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Glass skywalk opens above the Grand Canyon

HUALAPAI INDIAN RESERVATION, Ariz. -- Staring down through the transparent floor and walking very carefully, American Indian leaders, a former astronaut, and invited guests walked beyond the Grand Canyon's edge yesterday during opening ceremonies for a glass-bottomed observation deck that lets tourists gaze deep into the chasm.

A few members of the Hualapai Indian Tribe, which allowed the Grand Canyon Skywalk to be built on the canyon rim, hopped up and down playfully on the horseshoe-shaped structure. At the top of the loop, the group peeked over the glass wall.

"I can hear the glass cracking!" Hualapai chairman Charlie Vaughn said playfully.

Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin declared it a "magnificent first walk."

The Hualapai (pronounced WALL-uh-pie), 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 side of the canyon.

The Skywalk extends 70 feet beyond the canyon's edge with no visible supports above or below.

" I believe this is going to help us. We don't get any help from the outside, so, why not?" said Dallas Quasula Sr., 74, a tribal elder who was at the Skywalk. "This is going to be our bread and butter."

For $25 plus other fees, as many as 120 people at a time will be able to look down to the canyon floor 4,000 feet below, a vantage point more than twice as high as the world's tallest buildings.

The Skywalk is scheduled to open to the public March 28.

Robert Bravo Jr., operations manager of the Hualapai tourist attractions called Grand Canyon West, said he hopes the Skywalk will double tourist traffic to the reservation this year to about 600,000.

In later years, he hopes it brings in about 1 million tourists.

The Skywalk has sparked debate on and off the reservation. Many Hualapai worry about disturbing nearby burial sites, and environmentalists have accused the tribe of transforming the majestic canyon into a tourist trap.

Hualapai leaders say they weighed those concerns for years before agreeing to build the Skywalk. With a third of the tribe's 2,200 members living in poverty, the tribal government decided it needs the tourism dollars.

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