February 11, 2007

"Engineering marvel" or "colossal eyesore" or scariest tourist attraction in the United States?

The Grand Canyon Skywalk is supposed to help the finances of the Hualapai Indian Tribe, but even assuming lots of people want to walk on a gigantic glass walkway incomprehensibly jutting out over the deep canyon, there are many problems with this:
[Some] in the tribe have been critical of what they say is the development's lack of sustainability, pointing out that water used here is trucked in over miles of unpaved, rutted roads, and that there is no sewer, trash, telephone or electrical service. The airport, which is expanding, operates on diesel generators....

Tribal officials admit it will be difficult to operate a full-service resort without upgrading infrastructure and finding a local source of water. Hualapai officials said last week that they were considering taking water from the Colorado River.

Pumping water up nearly a vertical mile from the river to the rim of the canyon could be fraught with financial and legal challenges. Joseph Feller, who teaches water law at Arizona State University, says no tribe has ever taken water from the Colorado without first negotiating with the federal government.
It sounds like a disaster all around.

Here in Madison, we have a building with a beautiful, dramatic, long glass stairway:

The MMoCA staircase

The glass is even frosted, so they're not encouraging you to stare down, and I know a lot of people who are afraid to walk on it.


rightwingprof said...

I wouldn't walk on it. Absolutely. No. Way. Ever.

That's exactly the kind of thing that really sets off my phobia.

When I walk across the Chicago River I'm fine until we get to the crack between the two halves of the draw bridge. Then, if I look down, I have to be carried off the bridge.

Ron said...

Paging Jimmy Stewart, Bernard Hermann, and Sir Alfred...your reshoots for the sequel for Vertigo will be in Madison, and the Grand Canyon sequence will be shot with Mr. Grant and Ms. Saint...Martin Landau, off to his doom!

Ron said...

Has anyone thought that this place might be the Suicide Ganges for the truly depressed? They'll be leaping off like lemmings! They could hold the world base jumping championships here!

Peter Palladas said...

The glass is even frosted, so they're not encouraging you to stare down...

Hey, come on - weren't you at a mixed-sex High School? The frosted glass is to stop the boys staring up!

The Drill SGT said...

I think the glass viewing area is over-hyped. On the scale of the canyon, it won't add much.

What I found much more interesting was that the Indians intend to take Colorado River water to support the resort.

Easterner's may not understand, but out West, all property/real estate/development fights are ultimately about water. As for the Colorado R., In a normal year, more than 100% of the flow is already allocated. (How is that you ask? They calculated the shares during a wet cycle)

So this move by the tribe is going to set off claims by all the other tribes for all the water shares from all the current tribal reservations, or their historical lands. A big fight, in other words.

Dave F said...

The Apple Store on 5th Ave in NYC has a glass staircase that descends all of fifteen feet to the floor below. I went there back in December and nearly ran a woman over who stopped, dead in her tracks in the middle of the staircase.

Stupid tourists.

I fail to understand fear of heights.

Ann Althouse said...

It's not just a fear of heights. It's an actual mistrust of glass as a weight-supporting surface.

J said...

Let me be the first contrarian to say I think a park type venue on the south rim a few hours closer to Las Vegas could, and probably would, be a big moneymaker. Especially if owned/run by folks with a legal right to ignore most of the environmental restrictions imposed on the park.

The Skywalk is an oddball gimmick (and I'm with RWP - I wouldn't walk on that thing, as presented, at gunpoint), but I suspect the objective here is less a skywalk than a more commercialized variant of Grand Canyon village, two hours closer to Vegas.

Peter Palladas said...

I fail to understand fear of heights.

...I don't do lifts. Was in one once with a fat guy who said he could make it bounce by jumping up and down.

It didn't bounce - it fell. Three floors before the emergency brakes cut in.

Fat guy was found cut into seventeen pieces - I always carry my Swiss army knife, you never know when it'll be needed.

No charges were ever brought. Judicial consensus was that fat guy deserved every cut.

Dave F said...

"It's an actual mistrust of glass as a weight-supporting surface."

This makes no sense. Glass can be made bulletproof but it can't support the weight of a person?

Good god are people stupid.

Robert said...

I would go out on it, but it would take a serious effort of will.

It wouldn't be because the structure is made of glass. Who cares what it's made of, as long as it's strong. No, it's the being- suspended- over- space part that's the trouble for THIS phobic fella.

J said...

"This makes no sense. Glass can be made bulletproof but it can't support the weight of a person?"

There are different types of material strength, DF, with a number of tradeoffs depending on what you want the material to do. Any material cantilevered in this fashion would, at some point, fail to support it's own weight, much less that of a pedestrian. If you have the opportunity, check out a Kevlar vest of the type commonly worn by police officers. While "bulletproof" (bullet resistant is a more accurate term, and that applies to glass as well), I think you'll conclude that you wouldn't want to stand on a piece of it several thousand feet above the ground if it wasn't supported at both ends.

"Good god are people stupid"

Ignorance of materials science is ignorance, not stupidity.

SippicanCottage said...
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TMink said...

"Good god are people stupid."

Actually, people are of average intelligence, but I digress before I start. At around the age of crawling, but not before, pre-toddlers develop a fear of a visual cliff. It is likely instinctive as it is preverbal.

Stupid? Hardly! Humn? Entirely.


TMink said...

HAH! Sorry, it was to read thus: "Human? Entirely."

Guess I proved my own point.


rightwingprof said...

"I fail to understand fear of heights."

So do I. It's not logical. It's a phobia. Some things set it off, some don't. It makes no sense. It just is.

"It's stupid to produce a staircase that is visually disorienting. "

The IU Art Museum was designed by Pei. There isn't a 90-degree angle in the whole building, including the steep staircases. Going up and down the stairs can be disorienting -- step with care.

J said...

"The IU Art Museum was designed by Pei"

How do you pronounce that guy's name? I've heard it several different ways.

"There isn't a 90-degree angle in the whole building"

He's obviously never been a trim carpenter.

TMink said...

In my art history classes, they pronounced it 'Pay." Not sure if they were correct though!

One thing that would be nice about the new overlook is that we would see more diversity of photos of the canyon! Most come from the two busy National Park overlooks.

And diversity is a good thing, especially when it is actual diversity.


SippicanCottage said...
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blizzardo said...

I hope the Hualapai can pull it off, sounds very cool. It reminds me of the Royal Gorge Bridge here in Colorado, where you can look down through through the planks to the Arkansas River one thousand feet below...

J said...

"But you'd be "stupid" to have a problem with all that. I think we can all agree on that."

No question about it. But I think we can agree that we're all articulate here, too.

Paul Zrimsek said...

I think the Skywalk is brilliant, and I'd like to visit it once it's done. At the same time, I can picture this sequence of events:

I walk nonchalantly across the glass.
Roadrunner comes up behind, nudges me with beak.
Roadrunner ducks its head, gesturing: Look down.
I look down.
I look at camera, gulp visibly, hold up little sign: HELP.
My feet start falling into the abyss. The rest of me follows a second later.
Overhead shot shows tiny dust cloud appearing on distant floor of Canyon.

Eli Blake said...

I was listening to a show on it the other day.

They are in the process of improving the road.

There was a lot of discussion of the engineering. I've walked on a glass or plexiglass surface at an exhibit, there is no problem with it supporting the weight of a person, or even of a lot of people.

As far as the structure is concerned, it is supported by steel beams sunk over three feet into the surrounding rock surface, and is designed according to the same standards that are used in earthquake construction in California (though there are virtually no earthquakes in the Grand Canyon). It can withstand winds in excess of 100 miles per hour.

I don't know if I will want to go on it, but I do know that the safety concerns are misplaced. A more serious concern IMO is that a lot of the older people in the tribe are concerned that it will mar their native lands (though the specific area where it was built is a place where there used to be dormitories housing workers in the 1940's so any archaeological artifacts that may have been there were cleared at the time.)