Tribe unveils canyon Skywalk

Mohave County Supervisor Pete Byers, right, and his administrative assistant, Cindy Levesque, take a stroll on the Skywalk. JC AMBERLYN/Miner

Mohave County Supervisor Pete Byers, right, and his administrative assistant, Cindy Levesque, take a stroll on the Skywalk. JC AMBERLYN/Miner

KINGMAN - On July 20, 1969, Buzz Aldrin was one of the first men to take a step on the moon. Tuesday, he was the first to step on the much awaited Skywalk at the Hualapai Nation Grand Canyon West.

"This first walk represents centuries of visions toward the future of hope," Aldrin said as he completed the first walk with John Bennett Herrington, the first Native American in space, and the whole Hualapai Tribal Council. David Jin, the visionary and founder of the Skywalk, also participated in the first walk.

The Skywalk, a long-awaited destination point for the Hualapai-owned Grand Canyon West, suspends visitors 4,000 feet over the Colorado River and juts out about 70 feet over the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Speaking of Jin, Vice Chairman of the Hualapai Tribal Council Sherry Counts, said, "He went out on a ledge to help the Hualapai Tribe."

Jin said he first thought of the concept of the Skywalk glass bridge while flying over the Grand Canyon.

"The vision of the Skywalk was to enable visitors to walk beyond the canyon walls, becoming surrounded by the Grand Canyon while standing at the edge of the glass bridge," promotional material said.

The project took many forms, Jin said, starting as a platform and moving to a square shape, before they finally settled on the u-shaped bridge that currently exists.

Jin financed the $30 million project and will donate it to the Hualapai tribe for a share of the profits over the next 25 years.

"It has been my distinct honor to be a part of the process to bring the Skywalk to the world," said Steve Beattie, chief financial officer for the Grand Canyon Resort Corporation, during the celebration. "Together, we have made history ... Until now, man has only dreamed of walking on air ... Today, this dream has become a reality."

Speaking to a packed crowd of media and VIP guests, Aldrin said walking on the Skywalk made him feel wonderful.

"It was not quite like walking on air, but a wonderful vision and a vision of hope for the future. (It was) not in the least disturbing, at least not to a couple of us," Aldrin said.

Bill Karren, engineer for the Skywalk, said the bridge could sustain the weight of several hundred 200-pound people and was tested to sustain 100-mile-an-hour winds from any direction.

Media material said the glass floor was constructed of five layers of tempered glass 2.8 inches thick. The top layer consists of an 8-millimeter surface, which was designed to be replaced as the surface wears.

While the tribal council envisions the Skywalk to bring in much-needed tourism revenues, it has not been without controversy. The idea, several years in the making, had been questioned by members of the tribe who were concerned over the construction so close to sacred burial grounds and from environmentalists who questioned disturbing the pristine area by turning it into a tourist trap.

Tribal Council Chairman Charlie Vaughn said the tribe is governed by a constitution that has specific rules for buildings such as this. Early on in the conceptual phase, he said there was a lot of scoping done, surveying members of the tribe regarding the project. This scoping did not receive a great deal of participation, he said. In these types of matters, silence often means consent.

He said he considers himself to be a traditionalist and has warred with himself throughout the project over keeping the land pristine and the benefits the project would bring to the tribe. In this instance, the benefits far outweigh the concerns he might have, he said.

The Skywalk will open to the public next Wednesday. For $25, plus a few additional fees, visitors can look under their feet at the canyon below them. The Hualapai tribe anticipates a visitors' center attached to the Skywalk to be completed and opened by the beginning of 2008. According to promotional material, the visitors' center will include The Skywalk Cafe, a high-end restaurant that will include patio seating and rooftop dining. It will also have a museum, gift shop and movie theater showing films related to the Grand Canyon West, as well as several restaurants, bars and a VIP lounge.

No cameras will be allowed onto the Skywalk when it opens to the public. Robert Bravo, general manager for the Grand Canyon West, said this was because of safety reasons, for the most part. He said they didn't want to chance people dropping cameras onto the Skywalk and chipping the glass or people dropping them over the railing and damaging the environment. Cameras will be placed at strategic locations on the Skywalk at a later date so people can purchase pictures.