July 24, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
Clearly, there's nothing like Grand Canyon Skywalk
In fact, I'm on the Skywalk, one of the American West's greatest new tourist attractions, and the pride and joy of the Hualapai Nation, which owns and operates Grand Canyon West, a private resort that is far to the west of the popular South Rim location most tourists visit, and only about a three-hour drive from Las Vegas.
The Skywalk is a glass bridge that juts out into the canyon, 4,000 feet above the Colorado River. Construction of the project began in March 2004. It was supposed to open to the public in the summer of 2006, but for reasons that are not entirely clear--I was told that it may have been because the executive board of the Hualapai Nation changed and that the newcomers didn't like the project, and resisted its completion at first--its completion was delayed for around nine months. It finally opened in March with a gala event attended by the likes of former astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
I wasn't able to make it to that celebration, though I had desperately wanted to. But when I was thinking about where to go on my CNET Road Trip this summer, the Southwest seemed like a great destination because it would allow me to visit the Skywalk.
So here I am. I arranged for a private tour, and everything is going great except for the fact that I've been told upon arrival that I can't take photographs while standing on the Skywalk itself. I can take my camera to the very edge of it and shoot as many pictures as I want from there--using telephoto lenses, even--but there is to be no photography from the bridge itself. The Hualapai seem to be reserving that right for themselves so that they can sell such images to the tourists who come through.
And, frankly, who can blame them? There are some spectacular shots to be taken from the Skywalk, and it's theirs, so they can do what they want.
The view itself is practically priceless. Well, OK, maybe pricey is a better word. A ticket for adult admission to the Skywalk will run $81, but can cost much more with options such as a horse ride, or a helicopter ride.
Regardless, I'm here, and I'm on the Skywalk, and I'm experiencing exactly what my tour guide told me I would: That my body and my mind are in rebellion because standing on a glass bridge through which you can see thousands of feet down into the Grand Canyon is simply wrong. It's not natural. Unless you're a bird.
For me, it's also a challenge to overcome one of my remaining childhood phobias: fear of heights. And so as I stepped out onto the Skywalk, I did so ever so gingerly, knowing that unless I had a 747 strapped to my shoulder, everything would be just fine, but that I would still be frightened nonetheless.
So I set myself a goal: walk from one end of the Skywalk to the other at a normal pace and look down before I leave. And as I take my first few tentative steps, I can tell it's going to be a while before I satisfy the goal.
Bands of color, and a slow walk
Fortunately, I'm finding a lot to distract me. The view from the Skywalk is simply stunning. This is my first visit to the Grand Canyon, and it is taking my breath away. The scope of it is beyond anything I could have expected. For example, at one point earlier, my tour guide pointed out that far, far below, near the canyon floor, there were two tiny black specks on a flat rock. I looked and looked, and finally saw them. They looked like ants.
They were helicopters. I did a double take.
The colors on the canyon walls, too, are breathtaking. Deep reds and oranges, browns and tans. And the shadows from the clouds above are vast and all-encompassing and beautiful.
But before long, I have to return to reality. I'm still standing thousands of feet in the air, with just some glass separating me from a messy end below. And for some reason, my mind is making me walk very slowly. Walking normally, I find, is nearly impossible.
Fortunately, I see I'm not alone. Nearby several others are having similar problems, though they all seem to be men. Children and women seem to be having no issues at all, and are walking normally, enjoying the experience and looking oddly at us silly men and our trouble.
Again, I let myself get distracted, and I take in the view of Eagle Point, a sacred place on the far wall of the canyon. It is easy to see why they call it that. It is a giant rock formation that, magically, looks just like an eagle with its wings spread. Often it takes a stretch of the imagination to see these kinds of things, but in this case, there's no doubting it. It is an eagle. End of story.
It's getting late, and while I'm loving this experience, I know it is probably time to move on. So I refocus and gird myself for the task at hand: I must walk the bridge normally, not letting my stomach or my mind stop me.
I go back to the beginning and start to walk normally. I don't get far.
I try again. This time I get a little farther, but I realize it's because I'm not looking down. So I return and try again.
Finally, after two or three more false starts, I do it. I look down, I let my belief in engineering--which is not always comforting, I must say--take over, and I walk. I decide to just focus on the beauty below. It's the Grand Canyon, after all. Never mind that it's directly below me. So I walk, and I walk, and it's getting easier. And finally, there I am, at the end, and I've done it.
Of course, this means it's time to leave, and that is a bittersweet realization. This is a truly world-class place, and in some ways, I want to stay. It's getting close to sunset, and with the clouds in the sky, I know it will be a tremendous one.
But, it's time to go, and I decide to move on. I will watch the sunset from somewhere else and leave the Skywalk and its caretakers to themselves.
I hope to return again someday, and I hope you will go as well.
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