The Grand Canyon in the Southwest state of Arizona is one of the seven natural wonders in the world. Carved out by the Colorado River over millions of years, the colorful gorge is over 400 kilometers long and is 24 kilometers across at its widest point. Now visitors to this popular tourist destination have a new way to experience the breathtaking views of the canyon. For producer Joseph Mok, VOA's Parke Brewer has more on the Grand Canyon Skywalk.
The horseshoe-shaped skywalk extends 21 meters over the Grand Canyon's edge, creating a unique vantage point for visitors to look deep down into the chasm and the winding Colorado River 1200 meters below.
David Jin, the developer of the skywalk project, recalls his Grand Canyon experience that brought about the idea. "It was back in 1996,” says Jin. “I took a helicopter tour at (the) Grand Canyon from the bottom to the top. After that, I wondered what it would be like to walk among the cliffs. Therefore, the idea of skywalk was born."
While Jin will profit from the $30 million project for 25 years, the Hualapai Indians, who agreed to building the skywalk on their land along the Grand Canyon's western rim hope income from tourists will help alleviate poverty in their community. Sheri Yellowhawk is the CEO of the Grand Canyon Resort Corporation, which oversees the tribe's tourism business.
"It will benefit by bringing in much-needed revenue for our people,” says Yellowhawk. “Peach Spring [Arizona] is 56 miles from here. And we have a lot of social problems, a lot of needs: educational needs, needs for elderly, governmental needs, infrastructure, just a whole array of needs. There is going to be a lot more jobs. But there are only 2200 members. There are so many jobs so we're gonna not only benefit the Hualapai, but the surroundings economies."
Skywalk is expected to be the centerpiece of the Hualapai Indians' tourism industry which includes helicopter tours, river rafting, a cowboy town and a museum of Indian replica homes.
Theodore Quasula, President of the Board of Directors of the Grand Canyon Resort Corporation, says leaders of the tribe have visions beyond tourism and profit. "We wanted to instill the values, the culture and never forget where we came from,” says Quasula. “Likewise, we're gonna take care of those who are going to come after us. we want to make sure that our young people in particular have all the means to get an education, we want them to come back, we want them to be the managers to run this place. Just a few short years away, I think we are going to have that."
After three years of construction, the skywalk opened to the public in March 2007. Since then, the Hualapai Indians have seen a six fold increase in daily visitors.
"It's a long way down there. It's amazing," says one tourist.
"Indescribable. Worth every penny!" and "Excellent! Beautiful!” say others.
"I'm ready to do bungee jumping," remarks a fourth.
Buzz Aldrin, a former astronaut who once walked the moon was one of the first to saunter the skywalk.
"This magnificent first walk bridges centuries of vision towards the future of hope," says Aldrin.
Not everyone supports the skywalk. One is Robert Arnberger, former Superintendent of the Grand Canyon National Park. "The Grand Canyon deserves much better than to have a thrill ride or thrill walk hanging over its edge," says Arnberger.
But Developer David Jin says, the skywalk design is environmentally conscious, utilizing recycled water and solar energy. In addition, the structure is designed to withstand hurricane force winds as well as powerful earthquakes.
So far Skywalk has attracted more than 100,000 visitors.