Still reeling from the incredible experience of seeing the Grand Canyon from the air in a helicopter and from the Colorado River in a raft, we speedily hopped up to the top of the Grand Canyon in our chopper for yet another incredible experience. We landed at the small Grand Canyon West airport and were quickly loaded into a van for the short ride to the Grand Canyon Skywalk.
Because we were part of the Papillon tour group, we bypassed the long line of tourists waiting to access the Skywalk and headed to the locker area to empty our pockets and backpacks of all our belongings. They figured out pretty quickly when the Skywalk first opened on March 20, 2007 that they were not going to be able to allow tourists to take cameras, sunglasses, phones or any other paraphernalia onto the bridge because, as you are wont to do, people kept dropping things. Not into the Canyon, although I’m sure that happened as well, but onto the clear surface of the Skywalk itself and causing scratches. A scratched surface does not make for a clear view of the incredible Grand Canyon and Colorado River below.
On the way to the lockers, our tour guide pointed out some pictures on the wall of what looked like some glass with a spiderweb of cracks in it.
Kenneth “Bill” Karren of Lochsa Engineering in Las Vegas – the engineers who designed the Skywalk – found it interesting that the makers of the St. Gobain glass used in the bridge kept talking about how strong the glass was and that it could stop a bullet. He wondered it this was actually true and had them send him a sample of the glass. He took that piece of glass into the desert outside Las Vegas and shot a bullet right at it with his Weatherby .257 magnum rifle from 100 yards. Reassuringly, since thousands of people were going to be walking on that glass, it not only caught the bullet but held together.
This was pretty reassuring to everyone except me, since I was not truly thrilled about standing on a piece of clear glass and looking down 4,000 feet to the bottom of the Canyon and the Colorado River. With some degree of trepidation, I slipped the soft covers over my sandals (like operating room shoe covers) and followed my husband out onto the Skywalk.
He strode out onto the clear glass with no fear. I edged out onto the side, hanging onto the railing for dear life. And I don’t think I ever let go. However. I must admit that it was pretty.darn.incredible. And you should absolutely go.
Since they don’t allow you to take photos on the Skywalk itself, they have photographers who take pictures of you. You can purchase them, but we got some included as part of our Papillon tour. The photographer told us to lean back and pretend we were falling. Not. gonna.happen. My husband, however, got totally into the moment. And things like this are precisely why I bring him with me on trips. He provides the comedic relief. Also, notice the crazy shoe covers.
The view was completely stupendous. These photos were actually taken after we left the Skywalk and walked around, but this was the view we saw from the Skywalk itself.
So, who in the world would come up with a crazy pipedream like this?? A Skywalk hanging out over the Grand Canyon that people could walk on? The concept was dreamed up by a Las Vegas businessman named David Jin who took a tour of the Grand Canyon in 1996. He thought a glass observation deck over the Canyon that would allow visitors to appreciate the sheer beauty of this natural wonder was a great idea. He took his crazy idea to the Hualapai Tribe which owns this part of the Canyon and they were receptive to the whole concept. They wanted to share this precious and beautiful location on the Grand Canyon West with the rest of the world. The Skywalk was built in this particular location to have a bird’s eye view of the tribe’s sacred canyon formation known as Eagle Point or ‘SA’ NYU WA, which means “eagle” in the Hualapai language.
Truly a construction masterpiece, the glass in the Skywalk weighs 1.2 million pounds and is actually made with diamant low-iron glass and structural interlayer glass consisting of (6) layers. The railings are made of the same glass as the deck but fewer layers (3) bent to follow the walkway’s curvature. The Skywalk was designed for high wind pressures and can hold up to 100 pounds per square foot and weighs a little over 1,000,000 pounds (454,545 kg). It could actually easily hold over 800 people but the maximum occupancy at one time is 120 people, I think mainly so everyone can get a good view!
The Skywalk is open 365 days a year from sun up to sun down and you can drive there from Vegas, although the last stretch of the road is reputed to be pretty rough and I recommend the Papillon tour instead. Since it opened in 2001, it has been visited by nearly two million people from six continents and over 50 countries.
After we spent some time on the Skywalk, we had a quick bite of lunch (included in our Papillon package) outside and just enjoyed the amazing views.
After lunch, we strolled around the area a bit and checked out the examples of Native American dwellings and shelters, some of which totally looked like something Bear Gryllis would design.
There was some construction going on and I understand that plans for the Grand Canyon Skywalk complex include a museum, movie theater, VIP lounge, gift shop, and several restaurants including a high-end restaurant called The Skywalk Café where visitors will be able to dine outdoors at the canyon’s rim. The Skywalk is actually part of a larger plan by the Hualapai tribe to design a 9,000-acre (36 km2) development to be called Grand Canyon West. The development would open up a 100-mile (160 km) stretch along the canyon’s South Rim and include hotels, restaurants, a golf course, and a cable car to ferry visitors from the canyon rim to the Colorado River.
Unfortunately, it was time to head home. We where shuttled back to the airport and, as we were getting ready for our flight home, we noticed this view from the parking lot. How could you concentrate on parking with that view in the background? I guess you can get used to anything.
We settled into our now-familiar chopper and took off, heading back to the Boulder City Airport. Some clouds had moved in while we were on our trek to the Grand Canyon and they cast black shadows over the land we were flying above.
However, nothing could cast a cloud over the day we had just experienced. Three equally incredible and fascinating ways to experience the Grand Canyon, all in one day. And what a day it was.
Full disclosure: Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters provided us with a hosted tour, but as always, I will share my honest opinion about any travel experiences I have.