Members of a Native American group based in a remote part of Arizona are hoping to entice more tourists by inviting visitors to step off the edge of the Grand Canyon.
The 1,500-member Hualapai tribe announced last week that the Skywalk—a giant, 30-million-dollar steel-and-glass walkway—will open to the public in March 2007.
The Skywalk will jut out 70 feet (21 meters) from the canyon rim, allowing tourists to go for a stroll with nothing between their feet and the Colorado River—4,000 feet (1,220 meters) below—except for four inches (ten centimeters) of glass.
The Hualapai, or "People of the Tall Pines," are working with the Las Vegas, Nevada-based Destination Grand Canyon to market the Skywalk and draw in valuable tourist dollars.
Many other tribes have turned their government-sanctioned right to run casinos into a major revenue source. But the Hualapai's remote location has undermined their efforts to host gambling.
"This is what's going to feed our tribe."
Grand Roll Out
The Skywalk will be accessible through Grand Canyon West, the tribe's once-humble tourist destination. Although Grand Canyon National Park along the south rim sees about four million tourists a year, until recently Grand Canyon West hosted only about 125,000 visitors.
To help bolster their numbers, the tribe agreed to build the Skywalk, which will eventually be joined by a three-story visitors' center, including a restaurant with patio seating along the canyon.
Mark Johnson, of Las Vegas-based MRJ Architects, has been working on the Skywalk for about three years, beginning with a lengthy design phase.
"There really is no building type for this," Johnson said.
He and a team of tribal consultants, engineers, and geologists started with the idea to build a single, straight walkway that would have stuck out from the canyon wall like a diving board.
They moved through several more design concepts before settling on a U-shaped walkway.
Sometime before opening day in March, the behemoth structure will be rolled out at a rate of half an inch (1.3 centimeters) a minute on tracks while concrete weights anchor the back.
When it's in place, the Skywalk will be anchored to giant poles drilled 40 feet (12 meters) into the canyon wall. Only 120 people will be allowed on the walkway at a time.
Johnson says the rock wall, not the walkway's design, is the wild card that could determine the Skywalk's life span.
At that height, the wall is made of 350-million-year-old limestone—porous material that is highly prone to erosion.
Geologists have a simple explanation for the formation of the Grand Canyon: the Colorado River cuts down through the rock, and the canyon's sides fall in.
Periodic rockfalls are an accepted and unpredictable reality. Johnson said there's no way to tell whether the part of the canyon that will support the Skywalk will last a hundred years or a thousand.
Talk about going out on a limb... I sure hope those architects know what they're doing!
I think it will be really cool to go out on this thing and get a view of the Grand Canyon from directly above... but there's no way I'm going on this thing when it's up to full capacity! I'll just wait 'til the off-season, or right before they close for the day.