the last leg of your journey. Since automobile agencies consider the trip off-road travel, you will be held liable for any consequent damage to a rented vehicle. If you are not comfortable with off-road drives, you may want to consider another alternative.
The Skywalk is a U-shaped glass and steel structure that extends out 70 feet beyond the rim, over the canyon. Its elevation is about 4000 feet above the floor of the canyon. The other side of the canyon can be seen three miles away. The Skywalk is not directly above the main canyon, or Granite Gorge, which contains the Colorado River. Rather, it instead extends out over a side canyon.
The Skywalk walls and floor are built of four-inch-thick glass. According to press reports, this remarkable structure can support 70 tons of weightthe equivalent of 800 people, each weighing 175 pounds. The Skywalk, according to the Grand Canyon Skywalk official Internet site, is strong enough to withstand 8.0 magnitude earthquakes within 50 miles and 100 mile-per-hour winds from any of eight different directions. However, reflecting an abundance of caution, no more than 120 persons are permitted on the structure at one time.
To avoid incidents that might chip or scratch the glass floor, visitors must cover their shoes with booties and check items such as cameras, cell phones, keys and other personal belongings before stepping onto the structure. Tourists can make pictures when not on the structure, and souvenir photographs are available for sale.
The costs of a visit can mount in a hurry. Many who have been to Skywalk have taken a Park and Ride Shuttle Service offered from the Grand Canyon West Welcome Center located near Meadview, Arizona. This costs $10 per person and reservations are required. Next, there is an entry fee of $49 per person. This price is for the “Spirit Package,” which covers the permit to enter the area, an opportunity to see Native American performances, and a chance to photograph Hualapai tribal members in ceremonial regalia. It also covers transportation to the glass bridge and to a non-working mine as well as an all-you-can-eat western style buffet lunch. More elaborate packages include Hummer tours and horseback riding along the canyon rim, helicopter rides down to the Colorado River, and pontoon trips on the river. The total cost can range from $50 and $200 per person, depending on which package you choose. None of the packages includes the costs of actually walking onto the Grand Canyon Skywalk. That fee equals an additional $25 per person. Thus, if you drive yourself to the site, the minimum cost for the trip will be $74 per person$49 for the entrance fee and $25 for the Skywalk access. If you choose the most expensive package, the cost can exceed $200 per person.
Many visitors have been disappointed in the difference between advertisements and artist renderings of the Skywalk and the reality of the Skywalk. Although the canyon overlook is undeniably awe-inspiring, it is not the equal of Grand Canyon National Park. To the dismay of many, the site itself is also not yet fully developed. It is a work in progress. It still looks like a construction site, with at least 15 more years of construction ahead of it, at a minimum, to fulfill the builders’ vision.
There is also no nearby lodging currently available. Tourists must go to Kingman, which is one and a half hours away, or to Laughlin or Las Vegas, which is still farther, just to find a hotel. Some have opted to travel from Las Vegas or the South Rim in airplane tours just to avoid the difficulties of finding lodging anywhere near the site.
Through the first summer since the opening, visits to the Skywalk have meant long lines in blistering heat. Grand Canyon West is considerably hotter than Grand Canyon National Park. Since it is so remote, there has been a shortage of water and food at times.
It is hoped by the Hualapais that Grand Canyon West’s Skywalk Project will give an economic boost to the tribe, which has battled widespread unemployment and poverty for decades. The project was the dream of Las Vegas entrepreneur, David Jin, who, with the help of Las Vegas design firm, Lochsa Engineering, came up with the conceptual vision.
The Skywalk is the cornerstone of a larger plan by the Hualapai tribe, which hopes the structure will be the catalyst for a 9,000-acre development called Grand Canyon West. Future plans call for a museum, movie theater, VIP lounge, gift shop, restaurants and a golf course. There are plans for a high-end restaurant called The Skywalk Café, where visitors will be able to dine outdoors at the canyon rim. There would be cable cars to ferry visitors from the canyon rim to the Colorado River, which has been previously inaccessible.
As one might expect, there has been considerable controversy about the potential impact of such a large project in the Grand Canyon area:
- The project is unpopular with environmentalists.
- It a long drive from anywhere.
- The last 15 miles are bumpy and unpaved.
- The views are not as spectacular as those in Grand Canyon National Park.
- It is expensive.
- Cameras are not permitted on the Skywalk.
- Tourists are advised to bring sun protection (hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen) because the wait on the line is long and the summer heat, intense.
- It is a work in progress and resembles a construction site.
If you are willing to make the long and rough drive, deal with the elements, and pony up the dollars, you may feel that the Grand Canyon Skywalk is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Otherwise, it might be a better choice to just wait for the Grand Canyon Skywalk site to be more fully developed.
Photographs courtesy of http://www.destinationgrandcanyon.com/indexe.html
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