By Marc Lacey
Canyon-side commercialism now abounds on Hualapai land. Helicopter tours begin at $129. At the fully stocked gift shop, arrows cost $20 and full-length Indian headdresses $2,000. A 90-minute horseback ride along the canyon rim costs $75. Revenues are in the millions of dollars, although exactly how much money is in dispute.
In exchange for the $30 million that Mr. Jin, who is Chinese-born and based in Las Vegas, spent to build the Skywalk, he was to get a portion of the Skywalk profits over 25 years and a cut-rate price for the many tourists he brings to the site from all over Asia. He accuses the Hualapai of shortchanging him and has gone to court—both the tribal court in the tribal capital of Peach Springs, Ariz., and United States District Court in Phoenix—to press the matter.
The Hualapai accuse him of not fulfilling his end of the bargain by leaving ancillary parts of the project unfinished.
The sparring, fueled by public relations consultants and prominent lawyers enlisted by each side, has largely been out of view of canyon visitors. They throw their hands in the air and pretend to be falling from the Skywalk as official photographers snap official shots. They tour a faux Indian village and watch performances by Hualapai elders, including Robert Tree Cody, an adopted son of Iron Eyes Cody, the non-Indian who portrayed one as an actor and shed a tear to lament the destruction of the natural world in an iconic 1970s TV commercial.
There was sadness among some Hualapai traditionalists when construction began at the edge of the canyon, which has long carried spiritual significance to those who live there. But that debate is now past, and plans are on the drawing board for even more bricks and mortar, including a major resort and a clubhouse for a planned canyon-side golf course.