Grand Canyon West. View from Guano Point

What To Expect When Visiting Grand Canyon West and its Famous Skywalk

Though I’ve lived in Phoenix for close to three decades, it never occurred to me to visit the West side of the Grand Canyon until recently. I love the Grand Canyon, but until now I only experienced it through the National Park. My favorite side is the North Rim, though we visit the South Rim more often. Though the crowds there are a deterrent, it still is he easiest access from Phoenix, and over the years we learned how to handle the crowds.

But up until now I have only heard about the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West. Out of the way, expensive, and an obvious tourist trap – or so I thought – it wasn’t high on my list of places to visit. Even if it was on Native Land.

I have to admit, part of me still wanted to see it, though the experience didn’t seem worth it. The idea of walking on a glass top thousands of feet above the Grand Canyon’s floor did not appeal to me. But when we feel we can’t travel far, except on road trips, it’s easy to run out of new places to visit.

We tentatively planned the trip for a holiday weekend, only if traffic wasn’t going to be too bad.

As crowded as Arizona’s roads were everywhere else that weekend, they were empty in the direction we were headed. So, we packed the car and set off.

On The Historic Route 66

As much as I heard of historic Route 66, I never had a desire to ride on it just for the experience. We rode on it before, but only for short stretches. But when heading towards Grand Canyon West, we drove on the longest stretch of the historic route in the country. Between Kingston and Ash Fork the road literally takes you back in time.

I half-expected to see the Judds truck driving down the road, among others driving towards California on what Steinbeck called “the Mother Road”. The truck might not have been month them, but we saw plenty of old cars from he 1950s. They weren’t on the road though, but parked in front of old buildings with their paint peeling, and faded Route-66 signs, once housing motels, old gas stations with rusted pumps, stores and diners right out of a 50’s movie, some very popular, others seemingly deserted.

The road also led through the Hualapai Nation, and their capital city, Peach Spring. It seemed deserted, and the note said they are on code orange (CoVid-wise), so we didn’t stop.

Instead, we spent the night in Kingsman, filled with more Route 66 memorabilia. In the morning, as early as we could, we drove to the Grand Canyon West.

The Road to Grand Canyon West

This stretch of the road seemed even more desolate than the Old Route 66. However, it passed through some beautiful desert scenery, and a gorgeous Joshua Tree forest.

Joshua Tree forest in northwest Arizona, near the entrance to Grand Canyon West

Early enough in the day to be pleasant outside, I walked through these amazing plants we know as Joshua Tree. Not a tree at all, but an agave species, yucca brevifolia, is Native to the US Southwest and most prevalent in the Mojave Desert. The larges yucca in the world, it is sometimes called yucca palm, or Palm Tree Yucca. Protected in Joshua Tree National Park, it seemed to grows even denser here.

Recognized by native people for its useful properties, they used the plant’s tough leaves to make baskets and sandals, while they ate the flower buds and raw or roasted seeds. The Cahuilla from Southern California call it hunuvat chiy’a or humwichawa. Southern Paiute called itsovaramp, and the Western Shoshone knew it simply asumpu.

Grand Canyon West

Reaching Grand Canyon West, we had to park the car, walk through the Visitor Center, where we got our tickets, then board a bus to the sites. When you see the prices and the setup, it seems a total tourist trap, I still appreciate the way they set this site up for visitors. Since you can only reach the Skywalk site and the viewpoints by bus, this limits the amount of people who can visit at any given time, making it less congested, while also cutting down on emission.

And while the Skywalk is indeed set up just for tourists, I found he views from the two viewpoints worth he trip. Meaning, if you are afraid of heights, you can sill enjoy the visit. Just skip the Skywalk.

The Skywalk and Eagle Viewpoint

I thought the Skywalk would be nerve wracking, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. But since we drove all the way out there, we all felt we had to. Besides, I didn’t want to let my daughter do it alone. In fact, I felt it was worth it, I actually enjoyed it – although I avoided walking in he middle – like most people, I might add.

The views are exceptional, and it wasn’t half as scary as I anticipated. The structure feels sturdy enough to enjoy walking on it. They give everyone soft coverings for their shoes so the soles don’t scratch the glass. We could no take anything out on the skywalk, including phones and cameras. Local photographers were offering to take photos of the visitors who felt the need to own a proof that they were there, on the glass bridge. None of us felt the need for it; we wanted the experience, not necessarily the proof that we did it.

As spectacular as it was, the skywalk was not the highlight of my visit. I enjoyed the Guano Point viewpoint and hike along the rim much more. But before we boarded the second bus to Guano Point, we stopped to enjoy the view of Eagle Point, and walked through the exhibit of Native homes along a trail.

Grand Canyon West: Eagle Point
Grand Canyon West: View of Eagle Point

As of why it is called Eagle Point… do you see the eagle with outstretched wings in the above photo?

Guano Point

At Guano Point, a short trail leads along he “Highpoint Hike” around an old mine site on the rim, offering multiple views of the Grand Canyon from a few different perspectives. This is the area where you’ll have the best views of he the Colorado River on the bottom of the Canyon. Although I have to admit, the water level is so down, we noticed it even looking at it from the top.

Guano Point overlook. Grand Canyon West

Why name Guano Point such a gorgeous overlook? Guano is bat droppings, a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. When a passing boat discovered a guano cave in he canyon in he 1930s, he US Guano Corporation bought he property and built an aerial tramway from the mine to Guano Point to extract it. When they exhausted the cave’s resources, some 20 years later, they abandoned it. Soon after, a US Air Force jet crashed into the cable system and permanently disabled it. We saw the remains of the structures, left there as a reminder of man’s attempt to mine the canyon.

Was the Visit to Grand Canyon West Worth it?

If I was visiting Arizona and I had limited time to explore he state, I probably would not travel so far for these views, and the famous Skywalk. Arizona offers way too much, closer to the airport in Phoenix, for first-time visitors to explore this corner. However, living in he sate for so long, and considering that it only took us a weekend to visit the area, it was definitely worth it. I can’t believe we waited so long.

Though I don’t see a reason for us to return, I feel it was an experience worth the drive.

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