It may look like it defies gravity, but the Grand Canyon Skywalk adheres to all the laws of physics and supports the weight of hundreds of thousands of visitors each year!
What feat of engineering enables a 1.2 million pound steel and glass structure to extend straight out from the edge of the West Rim and float 4,000 feet above the Canyon floor? Let’s find out.
The People Behind the Skywalk
When David Jin, a Las Vegas businessman, visited the Grand Canyon in 1996 and looked out over the Rim, he was struck by a flash of inspiration. Soon after, he began working with a team of experts from design and engineering firms Lochsa Engineering and MRJ Architects to devise an ingenious cantilever design that would provide unencumbered views of the Grand Canyon with no direct support from underneath.
A Las Vegas-based construction firm called Executive Construction Management brought Jin’s vision to life to offer millions of adventurers a chance to see the Grand Canyon in a way they’d never seen it before.
What is a “Cantilever Bridge”?
A cantilever bridge is only supported on one end.
The Skywalk is supported by eight columns that in turn support box beams that are six feet tall, 32 inches wide, with two inch thick walls. These box beams are anchored 45 feet deep into the red limestone bedrock of the West Rim, which can support a whopping 16,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, to act as the counterweights for the u-shaped glass bridge.
The Skywalk itself is supported by tuned mass dampers that reduce the normal vibrations caused by wind and people. They also help distribute the weight of the bridge.
Building the Skywalk
Construction of the Skywalk began on October 6, 2004, when the Hualapai blessed the site. Drilling began one month later, and would take 18 months to complete. It took an additional four months to weld the 40 foot beams that would be used to create the Skywalk and truck them to the construction site in Arizona.
The Skywalk was assembled at the Rim and rolled into place using the same rod and plate method the ancient Egyptians are thought to have used to build the great pyramids. The glass panels that make up the Skywalk’s transparent floor were then lifted into place using special manipulators designed to lift the heavy panels – the glass floor weighs over 80,000 lbs! – using large suction cups. Each glass panel can hold up to 800 people at any given time, and there are 46 glass panels!
In the end, it took over four years, $30 million, and hundreds of highly skilled workers to build this truly spectacular engineering marvel. The Skywalk opened in 2007, and the first people to walk over the edge of the Grand Canyon were Buzz Aldrin and Jon Herrington, the first native American astronaut.
Walking on a Cloud
The Grand Canyon Skywalk belongs on every adventurer’s travel bucket list! In addition to the Skywalk, there are numerous viewpoints and attractions to explore at the West Rim, including Eagle Point, Guano Point, and the Hualapai Ranch. Explore the West Rim and take a stroll 70 feet from the edge of the Rim on one of these tours:
Get answers to all your questions about the Skywalk:
8 Questions We Know You Have About the Grand Canyon Skywalk
How does the Skywalk stay up? How thick is the glass? Keep reading to get the answer to all your questions about the Grand Canyon Skywalk.
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