Some people like it. Some don’t. Some see it as progress. Some see it as the further degradation of a once-secluded, beautiful location. But most visitors are indifferent to its presence.
Like it or not, after seven months of construction, a National Park Service construction crew has completed the Rim Viewing Area at Horseshoe Bend. Construction on the project began last December and officially opened on July 2.
The new viewing platform takes up only a small area along the rim. It’s about 2,400 square feet, about the size of a three-car driveway. It can accommodate 50 to 75 people at a time. The platform extends all the way to the edge of the rim and includes a three-foot high rail along its rim side. The platform is constructed of three- to five-inch thick slabs of stone. The viewing platform is level and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Part of the construction will also include an ADA-compliant trail that will run from the parking lot to the rim viewing platform. Unlike the current trail, which climbs over the hill, the new trail will go around the hill.
“We kept it intentionally small, with a very low impact,” said Maschelle Zia, assistant chief facility manager for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. “From a public survey we learned that most people didn’t want a big impact or so-called improvements and development. Hearing that we kept it as small as possible. The rest we kept wide open for people to explore.”
The Chronicle asked some Horseshoe Bend visitors if they were bothered by the rail and the viewing platform. They said they didn’t mind it, and in fact hardly noticed it.
“We’ve never been here before, so we didn’t know it didn’t used to be here,” said Kasper Bjornskov-Bartholay, a tourist from Denmark. “This view is so breath-taking that something as small as this rail is hardly noticeable.”
His friend and traveling companion, Silas Lilleore, agreed.
“I kind of like it,” he said. “It allows me to get right to the edge and feel safe and get the best possible view.”
The viewing platform was built by an NPS construction crew.
“We build some of the best trails in the entire world and we really wanted this project to meet those high NPS standards,” said Joel Jimenez, roads, trails and waterways supervisor for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Jimenez has worked on trails and construction projects in parks around the west and he said the Horsheshoe Bend project was one of the top five most difficult projects he’s worked on.
“The first big challenge was just getting a concrete truck and 3,000 pounds of slab to the site, while keeping the trail open,” he said.
The NPS trail crew also completed some work on the trail as well, but suspended work when summer temperatures became too hot. Jimenez said he expects the NPS trail crew will return in September to finish the trail. The trail will be built with Kaibab limestone from a BLM quarry in Fredonia, Ariz., which is crushed down to chip size and mixed with magnesium chloride.
The Kaibab limestone is a desert-rose color which blends well with the surrounding landscape, but stands up to weather and heavy foot traffic better than sand or sandstone, said Jimenez.
When the trail is finished it will be three-quarters of a mile long and contain two shade structures along the way, each of which can easily fit 15 people beneath them, said Zia. Last year 1.4 million people visited Horseshoe Bend.