Travel

A Grand Canyon Strip Mall?!

Henry David Thoreau didn't go to the Las Vegas Strip for inspiration to write Walden. OK, so Vegas wasn't even a thing back then, but you get the point. But in the same vein, you wouldn't go to the Grand Canyon for French fries and neon lights. But a few entrepreneurs think otherwise, unveiling plans to spice up America's greatest natural wonder by way of a mega-tourism complex at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Plans for the project, known as the Grand Canyon Escalade, outline filling the eastern rim of the Grand Canyon with gift shops, fast food chains, restaurants, hotels and motels, a Discovery Center, amphitheater, parking, and an eight-person gondola to transport the non-outdoorsy types from the canyon floor. There are also plans for an elevated, 1,900ft long Confluence River Walk.
 
The project would be built on 420 acres by the Confluence, which is where the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers meet.

Backers claim that it will give tourists a whole new appreciation for the area’s beauty, as well as unprecedented access to the canyon for less courageous visitors – somewhat ignoring the fact that there are currently many ways to get to the bottom; from mules and rafts to hiking and helicopters.

They also say that most of the 5 million annual tourists who visit the Grand Canyon partake in “drive-by” tourism, spending less than an hour on the rim before heading home with a camera full of fresh selfies. Their hope is that by making access to the bottom easier – as well adding more bells and whistles -- they’ll retain tourists and those tourists' dollars: they're predicting the 1.4-mile tramway would take 4,000 visitors to the bottom every day.
 
According to NPR, proponents also claim the project will create 3,200 jobs for the Navajo, who control the land described in the proposal, giving the tribe an obvious economic boost.

Of course, many are railing against the ambitious plans, saying that they’re sacrilegious, both for planning to build on allegedly sacred land, and for ruining a natural landmark. There are also concerns over tourism traffic damaging the park and its ecosystem.
 
Whether the project happens or not will be decided by the Navajo tribal government. Backers hope to make the project a reality by 2018. 

Sophie-Claire Hoeller is Thrillist's über-efficient German associate travel editor, and has had frequent flyer status since she was born in a Lufthansa terminal. Follow her @Sohostyle.