I’d first like to preface that Grand Canyon West is not a part of the Grand Canyon National Park. It’s a private amusement park owned by the Hualapai Tribe, who run various attractions, their most famous being the Grand Canyon Skywalk. The tribe caters to people coming from Las Vegas, and want a side tour without taking the full eight hour drive to and from the National Park. There is a minimum cost is $44 per person for a ticket just to enter the park. There are various tours and activities, and many of those will cost additional money. I don’t mind patronizing this establishment despite its tourist trappings and environmental controversy. From what I saw on our tour, a lot of people both of the Hualapai Tribe and those of other racial backgrounds, work here. I suspect that this tourist establishment provides a much needed economic boost for this small and normally impoverished community.
That being said, the price was worth it. We spent about 6 hours there, hiking and taking pictures. We toured three locations under the “Legacy Package” entry price. We parked our car, and took the shuttle to the first location: the Hualapai Ranch. This stop is a plywood-built faux western town with activities aimed for little kids. I’ll be blunt, ranch was uninteresting but slightly comical due to its obvious tourist traps. This is where guests can stay for overnight in “rustic” cabins. Within the “western town” itself is a dining hall serving BBQ style meals, a general store, and office buildings dressed as sheriff’s office and jail. At one end of the town, two donkeys wait sadly in the heat inside a small pen; you can pet them but not feed them.
In the middle of town is a makeshift sluice box for gold panning. Sorry no gold here kiddies, just a reason to play in the water and dirt. Next to the gold panning is a mechanical bull ride complete with a colorful cowboy at the joysticks. For five bucks, this grizzled cowpoke will toss any city-slicker into the surrounding airbags. Ballyhoos and lighthearted jabs questioning your manhood are for free. At the other end is a fake graveyard with grave markers that would make a high school wood-shop teacher weep. I have a firm belief that the fake markers were made by middle schoolers during last year’s Halloween, and instead of throwing them out, they decided to reuse them here. Next to the graveyard is a fake hanging gallows, it is the quality of the construction rather than the threat of execution that makes it deadly; so deadly that they wrapped it yellow danger tape, “keep out” signs and “do not climb” warnings. Beyond that is the one true saving grace of Hualapai Ranch, the horse stables. Here you can get horseback rides to the edge of the West Rim with a tour guide. Fair warning: the horse back tours cost extra.
Second stop is the Skywalk itself. The Grand Canyon Skywalk is a horseshoe-shaped cantilever bridge with a glass walkway in Arizona near the Colorado River on the edge of a side canyon in the Grand Canyon West area known as Eagle Point. The Skywalk is a whopping 4000 feet above the Colorado River. Engineering wise, its a stunning structure both in planning and construction. They built the bridge onsite, and when they finished they rolled it out over the cliff. When you stand at the apex of the U-shaped bridge and set your chin on the glass barrier, you get a view like none other. You stare out, and since your vision is relatively unobstructed, its like you are flying over the Grand Canyon. The other part of the fun is watching people’s reaction as they step out. Before you go out, they give you shoe covers to protect the glass floor. You can’t bring phones, cameras or bags onto the bridge, but there are free lockers where you can place your items. If you want pictures you have to pay for them and there are photographers out on the Skywalk should you want that option. And yes, I did pay for my pictures.
Here’s a National Geographic Documentary video on the building of Skywalk:
A number of the guides reported that when famous celebrates visit the Skybridge, they close it off to the public for a time and allow for private tours. Just one day before we came, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, flew in on his private jet and toured Grand Canyon West. Other options at this site are walking along the cliff edge for your Grand Canyon kicks. Or If you don’t like heights, you can visit outdoor cultural exhibits. There was a Hualapai music concert at an outdoor auditorium, but when we went it was sadly unattended.
The third and final stop, is Guano Point where you can hike along the rim to an abandoned areal tramway. Located above Lake Mead, there is a bat cave housing the Guano Mine, and was only accessible via the areal tramway. The cable-way crossed the river 7,500 feet at a height of 2,500 feet to the bat cave. The guano was mined using a large industrial “vacuum-cleaner” with ten-inch hoses, then loaded onto the cable car before being transported back across the gap. The guano mine was closed in 1960, when prices for guano fertilizer dropped too low to make a profit. A few months after closure of the mine, a US Air Force jet illegally “hot-dogged” down the canyon, clipped the cable; the plane’s wing was damaged and the cable severed.
The view along the rim is amazing, so we took our sweet time exploring the trail and found a spot to sit at to enjoy the spectacle. Its hard to get a scale of depth and breath of the canyon by just looking at it. The Grand Canon West company also provides helicopter tours through the canyon and boat tours on the Colorado river. When I saw a helicopter fly through or a boat sail by, it is then I got a sense of vastness: touring helicopters look like spot against the canyon walls and boats look like specks floating on the river.
Now I can really say, “I’ve been on the Edge of Awesome.”