travel

A Walk on the Wild Edge?

skywalk against canyonYou’ve probably heard about the Hualapai (wall-a-pie) tribe that has the Grand Canyon Skywalk on their reservation, but the pros and cons of visiting this engineering feat are just starting to make their way onto the Internet.

No one would deny that the Hualapai need tourism as a way to break the stranglehold that poverty has on their 2,000 tribal members. They control close to a million acres of land along the Colorado River, but with Las Vegas only 3 hours away, gambling ventures don’t have much of a chance to succeed. It’s estimated that tourism accounts for 70% of the tribe’s income, so when a Las Vegas entrepreneur came forward with the Skywalk concept, the tribe eventually embraced it.

Rising almost 4,000 feet from skywalk visitors the canyon floor, the Skywalk extends out 70 feet beyond the rim. The floor of the walkway is not quite 3 inch think glass, so anyone with vertigo should feel free to skip the whole experience. Although the primary structure was completed in March 2007, a considerable number of buildings and infrastructure have yet to be completed.

If you Google the Grand Canyon Skywalk, you will quickly encounter some angry bloggers who are miffed that they think they will be paying $25 to enjoy the Skywalk experience, only to learn that the tribe gets its cut as a fee for entering the reservation, and that adds $50 to the cost. Is it worth $75? Many naysayers would have you believe it’s not. For one thing, the Skywalk skywalk looking downis located on a side canyon and almost everyone acknowledges there are much better views of the canyon from the south or north rims that are part of the National Park Service. Add to this that you have to travel for a half hour over rough dirt road, and you have some pretty irritated tourists ending up at the Skywalk. There, they face the final indignity, which is that cameras are banned from the Skywalk. If you want a picture, you can pay $20 to have one taken of you and printed on a card tht says, “I did it!!!”

From the beginning, there was a controversy over whether the Hualapai should be involved in this project because the reservation and canyon rim are sacred ground. You could point out the ironyred light district that the National Park Service comes off being more respectful of this sacredness than the Hualapai, but then the Park Service has a budget and salaries that the tribe members can only dream about.

Should you go or not go? Tough call, but most of the experienced travelers who have made the trek seem to be saying you might want to wait a while. Without the building infrastructure that is yet to come, you end up standing in the cold or the hot sun waiting in long lines. Plus, there are plans to pave the bone-rattling dirt road that might make the trip more comfortable. For the sake of the tribe, one hopes that the Skywalk is a success, but it would be nice as well if you felt good about the experience rather than ripped off.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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