Sneak Preview: The Grand Canyon Skywalk

Visitors on the Grand Canyon Skywalk i i

hide captionLocated at the West Rim's Eagle Point, this 4,000-foot high cantilever-designed glass bridge extends 70 feet from the rim of the Grand Canyon. It is scheduled to open on March 28.

Ted Robbins, NPR
Visitors on the Grand Canyon Skywalk

Located at the West Rim's Eagle Point, this 4,000-foot high cantilever-designed glass bridge extends 70 feet from the rim of the Grand Canyon. It is scheduled to open on March 28.

Ted Robbins, NPR
Skywalk i i

hide captionAn artist's rendering of the Grand Canyon skywalk.

M.R.J. Architects
Skywalk

An artist's rendering of the Grand Canyon skywalk.

M.R.J. Architects

Scroll down to see a chart comparing the elevation of the skywalk with tall structures from around the world.

Construction i i

hide captionShown here during construction, the skywalk is able to hold the weight of 71 fully-loaded Boeing 747 airplanes and contains more than one million pounds of steel.

Grand Canyon West
Construction

Shown here during construction, the skywalk is able to hold the weight of 71 fully-loaded Boeing 747 airplanes and contains more than one million pounds of steel.

Grand Canyon West

Jutting out into space, the Grand Canyon Skywalk officially opened Tuesday. The Skywalk is located on the Hualapai American Indian reservation in Arizona.

It's a horseshoe-shaped glass-bottomed walkway extending 60 feet out over the edge of the Grand Canyon. The drop off below is 4,000 feet.

Television crews from around the world got their shots on the glass-and-steel platform, then moved off to make way for more TV crews.

Before the media had its turn on the platform, a Hualapai elder named Emmit Bender chanted a blessing over the project, a blessing this tribe could use.

Half of the 1,500 Hualapai who live on the plateau next to the canyon are unemployed. Almost a third live below the poverty level. Their home is so remote that they have to truck in their water.

They tried opening a casino to boost the tribe's economic fortunes, but it failed. Now they have turned to tourism: air tours, jeep excursions, rafting trips. Still, the efforts have not been enough to sustain the Hualapai.

Sylvia Querta is one of the tribal members who now hopes that tourists will pay $25, or more, to experience the Skywalk, and a visitors' center yet to be built.

"I think the Skywalk represents economic progress," Querta said. "And I'm happy because this means more job opportunities."

But the Skywalk disappoints folks like Rob Arnberger, a former superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park. He says he understands the Hualapai need economic development. But he also says the skywalk is inappropriate for its setting.

It's not consistent with the values of what that great gash in the ground represents to the globe, to the world and to the peoples of the world that visit it," Arnberger said.


Consuela Bravo — who happens to be Miss Teen Hualapai — says she thought that too, at first.

Before, when I [first] heard of it, I thought that it wasn't gonna be a good idea, because it's disrupting the land," Bravo said. "But I started to think its probably gonna help the tribe raise more money, so whatever they're willing to do, then they can do it."

Las Vegas businessman David Jin financed the $30-million steel and glass Skywalk, money the tribe didn't have.

The region where the Skywalk is set is known as Grand Canyon West. It gets a fraction of the visitors that the national park does, 150 miles to the east. Most visitors come to the area from Las Vegas.

Ben Jones, who works for Travelocity in Las Vegas, thinks the Skywalk will reinvigorate the tourist market from Vegas to the Canyon.

It's sort of like an amusement park building a new roller coaster and putting it in place," Jones said. "It's actually gonna get people who have come here before to come back again."

Helicopters and small planes are how tourists typically get to the area. It's a two-and-a-half hour drive from Las Vegas, partly over a dirt road. On Tuesday, though, hundreds of guests made the drive.

Now it's the public's turn. The Grand Canyon Skywalk officially opens on March 28.

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