Where Far East Meets Grand Canyon West

When people plan a visit to the Grand Canyon, they usually make a choice between the North Rim or the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. But this wonder of the world can also be seen without the National Park Service playing host.

If you go to Grand Canyon West.

Grand Canyon West is hosted by the Hualapai Indian tribe. Hualapai (pronounced Whollop-Eye) means People of the Tall Pines. For centuries the Hualapai’s have lived and and died in these majestic lands skirting the southwestern rim of the Grand Canyon. And here they’ve been confined to the Hualapai reservation since the 1800’s.

Great Seal of the Hualapai Tribe.
Great Seal of the Hualapai Tribe.

Not only has the Grand Canyon separated them from the rest of our country, but so has a deep chasm of poverty. At least until the 1980’s. That’s when they came up with a grand plan to raise a few bucks. They designed and built a tourist trap facility, called Grand Canyon West. And now, over the past 30 years, these clever and enterprising Native Americans have been growing in prosperity, while attracting unsuspecting tourists from all over the world.

Hualapai Indian dancer.
Hualapai Indian dancer.

My wife and I were two such unsuspecting tourists, just a few days ago. Well actually, we did suspect a few things. We read the Yelp reviews. These mixed reviews led us to approach with caution. We only paid the basic entrance fee of $40.00 per person, and decided against paying the extra $20.00 to walk on their famous Skywalk, or the extra $10.00 to eat their famous beef mush, or the extra $187.00 to take their famous five-minute helicopter ride combo 20-minute pontoon boat splash.

We’re oh so grateful for those reviews and our caution. Overall, we enjoyed ourselves, but I must say our experience was just like the Yelp reviews. It was mixed.

The barely visible rim hinting of the Grand Canyon below, from Hualapai Ranch.
The barely visible rim hinting of the Grand Canyon below, from Hualapai Ranch.

We drove two hours from our beachhead at the gambling town of Laughlin, Nevada. The drive was a bit confounding. I could not get my GPS to find their address, so I had to guess on the waypoint. Signage along the way helped out, until we got deep into the heart of the Arizona wilderness. That’s when, for some strange reason, the Hualapai’s decided to stop putting up those friendly helpful signs guiding us to their place of business.

We sweated it out for quite a stretch, wondering if we should have turned down that other road 30 or so miles back. But then we saw some tourist buses heading in our same direction and that gave us the reassurance we needed.

A waiting taxi, at Hualapai Ranch.
A waiting taxi, at Hualapai Ranch.

Parking was plentiful and easy. However, this was a Tuesday. And with such available parking, my wife and I began congratulating ourselves on how clever we were for planning this trip during the middle of the week, where we could beat the crowds. But what we failed to remember was those tourist buses.

Those buses were loaded with Japanese tourists, who had been brought in for a day trip from Las Vegas, where they had been vacationing. And there were hundreds and hundreds of these selfie-stick-toting Asians.

Many headed straight for the heliport, forming a long queue. And there were dozens of helicopters swirling in and out, their twirling blades chopping the air with a cacophany of “whollop-eye-whollop-eye-whollop-eye”.

The grounds were hurly-burly with scrambling tourist guides barking out loud commands in Japanese to their Asian minions, over the obstreperous machinery of the whirlybirds.

Can you spot the helicopter?
Can you spot the helicopter?

But not all the Japanese wanted to ride in helicopters. Several hundreds of them were wise enough to opt for the same basic ticket package that my wife and I went for. This package included unlimited riding on the shuttle buses that take you from point to point to all the attractions at Grand Canyon West.

There are three attractions.

We crowded onto a bus that may as well have been in downtown Tokyo. And what I’ve heard about so-called Japanese rudeness was confirmed on this and other buses. I don’t think they mean to be rude. But Japan is a crowded island. The Japanese have apparently developed the survival habit of fighting amongst each other to board their public transportation, such as trains, subways, and buses. It was every man, woman, and child for themselves.

Hualapai Ranch. Does this look like a ranch to you?
Hualapai Ranch. Does this look like a ranch to you?

Our first stop was Hualapai Ranch. As my wife and I, and all the Far Eastern visitors aboard our bus attempted to debouch, Japanese tourists outside attempted to board, without waiting for us to get off. This impoliteness made for a calamitous and comical exercise of people squeezing past each other from opposite directions, sometimes throwing each other back, and sometimes surging forward, like receding and advancing waves of soldiers involved in hand-to-hand combat.

After claiming victory in this battle by successfully debussing, my wife and I set off to explore our conquered territory. But we were disappointed. Hualapai Ranch was really nothing but a fake ghost town with a souvenir shop, horseback riding stable, and other businesses whose prime aim was to loosen up our wallets. We didn’t stay long.

"Lissen you low-down yellow-bellied skunk. I'll meet you in the middle of this here street at HIGH noon, an' we'll settle our beef once an' fer all!" Wasn't that a line in a movie?
“Lissen you low-down yellow-bellied skunk. I’ll meet you in the middle of this here street at HIGH noon, an’ we’ll settle our beef once an’ fer all!” I found Hualapai Ranch kind of inspiring. It made me want to write a Western.

We raced for the bus stop and managed to be first in line. Well, it kind of resembled a line. Though we planted our feet exactly where we expected the bus door to open when the next shuttle would arrive, crafty Japanese began to encroach on both sides. When the approaching shuttle bus was descried, our Asian competitors hurried forward, threatening to overwhelm our position.

But then a loud war cry erupted from a stentorian Hualapai standing nearby. He gruffly ordered the tourists to fall back and form a line behind us. He was very authoritarian and even wore a uniform. This was the magic touch that was needed. Apparently the Japanese greatly respect authority, because everyone in the crowd obeyed instantly. And the bus was boarded in a polite and orderly manner.

View from Eagle Point.
View from Eagle Point.

Off we rolled to Eagle Point. Eagle Point is the locale of the famous Skywalk. The Skywalk is a loop of plexiglass-floored walkway that extends from a cliffside building out over the Grand Canyon. For 20 bucks, tourists can tread upon it, and pretend they are walking on air. However cameras are not allowed. You must leave your camera and all other personal items behind, in a locker, before you are allowed on the Skywalk.

According to the Yelp reviews, you will be stalked by professional photographers with every step you take upon the Skywalk. They will snap many pictures of you, and for a mere $50 to a $100, you can buy these photos. This apparently is why you aren’t allowed to take your own camera with you on the Skywalk.

They want your money.

The Skywalk at Eagle Point. Notice the tourists up there running from photographers?
The Skywalk at Eagle Point. If you look carefully, you may notice tourists up there running from photographers.

But we didn’t pay for such nonsense. And the view of the Grand Canyon at Eagle Point is spectacular, whether or not you walk the Skywalk.

The third and final stop of the shuttle bus was at Guano Point. We were herded like cattle onto this bus, and it was standing room only for hapless stragglers. My wife found the last seat, but I had to hang onto a bar, while being crushed between two grim-faced Asian men who clung to the same bar.

The Colorado River from Guano Point.
The Colorado River from Guano Point.

Guano Point is the site of an old guano mine. You can hike about a half mile out to the mine, over a promontory that juts into the Grand Canyon. There are many vantage points along this route for snapping breathtaking photos of the Colorado River.

Looking upriver from Guano Point.
Looking upriver from Guano Point.

After Guano Point we were anxious to get the hell out of this tourist trap. We had spent about two-and-a-half hours at Grand Canyon West, and that was enough for us. Besides, we’d seen all there was to see.

Remains of the guano mine at Guano Point. An Air Force jet put this mine out of commission in 1960, when its tail clipped a cable that spanned the width of the Canyon.
Remains of the guano mine at Guano Point. An Air Force jet put this mine out of commission in 1960, when its tail clipped a cable that spanned the width of the Canyon.

All-in-all, I’d say it was worth doing this as a one-time experience. But my wife and I agree that we will never go back again. It’s too crowded and too touristy for us. And there are only two viewpoints.

But I must admit they are great views. And it’s the only place where you get to see the tail-end of the Grand Canyon, just a few miles before the Colorado River empties into Lake Mead.

Northern rim of the Grand Canyon, from Guano Point.
Northern rim of the Grand Canyon, from Guano Point.

If you decide to visit this tourist trap, don’t expect to have a one-with-nature kind of experience. There are just too many people and there’s too much noise from all the helicopters whirring about. But bring your camera. I guarantee you’ll have a great time snapping lots of stunning photos.

Except, of course, on the Skywalk.

The view seems like it's just  about as good off the Skywalk, as on. And the photography is free.
The view seems like it’s just about as good off the Skywalk, as on. And the photography is free.
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19 thoughts on “Where Far East Meets Grand Canyon West

  1. I expect our thoughts would mirror your own . . . if we made it out to Grand Canyon West.

    We noticed that “pushiness” in Japanese tourists when at Rocky Mountain National Park a few years back . . . before the advent of selfie-sticks..

    Glad you and your wife enjoyed your “once in this lifetime” experience!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I think by their culture they aren’t rude by being pushy. We probably have habits they would consider rude in their country that we consider normal. We probably would have enjoyed this clash of cultures more if there hadn’t been so darn many of them.

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  2. I enjoyed this post, Tippy. For years, my husband has been saying he wants to visit the Grand Canyon someday. If we ever get there, I’ll keep your experience in mind. For what it’s worth, our local amusement park is based on a Western theme and has the same kind of western street build into it. They even stage shoot-outs several times a day wherein the bad guys get shot off the roofs of the building. And it only costs about $30 to get in for the day – which includes all the amusement rides, even the water rides. And, it’s only about 10 minutes from our big tourist trap – Niagara Falls. I think we have the better deal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you do visit the Grand Canyon, I recommend the National Park. It’s crowded also, but not as bad as Grand Canyon West. And it’s more beautiful, and has many more viewpoints to enjoy. And far less helicopters, thank God.

      I think your old west town, even though it’s back east, is probably a lot more fun than Hualapai Ranch. I also like that it’s close to Niagara Falls. My wife and I plan to visit those falls one of these days, even if it is a tourist trap.

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      1. If you ever do get to Niagara Falls, be sure to let me know you’re coming so I could meet you both. The American side is less of a tourist trap, although it’s more industrial and not as pretty – but you can always drive or walk across the bridge to Canada. Viewing the Falls is free – it only gets expensive if you decide to do the touristy stuff like the Cave of the Winds gorge walkway (I highly recommend), the Maid of the Mist boat (people love it, but it’s not for me), or the helicopter (definitely not for me!). If you’re hikers and the weather is nice, you can do the Devil’s Hole path (very steep, but very pretty). Of it that’s too much, there are easier pathways, like Three Sisters, that take you to the brink of the American Falls – there’s a scenic tower that costs something like 50 cents for the elevator (or at least that’s what it was several years back when I was last there). If you’re not hikers or just not up to it that day, there’s also a very nice, reasonably priced trolley that goes around the entire park on the American side, and you can get on and off whenever you want.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Wow. Alright. Sounds like plenty of opportunities to spend our money. Maybe I’ll just pay someone to send me over the falls in a barrel.

          It will probably be a few years before we do that trip. We’ve considered the month of October, as we can do some “leafing” also.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon and would love to. But I’ll probably go to the regular National Park setting. We do good national parks!

    I was hoping at the beginning of your story for a wonderful natural experience for you and your wife. Alas.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I did know that but I never made that connection. That makes my comment even funnier and maybe the best comment ever. Also that’s why you run Gibber Jabberin. You have the answers and make the connections!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s been almost 20 years since I’ve been to the Grand Canyon. My memories of it are of a quiet, peaceful place where I could (and did) just sit and stare off into the canyon. I never got tired of doing that. I’ve always thought that this was a place I’d like to go back to again someday – It really left a huge impression on us.
    Maybe we were just lucky visiting in April. I hope it’s not always bedlam now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The National Park is not like Grand Canyon West. At the National Park you can still get away from the crowds and find a little peace and serenity. Also, visiting the Park in April, or during any non-summer month, is a great way to beat the crowds.

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