Thanks to Skywalk, Grand Canyon West gaining in popularity

About 1,500 people a day arrive by car, bus and aircraft at Grand Canyon West, a spectacularly scenic part of the vast canyon carved by the Colorado River in northern Arizona. Although accessible for the past 20 years, the West Rim remained little known until the Hualapai Nation opened a new attraction, the Skywalk, a year ago. Unlike any other walkway in the world, the glass-bottomed Skywalk extends from the canyon rim in a guard-railed horseshoe that provides a soaring eagle’s view down 4,000 feet and out for miles.

Just 120 miles away, Las Vegas remains a major hub for scenic flights or bus trips to the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West. Many Southern Nevadans elect to make the journey in their own vehicles, a drive of about two and a half hours. Follow U.S. 93 to Hoover Dam, Try for an early arrival to avoid construction delays.

Cross the dam into Arizona and head for the Dolan Springs-Meadview-Pierce Ferry turnoff 40 miles southeast. Turn north there and drive 28 miles to Diamond Bar Road, where the asphalt turns to 14 miles of dusty, bumpy road through an extensive forest of giant Joshua trees. Drivers welcome the return to pavement for the last few miles to the West Rim. Road improvements and paving planned soon should vastly improve the visitor experience. Expect to pay a fee of $20 per vehicle to park.

It is possible to park your car at a welcome center one mile beyond the Diamond Bar Road turnoff where you board a bus for the ride to the rim at 9 a.m. Arizona time. The junket costs $30, providing three and a half hours at the rim. Make reservations at 260-6506.

Immediately a sensation, the Skywalk turned the little landing strip at Eagle Point on the West Rim into a bustling facility, now ranked as Arizona’s fifth busiest airport. Like purposeful bumblebees and dragonflies, airplanes and helicopters buzz ad hum trough the air space over the rim. Pilots have to watch out for each other, for the West Rim has no control tower. Plans for future expansion include another runway and a control facility.

One of several related American Indian groups whose homelands border the Colorado River, the Hualapai Nation includes about 2,500 people.

Headquartered at Peach Springs, Ariz., on Historic Route 66 east of Kingman, the Hualapai Reservation contains many square miles of the Grand Canyon’s southern rim. The National Park Service controls the opposite rim as part of Grand Canyon National Park.

Seeking to improve the lot of the Hualapai people, the tribe began to trade on the river’s scenic appeal some years ago by offering one-day river rafting tours through a few white water rapids. The Hualapais built a handsome resort at Peach Springs and took raft adventures down to the river on the only road that accesses Grand Canyon. The beautiful river trip aboard pontoon rafts runs from March through October. When the rafts pull in at the end of the day’s run, river runners board a helicopter for a breathtaking ascent of the canyon to the West Rim. The same helicopters also give West Rim visitors scenic tours down to the river for a short ride on the water and back for a fee of $159.

The Hualapais charge a basic $29.95 fee per person for admittance to Grand Canyon West on the Hualapai Legacy package. The fee includes access via rim top coach shuttles to native cultural sites at Eagle Point, panoramic views at Guano Point and dude ranch experiences on Hualapai Ranch at Quartermaster Point.

There are restaurants and snack bars at all the points offering a variety of fare for $11.95. Try the savory stew or Indian fry bread with taco toppings for a filling treat in keeping with the setting. The fare at the ranch is ample and tasty.

Expect to pay extra for additional activities. The Skywalk itself costs $29.95. Since you can’t take a camera out there, plan to purchase your photo taken by professionals. Back-country Hummer tours and horseback trail rides start at $59 for half an hour’s adventure.

Overnight options include the Hualapai Legacy and accommodations at the Peach Springs resort or at the Hualapai Ranch. Call 878-9378 for details and reservations or try www.destinationgrandcanyon.com.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.

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