- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2006

HUALAPAI INDIAN RESERVATION, Ariz.

A struggling Indian tribe is hoping to change its fortunes by luring tourists out over the edge of the Grand Canyon on a glass-bottom observation deck 4,000 feet above the Colorado River.

It’s called the Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped walkway that will jut from the canyon’s lip and offer the kind of straight-down, vertigo-inducing views that had previously been available only to the likes of Wile E. Coyote.

“We have to do something, and this is something spectacular,” said Sheri Yellowhawk, a former tribal council member overseeing the project.

But the $30 million Skywalk, financed by a Las Vegas businessman and set to open in March, has also ignited a debate among Hualapai elders who question whether the prospect of riches is worth disturbing sacred ground.

The Hualapai think their ancestors emerged from the earth of the Grand Canyon, and the area surrounding the project is scattered with the tribe’s sacred archaeological and burial sites.

“We have disturbed the ground,” said Dolores Honga, a 70-year-old tribal elder who regularly travels to the rim to perform traditional dances.

But other elders say the Hualapai have to do something to end the despair and joblessness that plague the tribe’s 2,200 members, more than a third of whom live below the poverty line.

Planned as an audacious feat of engineering, the Skywalk will be cantilevered 70 feet out past the canyon’s limestone walls. It will be open to the sky, with glass walls and a glass floor.

It will be supported by steel beams anchored 46 feet into the rock on the lip of the canyon. At 4,000 feet above the canyon floor, it will give visitors a vantage point more than twice as high as the world’s tallest buildings. At that height, the Colorado River will be just a thin brown ribbon.

Architect Mark Johnson said the Skywalk will be built to withstand canyon winds of 100 mph and will be capable of holding a few hundred people without bending. It will have shock absorbers to keep it from wobbling up and down like a diving board and making people woozy. Construction began in April 2005.

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