Walking on a balcony 1,220 metres above the Colorado River with merely 100 mm of glass between you and floor of the Grand Canyon messes with your perception. "I should be falling" comes to mind. A pair of eagles flaps overhead and you feel like an intruder observing a view that was once reserved for them. Higher than the tallest skyscraper, the transparent horseshoe-shaped Skywalk Bridge on the West Rim of the canyon seems to merely dangle in mid-air.
Driving from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon
The 190 km drive from Las Vegas on highway US 93 ribbons it’s way to Pierce Ferry Road, the only entrance to the Grand Canyon West. The final 16 km stretch is not recommended for car rental use, as it is considered “off road”. The gravel washboard twists amongst Joshua trees and dips into a local wash that only cows and jack rabbits call home. It is part of the experience of reaching the remote Hualapai Reservation on this west rim of the canyon. For some, it's the biggest drawback.
The rear view mirror reflects rocky juts, shadowed by the hot Mohave Desert sun while ahead the horseshoe-shaped glass-bottomed Skywalk suspends over the canyon wall. Named for the landscape's resemblance to an eagle, Eagle Point Visitor Centre is the hub and gift shop, where tickets can be purchased.
Vehicles are left at this point and a frequent shuttle service transports visitors on the reservation to explore Guano Point and Hualapai Ranch. With no guardrails at the parking lot viewpoint, it offers the most astounding, unobstructed views of the Grand Canyon possible. To date no one has accidentally fallen, just a heads-up for caution.
At the Skywalk Visitor Center a tribal member explains that cameras, cell phones and pretty much everything else is traded in for a locker key. “If visitors dropped things, the sensitive Plexiglas would soon be scratched” she said.
Visitors may opt to have photos taken by a professional photographer and purchase them at the gift shop. Erin Forrest, who works for the Hualapai Tribe says "The more people with pioneer blood in them, the more willing they are. It is part of the enjoyment of the whole trip. But then you have other people who have never been out of the city limits, and they say “holy cow, I'll never do that again."
With all possessions safely stowed, a walk through a metal detector and fitted for protective footwear, the moment has finally come to make the initial move.
In taking that first step onto the transparent bridge, the immediate instinct is to turn around and go back to solid ground. But hang onto the railings til you gain the courage to open your eyes and peek at the wild Colorado River below. Slowly, your senses adjust and you are aware of this amazing creation of nature.
Flickr/Güldem Üstün (CCby2.0)
Sites & sights nearby
The Native American Village at Eagle Point is an authentic re-creation of an Indian Village nesting on tundra of creosote brush that fills the air with the smell of rain where there is none. Framed by the distant Cerbat Mountains, the village consists of five smaller villages of multiple tribes. Made out of brush and mud, the Wikiup’s dwellings and teepee structures were built by each tribe with authentic materials, exactly those used for thousands of years.
At the “Creative by Human Hands” Hualapai Market, the walls are filled with dangling dream catchers of twigs and feathers and Native American fine art prints. Glass shelves of terra-cotta pottery, unique turquoise jewelry and souvenirs of the Skywalk experience dot the store. The prices seemed reasonable and are negotiable.
Outside, thumping drums echoes from the 250 seat amphitheater where the villagers share their culture of stories and dance. A traditional Hualapai ceremonial dance is performed by members of the Hualapai tribe. The women dance, wearing the clothing used in the ceremonies as the culture and rituals that have been handed down through the generations.
A Hop-On Hop-Off bus shuttles visitors to Guano Point. Here, the trail to Highpoint Hike is easy and rewarded by a breathtaking 360-degree panoramic canyon view of layers of delicate pink and green sediment set in the canyon below. Lunch at Guano Point or Hualapai Ranch is included in the price of your ticket. Under a large tarp, picnic tables are shaded by the scorching desert sun. But you may opt to dine while perched on the edge of the rim at the ultimate “table with a view”.
A taste of the Old West
Back on the shuttle and step into the spirit of the Old West, the recreated western-themed town of Hualapai Ranch. Gunfire cracks and the dusty street is the scene of professional gunfighters facing one another with itchy trigger fingers. A bystander in the crowd is encouraged to participate, creating a real Western adventure. At the end of the wooden sidewalk, the aroma of grilled burgers at the "Cowboy" BBQ cookout tempt the hungry visitors. The real experience of the West is a wagon ride or for those who prefer to saddle up, encounter a true Hualapai Grand Canyon experience with a Hualapai ambassador guided horseback tour.
The extreme level of adventure awaits on the tarmac back at the Visitor Centre. Helicopters are available, offering tours to view the canyon in all its breathtaking glory. For an upgrade, you can land in the depths of the canyon and explore it by foot. Equally as enticing is floating down the Colorado River on a pontoon boat. This is the only place within the Grand Canyon where visitors can access the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon on a helicopter.
The Hualapai Tribe calls this wonder of the world the “upside down mountains”. Most people would think of it as “the land to humble the soul”.
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