In 1996, businessman David Jin of Las Vegas, Nevada, approached the Hualapai Tribe with the idea of a glass walkway over the Canyon. He won approval from the tribe in 2003.
The Skywalk was designed and engineered by Lochsa Engineering and MRJ Architects and built by Executive Construction Management, all based out of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Engineers conducted tests on the geologic stability of the site and researched the foundation by testing the compressive strength of the rock.
They found that the red limestone rock could withstand 16,000 pounds of pressure per square inch.
Engineers also conducted extensive testing during the planning and design phase to ensure the Skywalk could easily withstand the high winds that have been known to blow through the Grand Canyon.
The design originally extended 30 feet over the edge of the rim of the Grand Canyon but eventually evolved into a horseshoe-shaped bridge extending 70 feet past the edge of the Grand Canyon wall.
Building the Skywalk
On October 6, 2004, the Hualapai Tribe blessed the site and one month later drilling for the Skywalk began. Drilling lasted one and a half years.
Next came a foundation consisting of eight columns that support box beams. Each box beam is 6 feet high, 32 inches wide and has 2-inch thick walls. The Skywalk is designed to absorb vibration and avoid galloping in windy conditions. The beams were custom fabricated in Utah in 40 foot sections then trucked to Grand Canyon West.
The Skywalk was assembled on site. The first permanent caps were attached to the eight concrete columns to support the Skywalk. Pieces of the bridge were put into place and welded together once aligned. The welding took four months to complete.
Three tuned mass dampers specifically calibrated to meet the wind and weight requirements of the location were placed inside the horseshoe frame making it structurally sound. Mass dampers help distribute the weight on the glass bridge.
A manipulator was used to lift the glass panels to the Skywalk with large suction cups.
Two-and-a-half years after the groundbreaking ceremony, the Skywalk rollout began. Engineers used the same rod and plate method used to build the Egyptian pyramids to roll the Skywalk out over the Canyon.
On the first day, the Skywalk was rolled halfway out. By the end of the second day, the Skywalk structure rollout was completed. The structure then had to be welded and secured. Engineers placed 128 weld runs on the tops, bottoms and sides of all eight columns.
HIGHER THAN THE TALLEST SKYSCRAPER
The Skywalk is located 4,000 feet above the Colorado River.
The Skywalk consists of more than 1 million pounds of steel and 64,000 pounds of glass. In total, it weighs 1.2 million pounds.
Its foundation is strong enough to support about 71 million pounds – the equivalent of 71 fully loaded 747 airplanes.
The glass walls are approximately 5’-7” high, extending 4’-6” above the glass floor – safer than code yet low enough that guests do not feel confined.
Skywalk operators recently replaced the glass for the first time since the Skywalk opened with glass custom-made in Spain. The project was completed in May, 2011.
The new glass panes consist of five layers of glass bonded together that measure approximately 2 ½ inches thick. Each panel can support 100 pounds per square foot, equivalent to about 800 people, although only 60 to 120 people are allowed on the Skywalk at a time depending on the number of visitors on a given day.