The trip to Grand Canyon West's famous glass bridge used to be a hazardous one. The Skywalk attraction is west of Grand Canyon National Park on the Hualapai Reservation. It's a 4-hour trip from the National Park's south entrance to the Grand Canyon West entrance, but is a convenient stop-on-the-way for vacationers coming from Las Vegas. It's about 2-1/2 hours from the Strip.
The last stretch of travel is over Diamond Bar Road. Until recently, it was a bumpy, gravel road. Flying gravel would break windows, the rough surface would flatten tires, and hubcaps would vibrate and fall off. "There were conversations about what type of vehicles they would take because the road was so bad. I've seen a lot of tour buses that looked pretty beat up after going on that road," Gary Jeppsen, development services director for the city of Kingman, Arizona, told the Kingman Daily Miner.
It was hoped that the road would be paved when the Skywalk opened in 2007, but progress was delayed by an objection from a local rancher. Nigel Turner, owner of Grand Canyon Ranch Resort claimed that traffic, construction dust, and noise had damaged his business. To settle the lawsuit, the Hualapai paid Turner $750,000, but soon afterwards, he brought up additional complaints. In 2013, he blocked a 1-mile section of the public Diamond Bar Road that crosses his property, and charged a toll. Tourists had to pay $20 per person, and tour busses were charged a whopping $500.
In August, 2014, over a year after the legal battles had concluded, the Hualapai finished paving the final nine miles of Diamond Bar Road. In the end, it cost $35 million dollars. There is no more toll, and the pavement shortens the trip by about an hour.
"The completion of Diamond Bar Road is very meaningful to the Hualapai Tribe and to the thousands of people who visit Grand Canyon West each year," Hualapai Chairwoman Sherry Counts said Wednesday in a prepared statement. "Our tourists will have a smooth, scenic drive to this magnificent destination and we anticipate a considerable increase in visitors to this entire region as a result."
The next step is to bring electricity and water lines to Grand Canyon West. Currently water is trucked in and electricity is provided by generators. These improvements will be necessary before plans for a new visitor center and hotels can proceed.
About 700,000 visitors make the trip to the Grand Canyon Skywalk every year. Those reminiscent of the bumpy ride that was "part of the experience" can always take an off-road jeep tour.