Road to Skywalk Not for Sissies - Roadside America

Doug Kirby, Ken Smith, Mike Wilkins
2007-09-28
RoadsideAmerica.com

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Road to Skywalk Not for Sissies

The Skywalk -- a glass-bottomed, U-shaped platform that hangs over the rim of the Grand Canyon -- is scary to some. We reported on its Grand Opening in March 2007. But it's harmless compared to the dusty, unpaved, axle-busting road that most people have to drive to get to it.

For 14 miles Diamond Bar Road twists its way through rock-strewn dry washes and canyons, shaking apart anything that isn't strapped  down in your car and kicking grit into your teeth, even with all of the windows closed. That will change, however, beginning in 2008. That's when the Hualapai tribe, which owns the Skywalk, starts paving and rerouting the road. The work is expected to take up to two years, owing to the challenge of taming such bad-ass terrain.

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"Driving that road is a nightmare," said Sheri Yellowhawk, CEO of the Grand Canyon Resort Corp., the business arm of the Hualapai. "If you're not in a truck or a big SUV, I don't recommend you going out there."

When Skywalk officially opened we skipped the press buses and helicopters and drove in (Try holding a video camera while steering). Since then the road has been beaten and rutted by tens of thousands of additional Skywalk-bound vehicles. Most made it, but some didn't. The Hualapai quickly realized what was happening and tried to limit the damage. It laid down four inches of new gravel, then suppressed the dust and jumping stones by covering the road with something called "Durasoil." "It's used in Iraq," Yellowhawk said. "It's vegetable oil-based. They say you can eat it, but I'm not trying it." Note to stranded and desperate Skywalk motorists: EAT THE ROAD.

The maintenance work continued until August. Then "monsoon season" arrived and thunderstorms turned the roadway into a river. "We were almost finished, we were so happy," Sheri remembered. "And then -- we had waist-high water! We literally had a river on Diamond Bar Road. It got washed away. It's like we're jinxed."

The governor declared a state of emergency. FEMA was called in. The flood waters receded, the new rocks were pushed to the side, and the road was reopened. But the Hualapai had had enough. They settled a lawsuit with an obstructionist landowner, and now plan to spend $20 million widening, paving, rerouting, and building bridges on Diamond Bar Road. By 2010 its abusive days will be history -- if the monsoons don't flood things out again.

"It's funny," Sheri said. "Some people have told us that they find the road exciting. How that can be, I don't know. Beating up your vehicle? You find that exciting?" [We found it exciting, too, but we were driving a rental.]

"People still drive Corvettes out there," she told us. "What are they thinking?"

Even after Diamond Bar Road is tamed, getting to Skywalk can still be an adventure. Visitors who want to wreck their cars can take the OTHER ground route to the Skywalk: 48 miles along dusty, unpaved, axle-busting Buck and Doe Road, which begins at Peach Springs near a giant head on Route 66.

[09/28/2007]

Address: Diamond Bar Rd, Grand Canyon West, AZ

Directions: Rough unpaved roads. I-10 exit 48. North on US 93 for 29 miles. Turn east at the Dolan Springs/Meadview City sign (near mile marker 42) onto Pierce Ferry Rd/Hwy 25. Follow Pierce Ferry Rd for 29 miles, then make a hard right onto Diamond Bar Rd/Hwy 261 for 21 miles. The first 14 miles are very bad. Do not attempt to drive it if thunderstorms are in the area. Instead,   make a reservation at 702-260-6506 and drive a mile further east on Pierce Ferry Rd/Hwy 25 to the Skywalk Park & Ride.

Hours: Daily 8 am - 6 pm. (Virus outbreak may affect access to attraction. Call to verify.)

Phone: 702-220-8372

Admission: $32/person (+$48 to get on reservation).

RA Rates: Major Fun

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