GRAND CANYON WEST, Ariz. -- About 13 miles from here in a mid-April car trip from Las Vegas, I began to recite lines from the children's story "The Little Engine That Could."
It was raining, then snowing, then hailing as my wife and I drove our Hyundai Accent up and down about nine miles of dirt road full of bone-jarring potholes before we hit pavement again. Unfortunately, the incredible sight of Joshua trees bathed in snow on the sides of nearby mountains received little of our attention.
Large tour buses from Las Vegas did. Their weight made them seemingly immune to the terrain, repeatedly forcing us to the far, right-hand side of Diamond Bar Road as they sped to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, rushing tourists to what readers of Travel + Leisure magazine voted in February as "the best new bridge" of the past 15 years.
Mud from buses' wheels splattered our windshield, making just the journey to the Skywalk, a glass walkway that extends 70 feet into space, 4,000 feet above the canyon floor, gut-wrenching.
"Do you think you can make it to the Grand Canyon without ruining our car?" my anxious wife asked as our subcompact bounced through bus tire ruts only to fishtail in 3-inch deep mud.
"I-think-I-can," I replied, trying to laugh through clenched teeth.
And so I did, though the chuckhole-hammered Hyundai, which couldn't be pushed more than 10 mph on the dirt road, now needs a wheel alignment.
So if you have a truck, a Jeep or a rough-and-ready SUV, use it to get to Grand Canyon West instead of the family car, though I was later told by the Hualapai Indians who own this area that the nine miles of unpaved road is frequently graded to make it far more accessible for passenger cars.
The good news is, of course, that it doesn't snow at Grand Canyon West in the summer, and even rain is hard to come by.
Even more good news is the fact that the Hualapai say all 21 miles of Diamond Bar Road will be completely paved by 2013, but you do have to take that with a grain of salt: In 2007, when the Skywalk opened, they said the road would be paved by 2008.
Anyway, after three hours of car travel to cover 121 miles, more than half of it on U.S. Highway 93, we walked into the huge Grand Canyon West Welcome Center, where tour packages are purchased and shuttle buses take you out to the Skywalk.
On this day, most people were like us, not expecting 40-degree temperatures, so the $50 sweatshirts in the gift shop, worth $20 at best, sold fast.
Make no mistake: If you want an inexpensive day or overnight trip with the family, this isn't the place to come. The cheapest package allowing an individual access to the Skywalk comes to more than $76, but it's 20 percent less for children 3 to 11.
Whether it's worth it depends on how much you or yours value the sense that you're participating in a kind of daredevil stunt by walking for about 10 minutes on a horseshoe-shaped walkway with a glass bottom - one with 60-inch-high glass sides that extends out into space, where the support is not immediately evident.
Obviously, many people experience a thrill at the Skywalk, shelling out a minimum $29 for pictures that were taken of them as they walked. The photos come in a package inscribed with the words "I did it!!!"
More than 800,000 people visited last year, and Hualapai representatives said reservations already made for this year make it likely that 1 million will walk the glass.
When we lined up for our walk with throngs of other visitors, we listened to security guards tell us that for safety reasons cameras and other personal items had to be secured in nearby lockers. We also were given blue surgical booties to keep from scratching the six layers of glass on which we would walk.
Tourists nervously joked with one another that this might be the last time they saw each other alive. As the walk began, several women held onto each other for dear life as they took baby steps and looked at the canyon beneath them.
"Oh my," one lady said, shaking, seemingly overcome by vertigo.
I had expected the kind of kick that comes with carnival thrill rides, where you experience a reeling sensation, a dizzying feeling that you're about to fall - and live to brag about it. It never came. And that may be because I made it a point to learn about the engineering, design and construction of the $30 million Skywalk undertaken by companies based out of Las Vegas.
Maybe reading about all the testing, including that done on the geologic stability of the site that allowed a secure foundation for the structure, meant the hoped-for thrill was gone for me. But my wife didn't do any of the reading on the engineering marvel, and she seemed no more frightened by the experience than she is by looking at Michigan's Great Lakes through a glass-bottomed boat.
Like me, as she walked she was more moved by the beauty of the snow on the mountains above the canyon, which she said reminded her of Niagara Falls. What we saw below us, the jagged rock face of the canyon rim, was out of focus, no doubt because of the rain and snow smearing the glass.
Fewer than 100 yards away from the Skywalk, you can walk right up to the canyon's edge, which first gave us a sense of awe but then pause, particularly when we saw a couple nearby walking without holding the hands of their small children. With no guardrail or fence, Grand Canyon West is no place for children whose hands aren't held tightly at all times.
This unencumbered view from the west rim of the Grand Canyon, where a great rock formation across from you resembles a giant eagle, makes you conscious of the fact that no man is capable of ever producing such beauty. The colors, the textures - some pronounced, some, oh, so nuanced - are something artists strive for but can never reproduce.
If you can, don't look back at the Skywalk once you've started seeing the canyon from other vantage points. Try to leave the area. Seeing those industrial supports under a structure protruding into the canyon only jolts you back to harsh reality: Nothing, not nature or even life, is as important to mankind as the almighty buck.
By the way, if you don't want to walk the Skywalk and just want the canyon view without a meal, you can buy that package for as little as $44 per person. Some people who are too scared to walk the glass do just that.
The popular Legacy Gold Package, which is a little less than $80 and allows time on the Skywalk, offers a meal of chicken and barbecue near the Skywalk that smacked of the food I received in Army basic training. There's plenty of it and it fills you up. You also are able to see the canyon from other vantage points, walk near some Native American dwellings and visit a gift shop.
Folk dances are often performed in tribal dress, but because of the weather they were called off.
Ruby Steele, a Hualapai who spoke with us on our tour, said her people joined with Las Vegas entrepreneur David Jin to build the Skywalk as a way of bringing in money. With a little more than 2,000 members controlling about 1 million acres of land along the Colorado River, the Hualapai count on tourism for survival.
Jin and the Hualapai are now in a nasty federal court battle over their business arrangement.
Every tour package includes a visit to a mock Western town - the Hualapai Ranch - with staged gunfights, an empty jail, and dry saloon. We stayed overnight at the ranch, which costs $153.60 per person and children ages 3 to 11 are $47.91. You receive a meal and complimentary breakfast there, with the food again reminiscent of what the U.S. Army buys in bulk for recruits.
What made the evening meal wonderful, as well as time spent later that night around a raging campfire toasting marshmallows, was the strong baritone voice of country and western singer Chip Hanna. No TVs in your room meant more time for a good book and good conversation.
If you want wine or a beer at night, forget it.
"We get that request all the time, but we're a dry nation," Steele said.
The second day of our visit broke clear. We saw the sun that was never out our first day. It was glorious above the mountains backdrop to the canyon.
We had purchased 30-minute horseback rides for $35 each that would take us to the rim of the canyon before we headed home. Our guide was a man named Big Joe.
The closer we got to the rim, the more my wife's voice could be heard.
"I don't want to go any closer," my wife yelled. "Wait a minute."
"We're just going up here," Big Joe said.
"How do I stop this horse?" my wife cried. "Please make it stop. Now!"
"Just pull back on the reins," said Big Joe.
"Thank God," said my wife as her horse stopped 50 yards from the rim.
I continued on with Big Joe until our horses walked along the rim. Below, the Colorado flowed.
"Beautiful," Big Joe said.
"Awesome," I said.
Contact reporter Paul Harasim at email@example.com or 702-387-2908.