The Grand Canyon Skywalk in Arizona is a transparent horseshoe-shaped cantilever platform on the edge of a side canyon in the Grand Canyon West area of the main canyon, overlooking the Colorado River.
The Skywalk is 1100 metres above the Colorado River. It is owned by the Hualapai Indian tribe. It opened in early 2007.
In 2008 I drove to the Skywalk from Newport Beach via Laughlin.
The Skywalk extends 21 metres out over the Canyon and was built to withstand a force 8.0 magnitude earthquake. The floor of the structure is glass; strong, highly specialised glass. While only 120 people are allowed out on the platform at any one time it was designed to carry seven times that number of people.
The Skywalk was assembled on top of the canyon wall in line with its final placement and moved into final position by a jack and roll rig. It weighs 450 tonnes.
While queueing to go out on the Skywalk we were able to see others in front of us as they stepped onto this amazing piece of architecture.
Almost without exception people would walk out normally, boldly even, and then start shuffling. I was intrigued by this – it got me wondering why. We were to find out soon enough.
Just before we were allowed onto the glass platform we were given cloth ‘overshoes’. With these donned we walked out onto the Skywalk – and started shuffling. The shock of looking down more than a kilometre is unnerving, scary even! The first reaction is stop and grab for the side rails. The narrow section of painted glass at the side rail is comforting. But step back out onto the clear glass with its unrestricted, kilometre deep view and it was hard to not be intimidated.
Guano was discovered in a cave on the wall of the canyon by a passing boater n the 1930s. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to mine the nitrogen-rich guano for fertiliser. The U.S. Guano Corporation, believing there to be a deposit of 100,000 tons of guano in the cave, bought the property and built a $3.5 million tramway system to extract it.
The cable head house of the aerial tramway was built at Guano Point. The cableway crossed the river, with a main span of 2300 metres and a vertical lift of 750 metres. The mine closed in 1959 after the guano was exhausted.
Sometime after the mine was closed a US Air Force fighter jet crashed into the overhead cableway and permanently disabled it. The remaining structures have been left intact as part of the mining heritage of the canyon.
Several helicopter tours operate out of the Skywalk complex. Most had long queues or were booked out.
Well worth the effort.