The skywalk is an engineering marvel, constructed of a million pounds of steel and 90 tons of tempered glass.
The skywalk is an engineering marvel, constructed of a million pounds of steel and 90 tons of tempered glass.
By Steve Spatafore via Bloomberg News
Correction to This Article
A July 1 Travel article about the Grand Canyon Skywalk gave an incorrect name for nationally owned land between Las Vegas and the Skywalk. It is Joshua Tree Forest, not Joshua Tree National Park. The story also misstated the year in which an executive order created the Hualapai Indian Reservation. It was 1883, not 1833.

Over the Edge

The skywalk is an engineering marvel constructed of a million pounds of steel and 90 tons of tempered glass. For now, it's drawing relatively few tourists.
The skywalk is an engineering marvel constructed of a million pounds of steel and 90 tons of tempered glass. For now, it's drawing relatively few tourists. (By Steve Spatafore Via Bloomberg News)

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By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 1, 2007

A bird flies beneath my feet, gliding under the clear glass floor of a horseshoe-shaped structure that juts 70 feet from the rim of the Grand Canyon. The canyon floor is more than 4,000 feet below.

Maybe you've gone to the top of the Empire State Building and looked down at cars that seem like Matchbox toys. From the Grand Canyon Skywalk, you are more than three times farther from the ground below than when you stand at the top of the Empire State Building.

Only five thin layers of glass stand between your feet and the abyss. A glass railing, 4 1/2 feet high, surrounds the skywalk. When the wind blows, you feel the sensation of flight. When the wind gusts, you can feel the skywalk gently sway.

Honestly, though, you don't need a ticket to the $30 million skywalk, which opened to the public this spring, to see the most stunning views: the majestic rock formations formed over millenniums by earthquakes, volcanoes, wind, rain and the power of the Colorado River. From either the skywalk or the canyon rim just next to it, you see Eagle Point, so named because nature has sculpted into the rock the form of a gigantic eagle, wings spread, head held high.

You can stand on firm ground or on the skywalk, and either way watch the colors of the canyon rock shift and change with the movement of the sun. Burnt orange. Sienna. Yellow. Enough shades of brown to fill an artist's palette, and an occasional splash of purple that makes the phrase "purple mountains' majesty" run through my head.

The Grand Canyon, long a symbol of the grandeur of America's landscapes, is more than 200 miles long. Just over 100 miles of that is within the Hualapai Indian Reservation. The skywalk is about 120 miles east of Las Vegas.

For more than 100 years, that part of the canyon was off-limits to non-Indians. Then, 19 years ago, the impoverished Hualapai decided to welcome tourists. Even so, the vast majority of visitors kept heading to the famed Grand Canyon National Park.

But there are several reasons to consider the Hualapai-owned section of the canyon, either in addition to or instead of your trip to the national park.

Be aware that a visit to the three tourist sites on the reservation, within a five- to 10-minute drive of one another, is not free. It costs a minimum of $49 to see the three sites: a spectacular canyon called Guano Point, where a buffet lunch is offered on picnic tables; a recently constructed "cowboy town" called Hualapai Ranch, where you can have lunch and take a horse-drawn wagon ride and, for an extra fee, ride horseback; and Eagle Point, with the skywalk, a visitors center and an Indian "village" with samples of Native American homes. Walking on the skywalk is an additional $25.

For many people, the main draw to this section of the canyon is the skywalk itself -- an engineering marvel constructed of a million pounds of steel and 90 tons of tempered glass. An even more compelling reason, in my opinion: the relative lack of tourists, at least for now.

The skywalk created an exponential boom in tourism to the million-acre Hualapai reservation. Still, that means on average 1,200 tourists a day -- or about 438,000 a year, if the current rush continues throughout the year, including winter, which is unlikely. Compare that number with the 4.1 million visitors annually to Grand Canyon National Park. Most visitors arrive by tour bus from Las Vegas, and after an hour or so of gawking, they eat lunch and head back to Vegas.

The reservation also offers a good selection of activities, including rafting trips, pontoon boat rides, Humvee tours, horseback riding and helicopter tours of the canyon.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company


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