Natural beauty marred

People consumed by greed shamelessly try to exploit Grand Canyon West

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

I love Grand Canyon West.

But there’s something out there that elicits the most bizarre news stories.

For those who have never been, Grand Canyon West is far off the beaten trail, not part of the 277-mile-long Grand Canyon where most tourists go. It’s one of the closest sections of the canyon to Las Vegas, and there’s a thriving local tour industry that takes visitors there by bus, plane or helicopter.

The Hualapai Indian Tribe administers the land, which remains wild and untamed.

For example, overlooks at Grand Canyon National Park include iron bars and mesh screens to keep people from falling. At Grand Canyon West, visitors can walk right up to the canyon’s edge.

Several years ago, the Hualapai partnered with Las Vegas developer David Jin to build a horseshoe-shaped, glass overhang that extends 70 feet over the canyon from the rim. Many complained that the Grand Canyon Skywalk would mar the raw beauty of the terrain, but the project became an economic magnet. Two million people a year have visited Skywalk since it opened in 2007.

I’ve always said it’s a rip-off.

It costs $25 per person to walk the Skywalk. That’s on top of a mandatory tour package that starts at $49 a person. Once there, you’re not allowed to bring a camera. Tribal officials say they want to avoid damaging the glass floor, but others suspect it’s a policy to get tourists to buy $20 pictures at a concession shop.

Then there’s the long-running dispute over profits between the tribe and Jin. The short version of the story is they disagreed about the distribution of management fees and ticket sales.

The case went to arbitration. A panel ruled in favor of Jin, and the tribe responded by trying to confiscate Skywalk through eminent domain. The battle has been bouncing between a Hualapai court and U.S. District Court, which ordered the tribe to abide by the arbitrator’s ruling and pay Jin $28.5 million.

Jin died this month of cancer, but his family says it plans to continue the legal battle. Questions remain about where profits have gone since the tribe booted Jin’s management company and took over Skywalk’s finances.

The most recent bizarre story emerged this month.

The route to Skywalk includes a 14-mile stretch of Diamond Bar Road, a dusty, rocky, hilly Mohave County road that passes in front of Nigel Turner’s dude ranch. For years, Turner has fought to preserve the flavor of the area by trying to block the road from being paved, which he believes would increase traffic.

In protest, Turner reportedly threatened a road construction crew and charged tour bus drivers $500 apiece to pass on their way to Grand Canyon West.

How could Turner charge a toll on a public road?

He couldn’t, which is why he was arrested in connection to the act. A few days later, Mohave County completed a bypass to avoid the property.

Turner now becomes part of the bizarre lore of Grand Canyon West, a stunningly beautiful landscape scarred by people consumed with greed.

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