Indian leaders and former astronauts stepped gingerly beyond the Grand Canyon's rim Tuesday, staring through the glass floor and into the 4,000-foot chasm below during the opening ceremony for a new observation deck. A few members of the Hualapai Indian Tribe, which allowed the Grand Canyon Skywalk to be built, hopped up and down on the horseshoe-shaped structure. At its edge - 70 feet beyond the rim - the group peeked over the glass wall.
"I can hear the glass cracking!" Hualapai Chairman Charlie Vaughn said playfully.
The deck is anchored deep into a limestone cliff. As people walk across it, the glass layers creak and the deck wobbles almost imperceptibly. To one side, the Colorado river appears as a slim, pea-green ribbon. To the other is a triangular dip in the canyon's ridge, known as "Eagle Point" because it looks like a bird with outstretched wings. When the wind blows, only the most daring visitors resist grabbing the steel rail to steady their knees. Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who was invited to join the tribe along with former astronaut John Herrington, declared it a "magnificent first walk."
"It felt wonderful; not exactly like floating on air," Aldrin said after stepping off the deck.
The Hualapai, whose reservation is about 90 miles west of Grand Canyon National Park, allowed Las Vegas developer David Jin to build the $30 million Skywalk in hopes of creating a unique attraction on their section of the canyon.