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When standing at the rail of the observation deck of the Sears Tower— one of the tallest buildings in the world— many visitors experience some degree of vertigo at the brink of the sheer, 1,353 foot drop-off. This is a natural response as the body’s self-defense system reminds its owner of the dangers of gravity. If you’re not fond of heights, a new construction project underway in Arizona will probably cause that self-defense mechanism to chew its way out of your body and flee for safety. It’s called the Grand Canyon Skyway, and it dabbles in altitudes which dwarf that of the Sears Tower.

The horseshoe-shaped walkway, scheduled to open later this year, will jut out seventy feet off the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, suspending its occupants about 4,000 feet above the ground (about thrice the height of the Sears Tower) as they stand on a glass floor, looking down. The walkway’s walls will be comprised of the same four-inch-thick glass as the floor, which will leave the spectacular view relatively unobstructed, even for those people who opt to remain on all fours.

The concept was born in the brain of David Jin in 1996, and is now being overseen by the Hualapai Indians who have a reservation along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Once complete, the Skyway will be reinforced by over a million pounds of 2.5-inch-thick steel beams which should allow it to support seventy-two million pounds of weight, survive an 8.0 magnitude earthquake fifty miles away, and withstand winds in excess of 100 miles per hour. Its design also calls for dampers to minimize the structure’s vibration, which will allow the walkway to comfortably support up to one hundred and twenty people at once.

Upon opening, $25 will buy tourists a stroll (or crawl) on the Skyway which will provide a unique new perspective on the Grand Canyon. Park officials are anticipating that this unique new feature will double the current number of visitors to the park. Alongside the Skyway will be an Indian Village, a Western-themed town, and an underground restaurant with canyon views and rooftop dining.

At 4,000 feet above the Colorado River, the view of the Grand Canyon from the walkway promises to be nothing short of astonishing. Consider that if one fell from such a height, one would have about twenty-five seconds— about a half minute— to enjoy the Grand Canyon’s incredible scenery before impact.

When the Skyway project began, its planners originally hoped that it would open by January 1, 2006. Since then, it has been delayed by “unique engineering challenges,” as well as trouble finding an insurance company willing to insure the structure without getting twitchy. Currently the opening date is slated for March 2007.

Further reading:
MRJ Architect’s page on the Skyway
Arizona Star article on the Skyway