Skywalking at the West Rim Grand Canyon
By guest contributor Jesper Nielsen
For enlarged version of photos, go to picasaweb.google.com.
We set out from Las Vegas around 11am going south and east on US 93/95 to Boulder City. It was a beautiful day at the end of March, azure skies and 70 degrees. The 32 mile trip past Boulder City to the Hoover Dam was uneventful until we hit the slow moving queue of cars waiting for the anti-terror inspection before passing over the dam. It took us over half an hour to pass the inspection point. On weekends this can take much longer, so set out early. Drive another 40 miles on US 93 and turn north on Pierce Ferry Road, a two lane road.
Dolan Springs, a small sleepy desert town a couple of miles after the turnoff, is the last outpost of civilization and a good place to make a pit stop. Star Country Store has character, clean restrooms and a sandwich shop.You continue 28 miles until you turn right onto Diamond Bar Road. The only road going to the Hualapai Reservation, the local Arizona county has not found it important enough to pave the last 21 miles.
Shaking to Death and Breathing the Dust
The dirt road is reasonably level, but best suited for off road vehicles; sedans should use caution if you value the shocks in your car. You’ve got bumps from rocks; the dirt has formed the longest washboard you have ever seen. Warning: The trip is bone-jarring. The dust cloud is astonishing. The winding road makes it impossible to pass, so you drive in a long dusty queue. This is like the Wild West, folks – an authentic experience. Your car gets completely covered in fine rust-colored dust. You smell it and breathe it. Your whole universe is dust.
There at last
After more than three hours drive from Las Vegas, you arrive at the airstrip and the parking lot of the West Rim – more than ready to get on that Skywalk and see the Grand Canyon. But first you have to pay, so you enter the reception building. Inside is chaos – people crammed and milling around, everyone looking to everyone else for what to do next. To make a long story short, bring CASH. It took us over an hour to pay with credit card. The credit card line is long and the machines work very, very slowly. Entrance fee for the Skywalk is $25, plus $54.96 for the Spirit Package, which gives you a tour to Guano Point and the Hualapai Ranch, with lunch at either one. They offer a $10 AAA discount on the Spirit Package.
Getting bussed to the Skywalk
Four and a half hours after setting out on what is billed as a two and a half hour journey, we are loaded into big, comfortable busses that leave every 15 minutes for the short drive to the Skywalk. The first sight of the Canyon from the bus is breathtaking. The Canyon walls are steep and rust colored. The bus driver explains that the reservation stretches 100 miles along the Canyon rim, probably the most worthless rocky piece of land you could find when it was given to the tribe. We are also cautioned not to get too close to the rim. There are no fences or guardrails, but no one has yet fallen into the Canyon. This is not mainstream tourism. The atmosphere is very relaxed, the guards young and friendly. You have this impression of a neighborhood lemonade stand.
The Skywalk itself looks much smaller than you imagined from the website www.grandcanyonskywalk.com. It juts out over the rim like a giant horseshoe, but still dwarfed by the grand scale of the canyon. We are handed some paper covers to pull over our shoes so not to scratch the glass. This is only the second day the Skywalk has been open to the public and the glass is pristine and transparent. After walking a couple of yards over Mother Earth, you reach the rim of the Canyon which falls straight down some 4000 feet. This is four times the height of the Stratosphere Tower on the Strip. At first, nobody dares to step to the middle onto the clear glass with the nothingness below, but all cling to the railing on the side, with opaque glass at their feet. A few brave folks venture out with small, tentative steps, but quickly return to the safety of the railing. The psychological effect is overwhelming; it is impossible to walk normally on the transparent glass with full view of the canyon floor 4000 feet below. Everyone shuffles along as if a 100 years old. Then you get brave, if you don’t look down. As soon as you do – back to shuffling. The view is mind-boggling. The Skywalk is on a very steep side canyon; you can see the muddy Colorado River far away. The sky is vast and very blue. Suddenly a tiny toy helicopter flies along the river and you begin to comprehend the distance and how truly colossal the canyon is. You stand and stare while time stands still. No one is in a hurry. With only 60 people on the Skywalk, there is plenty of room.
Guano Point and Lunch
The bus takes us to Guano Point, our next view of the canyon and lunch, which is included in the ticket price. Served cafeteria style, you get shredded barbecued beef, a leg of chicken, corn, beans, and coleslaw dished out in an unending stream by strong, husky Indians – all you can eat. You sit outside at picnic tables, some of which are perched on the rim of the canyon. The view is spectacular with plenty of sun. A hat comes in handy. After lunch we hiked onto Guano Point, with a vista overlooking the distant Colorado River flowing through the canyon floor. An old rusted cable car station was abandoned by miners collecting the guano deposited by bats far down the sides of the gorge.
Be sure to arrive at the North Rim early in the day if you want to see Hualapai Ranch, a western town experience filled with actor cowboys staging shootouts and other fun for kids of all ages. The Spirit Package also includes lunch here. Unfortunately the Ranch was closed by the time we arrived from Guano Point. My daughter visited last year and assured me that the western town at Bonnie Spring outside Las Vegas by sRed Rock was better and that I did not miss anything.
So – tired, dusty, sunburned and windblown by fresh air, we fall into our car and like old veterans, fearlessly dive into the dust cloud to shake and bump our way back to paved road. What an adventure!! This is NOT Disneyland. The Indians are doing a good job, considering their limited experience with the tourism industry. They just need to work out a few kinks, mostly with ticketing. Everything else went very smoothly. Now is probably the most charming time to go. Nothing is glitzy or packaged like a Vegas Show. The Hualapai got stuck with a worthless rocky piece of desert, but one with show stopping vistas the shortest driving distance from Las Vegas – and they are making the best of it. That is the American way. These natives are friendly – and entrepreneurial. I wish them success, happiness and big bucks.