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Hualapai Pin Hopes to Grand Canyon Skywalk

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

A dilemma for one of our correspondents this week. Sometimes news events are so orchestrated that it's tough for a reporter to find something authentic to bring the story to life. That was the challenge for NPR's Ted Robbins when he covered the opening of the Grand Canyon Skywalk. Here's his Reporter's Notebook.

TED ROBBINS: The Hualapai Indian Reservation in northern Arizona is not easy to visit, or to live on - dirt roads, scarce water, remote location. But for the opening of its new skywalk the tribe bussed or flew in hundreds of guests, mostly media and tour operators it hoped would promote the attraction. After decades of high unemployment and poverty, the tribe is understandably excited, maybe a bit prone to hyperbole. Here's the project's chief financial officer, Steve Beattie.

Mr. STEVE BEATTIE (CFO, Grand Canyon Skywalk): The Grand Canyon Skywalk is the one thing you must experience. Until now, man has only dreamed of walking on air.

ROBBINS: The Hualapai paid former astronaut Buzz Aldrin to make the first official skywalk. Aldrin was the second person to walk on the moon, and here's what the invitation said to those of us witnessing this latest walk.

July 20th, 1969 man walks on the moon. March 20th, 2007, can man walk over the Grand Canyon? After the walk, Aldrin proclaimed.

Mr. BUZZ ALDRIN (Former Astronaut): This magnificent first walk bridges centuries of vision towards the future of hope.

ROBBINS: Okay, by now I was more than ready to talk with someone who wasn't scripted. Some have criticized the skywalk as a desecration of tribal land and an artificial intrusion on the canyon's fragile beauty. None of those folks were visible at the invitation-only event, of course. But I spotted a woman, a tribal member in traditional dress. Sylvia Querta was in a great mood - open, friendly, hopeful the skywalk would indeed bring visitors and create jobs for the tribe. Then tears came to her eyes.

Ms. SYLVIA QUERTA (Hualapai Tribe Member): I grew up here so when we didn't have books, TV, radios, it was (unintelligible) that we used to look at, you know, for - to read and to interpret. and so today I was looking up in the sky, you know, and I saw the eagle. I saw a man on a horse waving. A good day.

ROBBINS: Now I was ready to experience the glass-bottomed observation deck myself. I had to put on paper booties so as not to mar the glass floor, the kind of booties worn in an operating room. I stepped forward. The ground dropped away beneath the U-shaped platform. I walked to the end, recording sound of other reporters. There wasn't much else to get sound of. Then I stopped to look down through the glass. How did it feel? Thrilling? Disconcerting? Terrifying? I needed a moment to gather my thoughts.

Unidentified Man #1: Let's go. Come on. Don't just walk and stop. Let's go.

ROBBINS: Oh well. I kept walking off the platform and away from the crowd. I looked up at the clouds and tried to see the eagle and the man on the horse waving.

Unidentified Man #2: Let's go.

ELLIOTT: Ted Robbins covers the southwest for NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As supervising editor for Arts and Culture at NPR based at NPR West in Culver City, Ted Robbins plans coverage across NPR shows and online, focusing on TV at a time when there's never been so much content. He thinks "arts and culture" encompasses a lot of human creativity — from traditional museum offerings to popular culture, and out-of-the-way people and events.
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