Tribe set to open Grand Canyon skywalk
HUALAPAI INDIAN RESERVATION, Ariz. (AP) — Visitors who have marveled at the Grand Canyon’s vistas will now have a dizzying new option: a glass-bottom observation deck allowing them to gaze into the chasm beneath their feet.
The Skywalk, officially being unveiled Tuesday, is being touted as an engineering marvel. The glass-and-steel horseshoe extends 70 feet beyond the canyon’s edge with no visible supports above or below.
For $25 plus other fees, up to 120 people at a time will be able to look down to the canyon floor 4,000 feet below, a vantage point more than twice as high as the world’s tallest buildings.
Hualapai Indians, whose reservation is about 90 miles west of Grand Canyon National Park, allowed a Las Vegas developer to build the $30 million Skywalk in hopes of creating a unique attraction on their side of the canyon.
Hualapai leaders were to be the first to set foot on the Skywalk on Tuesday, with former astronauts Buzz Aldrin and John Herrington hired to join them for a brief ceremony to christen the deck.
The Skywalk is scheduled to open to the public on March 28.
Tribal leaders are betting that people will flock here – despite a twisty drive on unpaved roads through rugged terrain – to walk its transparent surface. They hope it will become the centerpiece of a budding tourism industry that includes helicopter tours, river rafting, a cowboy town and a museum of Indian replica homes.
Architect Mark Johnson said the Skywalk could support the weight of a few hundred people and will withstand wind up to 100 mph. The observation deck has been equipped with shock absorbers to keep it from bouncing like a diving board as people walk on it.
The Skywalk has sparked debate on and off the reservation. Many Hualapai (pronounced WALL-uh-pie) worry about disturbing nearby burial sites, and environmentalists have blamed the tribe for transforming the majestic canyon into a tourist trap.
Hualapai leaders say they weighed those concerns for years before agreeing to build the Skywalk. With a third of the tribe’s 2,200 members living in poverty, the tribal government decided it needs the tourism dollars.
“When we have so much poverty and so much unemployment, we have to do something,” said Sheri Yellowhawk, a former tribal councilwoman overseeing the project. “It sounded like a good idea.”
Las Vegas businessman David Jin fronted the money to build the Skywalk. Yellowhawk said Jin will give it to the Hualapai in exchange for a cut of the profits.
Construction crews spent two years building the Skywalk. They drilled steel anchors 46 feet into the limestone rim to hold the deck in place. Earlier this month, they welded the Skywalk to the anchors after pushing it past the edge using four tractor trailers and an elaborate system of pulleys.
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