Hualapai Pin Hopes to Grand Canyon Skywalk

The Grand Canyon Skywalk was officially opened this week by former astronaut Buzz Aldrin. The Skywalk is located on the Hualapai Indian Reservation in Arizona. The Hualapai hope it will mean more jobs.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

A dilemma for one of our correspondents this week. Sometimes news events are so orchestrated that it's tough for a reporter to find something authentic to bring the story to life. That was the challenge for NPR's Ted Robbins when he covered the opening of the Grand Canyon Skywalk. Here's his Reporter's Notebook.

TED ROBBINS: The Hualapai Indian Reservation in northern Arizona is not easy to visit, or to live on - dirt roads, scarce water, remote location. But for the opening of its new skywalk the tribe bussed or flew in hundreds of guests, mostly media and tour operators it hoped would promote the attraction. After decades of high unemployment and poverty, the tribe is understandably excited, maybe a bit prone to hyperbole. Here's the project's chief financial officer, Steve Beattie.

Mr. STEVE BEATTIE (CFO, Grand Canyon Skywalk): The Grand Canyon Skywalk is the one thing you must experience. Until now, man has only dreamed of walking on air.

ROBBINS: The Hualapai paid former astronaut Buzz Aldrin to make the first official skywalk. Aldrin was the second person to walk on the moon, and here's what the invitation said to those of us witnessing this latest walk.

July 20th, 1969 man walks on the moon. March 20th, 2007, can man walk over the Grand Canyon? After the walk, Aldrin proclaimed.

Mr. BUZZ ALDRIN (Former Astronaut): This magnificent first walk bridges centuries of vision towards the future of hope.

ROBBINS: Okay, by now I was more than ready to talk with someone who wasn't scripted. Some have criticized the skywalk as a desecration of tribal land and an artificial intrusion on the canyon's fragile beauty. None of those folks were visible at the invitation-only event, of course. But I spotted a woman, a tribal member in traditional dress. Sylvia Querta was in a great mood - open, friendly, hopeful the skywalk would indeed bring visitors and create jobs for the tribe. Then tears came to her eyes.

Ms. SYLVIA QUERTA (Hualapai Tribe Member): I grew up here so when we didn't have books, TV, radios, it was (unintelligible) that we used to look at, you know, for - to read and to interpret. and so today I was looking up in the sky, you know, and I saw the eagle. I saw a man on a horse waving. A good day.

ROBBINS: Now I was ready to experience the glass-bottomed observation deck myself. I had to put on paper booties so as not to mar the glass floor, the kind of booties worn in an operating room. I stepped forward. The ground dropped away beneath the U-shaped platform. I walked to the end, recording sound of other reporters. There wasn't much else to get sound of. Then I stopped to look down through the glass. How did it feel? Thrilling? Disconcerting? Terrifying? I needed a moment to gather my thoughts.

Unidentified Man #1: Let's go. Come on. Don't just walk and stop. Let's go.

ROBBINS: Oh well. I kept walking off the platform and away from the crowd. I looked up at the clouds and tried to see the eagle and the man on the horse waving.

Unidentified Man #2: Let's go.

ELLIOTT: Ted Robbins covers the southwest for NPR.

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Sneak Preview: The Grand Canyon Skywalk

Visitors on the Grand Canyon Skywalk i i

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 hide caption

itoggle caption 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

An artist's rendering of the Grand Canyon skywalk. M.R.J. Architects hide caption

itoggle caption 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

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 hide caption

itoggle caption 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.

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