My squaw Eunice and I are now officially Skywalkers, and it has nothing to do with Star Wars. The actual day of our Skywalking was June 22, one day short of my 52nd birthday. As it turned out, there were throngs of new Skywalkers, accompanied by some more experienced ones, largely of the host tribe, the Hualapai of northern Arizona. A great many of the visitors were members of the Han Tribe of China, including my wife. In fact, the whole concept of Skywalking as currently practiced is said to have been the result of a sacred financial vision of a Han Tribesmember. Apparently Skywalking in Hualapai territory is a sort of rite of passage among the Han Tribe. Add to that, they are the most numerous tribe in the world. Myself, I am merely a transplanted member of the Anglo-Saxon Tribe who happened to get caught up in my squaw's Skywalking ritual. In addition to the Han people, I saw members of a great many tribes from around the world engaging in their Skywalking lessons.
It turns out that Skywalking is not as difficult as it might at first seem; all that is required is to pay the requisite fees, about $75 in total. After paying, Skywalkers are herded onto a bus, and taken to the Skywalking area. After the Skywalking experience, they are herded into the feeding trough area. My squaw Eunice and I declined to feed there, prefering to stay hungry. Judging by the average size of the host tribe Hualapai members, many of whom make even me look slim, there is no shortage of food in their territory. I am even surprised that many of them can Skywalk. To be fair, the size of Hualapai and other Arizona tribe members appears to be genetically mediated, the result of millenia of living with unpredictable food sources. Another thing the Hualapai are not lacking in these days is money. Despite this, getting to the bus departure point involves driving along nine miles of rough dirt road.
As far as the Skywalking experience itself is concerned, it is a bit scary, although apparently it is quite safe. Not one Skywalker yet in the few years the Hualapai have been offering Skywalking lessons has crashed or been injured during the experience. Most people concentrate on looking toward the Grand Canyon in front of them and the muddy Colorado River -- the means by which the entire canyon was generated -- rather than staring down at the chasm directly below them, understandably. Those who wish to have their Skywalking experience captured in perpetuity can have an image engraved on a magic sheet of plant fiber by one of the capable, experienced Skywalkers who inhabit the area. Later during our trip, Eunice and I had were caught in two separate, awesome thunderstorms, of the sort which dig into the past, while nourishing the present. Both times, we wound up sitting in the car, laughing -- the first time, with mud up to our knees, all over the underside of our car, and all over our fishing equipment, and the second time, during our last day away from home, at a lake seemingly at the top of the world called Sunrise Lake, on the Apache Reservation, as torrential rains descended on us from the heavens and put an early end to our fishing efforts.
The sight one sees while Skywalking is awesome, in a very literal sense, but not much different than what one sees by standing at the railing at Grand Canyon National Park. My squaw Eunice concluded that one Skywalk was enough for her, and not really worth the expense except to tell her fellow Han Tribe members that she had done it. Anyway, it was a bit scary. Eunice Skywalked rather tentatively and avoided looking down, and I found the whole visual concept of appearing that I was about to fall into a deep chasm rather unnerving, as well.
Looking down into the gorge 4,000 feet below me, however, I had a transcendent thought and thus the inspiration for this post. The rocks that the Colorado River has made its way down to are said to be about 2 billion years old. Above that, lies 2 billion years worth of sediment from ancient seas and/or lakes through which the river has burrowed, giving the Colorado River its mud and its name. Two billion years of layered, hard packed mud and clay, in various shades of red and occasionally other colors -- the stuff that pervades most of Utah and Colorado, and parts of Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and New Mexico, and maybe a few other states -- all of which has been lifted skyward, stands as a monument to the evolutionary power of time! It took 2 billion years to make this possible -- 2 billion years of sedimentation and erosion, and 2 billion years of biological evolution on this planet -- so that we members of all tribes can stand together as one, walking far above the sediments of the past, as brothers and sisters, braves and squaws. We truly are Skywalkers, all of us.
If any of this description seems mysterious, that is intentional, but let me clarify it here. My wife Eunice wanted me to take her to the platform over the Grand Canyon, named the Skywalk, originally envisioned by a Chinese visitor and built on the Hualapai Reservation along the northwest side of the Grand Canyon, in northern Arizona. The platform is anchored into the side of the canyon with special high-strength, lightweight materials, and the platform itself is made of a special, superstrong clear plastic in several layers. It is U-shaped and the outer and inner parts of the "U" are covered with a green (I think) material which one cannot see through, presumably to give comfort to visitors, while the middle of the "U" is see-through so that one can look straight down. Visitors are not allowed to bring cameras or even purses onto the Skywalk. If one wants a photo, there are several photographers who take pictures of visitors. If one chooses to buy one (which we did), it costs $30 per photo. The shame of the whole endeavor is that it is very commercialized -- in stark contrast with the awesome geological and evolutionary experience of the place -- and basically a means of making the Hualapai and some other people involved in the project, rich. People from around the world go there and spend a walletful of money just to say that they walked over the Grand Canyon. (To be perfectly accurate, the actual Skywalk is over a tributary canyon.) On top of the actual fees, there are the concessions as well. My wife bought a small Native American drum for another $75 and a plaque for $15 at the store, for example. Of course, the National Park Service would never have allowed such a spectacle to be built on within its borders, at least not in modern times.
I dream of the day when we all Skywalk together without financial profit playing any role in the process. After all, the reason we can Skywalk as a species, is that we have all been lifted to the sky by forces greater than us, forces which bind us together.