All of the structures built at the Grand Canyon are fabricated to blend in with the timeless natural beauty of the landscape. Well, most of them. One that is decidedly not is the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped glass walkway that juts 70 feet out from the canyon wall and permits tour guests to look straight down to the floor of the canyon 4,000 feet below as they shuffle along.
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is found in Grand Canyon West, beyond the boundaries of the National Park Service in the lands of the Hualapai Nation. The Skywalk can not be reached by road fro
m inside the Grand Canyon National Park. Access is by road from Las Vegas (about two hours) or Phoenix (5 hours). Many visitors opt for helicopter tour service to reach the Skywalk – only a 45-minute ride.
It all begins with an idea
A businessman from Las Vegas named David Jin first approached the Haulapai Tribe with an idea for a glass bridge extending out from the canyon wall in 1996. The Haulapai representatives were adamant that nothing be constructed that would compromise the integrity of the canyon and it took seven years of back-and-forth talks before the tribe approved the plan.
Engineers had no prototype from which to work and teams from Lochsa Engineering and MRJ Associates debated about whether to build the skywalk out from the cliff’s edge or fabricate it on the ground and move it into place. The latter plan was adopted as it was believed to cause less disturbance to the existing rock; geotechnical engineers devised an anchoring system that would fasten the walkway to the the top of the cliff without requiring drilling into the canyon wall.
Becoming a Reality
The Skywalk was fabricated in Salt Lake City. The frame required the welding of 40-foot steel beams – so many that welders were on the job for four months. The existence of the Grand Canyon Skywalk is actually the triumph of welding. After the frame was finished 900 pounds of glass panels were adhered to the frame to create the finished bridge.
The entire shebang weighed 1.6 million pounds and had to be trucked from Utah to the remote location in Peach Springs, Arizona. Using a technique pioneered by the ancient Egyptians in building the pyramids, the engineers rolled the Skyway out from the cliff on cantilevered beams, an exacting procedure that required almost three days to execute.
“You feel like you are flying over the Grand Canyon”
Hualapai tribal members, David Jin and guests Buzz Aldrin (the second man to walk on the moon) and John Herrington (the first Native American astronaut) made the first stroll on the Grand Canyon Skywalk on March 20, 2007 – some thirty months after the ground breaking ceremony.
Each of the 46 glass panels under foot consists of five layers of glass bonded together to a thickness of 2 1/2 inches. Each panel can support 100 square feet and the Skywalk is strong enough to hold 71 million pounds of weight – the equivalent of six-dozen 747 jet planes. Only about 80-120 people are testing the structure’s holding capacity above the canyon floor at any one time.
There is not admission to the Skywalk only. Ticket packages, which include entrance fees to Hualapai Tribal Lands, from the Grand Canyon West Tour Center are required. Tours of Grand Canyon West and the Skywalk can be crafted to include helicopter and ATV experiences. Grand Canyon tour companies like Papillon and Maverick Helicopters offer tours to the Skywalk from Las Vegas.