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Hualapai’s Grand Canyon Skywalk draws thousands

PEACH SPRINGS, Ariz. – “You Can Do It!” declares a sign to visitors who take their first step onto the glass footbridge suspended 70 feet from the edge – a more than 4,700-foot drop to the canyon floor below.

This innovative horseshoe-shaped structure is owned by the Hualapai Indian Tribe of Peach Springs ... and has to be experienced to be believed.

Wind gusts roar up the canyon wall, making the Skywalk vibrate with movement and causing visitors to express their thrill with oohs and ahhs of delight.

The breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon West offers a rare and unparalleled opportunity to be enveloped in the wonder of immenseness while cocooned in the hand of progress. Birds float on the wind against a backdrop of unimaginable reflections of pinks, yellows and reds in the millions of rock formations that have been sculpted by nature over the eons.

This modern marvel – constructed of five different layers of Belgian glass panels stretching 10 feet and interlocked in a metal frame, was built on the lip of the canyon wall and then slowly rolled out over the rim.

“It is attached [cantilevered] by 94 steel rods that bore 46 feet into the rock and is then secured in four areas with the largest bolts and nuts in the world,” said Wilfred Whatoname Jr., media relations director.

The builders, Lochsa Engineering of Las Vegas, tested the Skywalk and found that it met all the engineering requirements, proving the structure could hold the weight of 71 fully loaded Boeing 747 airplanes – more than 71 million pounds.

Inspiration and design for the glass-bottomed footbridge came from David Jin, CEO and founder of the Skywalk. He said, “My vision was to enable visitors to walk the path of the eagle, and become surrounded by the Grand Canyon while standing at the edge.” Actual construction on the Skywalk began in March 2004 and was completed March 20, 2007, at a cost of $31 million.

Access to the Skywalk from Las Vegas is by way of a 120-mile drive that ends in a 14-mile stretch of washboard dirt road through a magnificent 900-year-old Joshua Tree forest.

Wilfred Whatoname Jr. and Shakohwin Black Cloud sat on the rim of the Grand Canyon, with the Skywalk in the background.

In 1883, the Hualapai Tribe negotiated a treaty with the U.S. government to retain 997,000 acres of the 5 million it originally inhabited. Presently it has set aside 9,000 acres for economic development. Plans to build a $56 million airport runway, a hotel, lodgings for employees, a Skywalk Restaurant and possibly a casino are in the making.

The tribe’s impressive array of attractions in the Grand Canyon is not without controversy. Tribal member Leatrice Walema told The Wall Street Journal, “This should never have been done,” as Eagle Point – the Skywalk site – is “sacred ground.”

Whatoname had another perspective. “There wasn’t much input by our local community, but now that we have become world-known, lots of our people are taking a positive interest in what happens here. It has brought back honor to our people. I recently traveled to England and going to a different country, and hearing about our tribe and Skywalk from other nations was very special.”

The Skywalk receives about 1,500 visitors a day from around the world. Reservation offices are in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, China and the United States.

“I know a lot of the visitors don’t see the land the way we do. While they’re here, we try to educate them about our culture. In sharing that, they leave with a better understanding of the people and area they visited,” Whatoname said.

The Grand Canyon West attractions provide employment and advancement for Hualapai tribal members. “Looking West of Eagle Point, there is a nice view of the past; and I think about our ancestors’ struggles and hardships,” he continued. “When I look to the east, I see the development, and that we are laying the groundwork for our future generations to have a better way of life than we’ve had.”