There’s something about a rocky old country road that doesn’t make good neighbors, especially if it runs straight into the Grand Canyon’s famous glass overlook in Arizona, the Skywalk.
Ever since a lone rancher, Nigel Turner, started charging tour buses $500 apiece to drive through a portion of his dude ranch to get to the Skywalk, a Las Vegas-based company that caters to Asian tourists has suffered the consequences.
As many as seven tour buses are sitting empty in the parking lot of Chinese Host Inc., which has lost as much as $1,100 per day, company President David Huang said Wednesday.
“It’s the uncertainty that’s killing us. The phones are ringing off the hooks, and nobody knows when we’re going to be able to get to the Grand Canyon,” said Huang, who has operated the tour company since 1999 and considers this latest glitch among the most unusual.
“We’re talking about customers who’ve come as far as China and Thailand. They’ve planned their entire trips around visiting one of the wonders of the world, only to be turned back by security guards.
“It’s just not right. The tourists should be protected. They shouldn’t have this sort of bad experience.”
Turner, whose ranch property sits on a portion of Diamond Bar Road off U.S. Highway 93, the major road that leads to the Skywalk, was arrested Tuesday and incarcerated in Kingman on allegations that he threatened and intimidated a foreman at the construction site where a bypass is being built around Turner’s property, according to Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan.
When the foreman told Turner he didn’t have the authority from a court of law to tell the construction workers to stop their work, Turner said, “I don’t need a court order. I have a gun,” according to news reports.
Attempts to reach Turner for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday.
After Turner was released from jail Wednesday, he shut off his property to the public indefinitely, leading to a spirited news conference by the Chinese tourism company with the Hualapai tribe, which operates the Skywalk, about 120 miles east of Las Vegas.
Holding up signs that said, “Do not pay the toll!” and “Highway robbery!” and “We already paid you $750,000,” tribal members said they were losing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each day that Turner’s blockade remains.
The makeshift blockade is an assortment of construction cones and enforced by a 24-hour armed security detail.
“We’re asking the federal government to step up and help us out by opening up the road for the thousands of visitors and tourists who depend upon it,” said tribal Chairwoman Sherry Counts, who since the blockade has written U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and other state and federal officials for help.
Since Turner started charging a fee through his property, the tourism industry has been “incredibly inconvenienced,” Counts said.
She said what once was a fairly simple nine-mile jaunt to the Skywalk has turned into an expensive, or even impossible, chore of getting there.
“I’ve never heard of one man shutting down an entire county road,” said Dave Cieslak, a spokesman for the tribe. “He should take his anger out in the courts, not on the tourists.”
The history behind the feud is a complicated one that dates back as far as 2007, when the federal government, including the Bureau of Land Management, paid Turner $750,000 to keep a mile-long stretch of his property open to the public until an adequate bypass around his property could be built and Diamond Bar Road itself could be reconstructed and paved.
The work on the bypass and Diamond Bar Road was supposed to begin in February 2012, but it wasn’t until April this year that the tribe and government contractors finally got the road project under way, Cieslak said.
The delay might have angered Turner, who said that the daily buses were starting to take their toll, their loud noise even hindering his business, Grand Canyon Ranch, where tourists can experience a Western experience.
The Associated Press and Review-Journal writer Dave Hawkins contributed to this report. Contact reporter Tom Ragan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512.