Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tribe Puts Bridge on Grand Canyon's Edge

PHOENIX (AP) -- An Indian tribe fastened a massive glass-bottomed walkway to the edge of the Grand Canyon on Wednesday as part of an ambitious tourism center that has angered environmentalists and some tribal members.

The Hualapai (pronounced WALL-uh-pie), an impoverished tribe of about 2,200 people at the canyon's remote western edge, allowed a private developer to construct the $30 million Skywalk in hopes of luring tourists to the region.

The tribe will open it to the public later this month, charging $25 per person in addition to other entry fees. Organizers expect the Skywalk to become the main draw in a community of tribal attractions that includes a cowboy town, an Indian village, helicopter tours and Hummer rides through the outback.

''The Grand Canyon has name appeal, and since part of the reservation lies in that, it only seems natural that we use the attraction to the benefit of the tribe,'' Hualapai Chairman Charlie Vaughn said.

At 1.07 million pounds, the Skywalk is about as heavy as four Boeing 757 jets stacked atop one another. It was perched at the canyon's edge using an elaborate system of pulleys connected to four tractor-trailers.

Underneath, hydraulic ''shoes'' lifted the Skywalk above a cement track, rolled it across a bed of metal rods, and set it onto four steel anchors that were drilled deep into the canyon rock. Workers then welded the walkway to the anchors.

While it was pushed out, the walkway was not anchored to the canyon wall. To keep it from tipping over the side, engineers loaded the back end with a half-million pounds of steel cubes as counterweight.

Debra Wilkerson, an assistant operations manager for Grand Canyon West, the agency that supervises the Skywalk, said Wednesday that the rollout was finished without any problems. ''Just smooth as glass,'' she said. ''It's awesome.''

The Skywalk extends about 75 feet over the rim and about 4,000 feet over the canyon floor. It's designed to withstand 100 mph winds and has shock absorbers to keep the walkway from wobbling as people walk through.

Construction began in April 2005.

David Jin, a Las Vegas developer, came up with the idea for the Skywalk a decade ago. He approached the Hualapai in 1996 with a plan to build it using his own money.

The tribe agreed on the condition that it will own the walkway. Jin will get a cut of the profits.

As it was being built this year, some Hualapai elders said they began to question the wisdom of the project. The tribe considers the canyon sacred ground, and the construction cut into land scattered with Hualapai burial sites.

''You have to be real gentle with the land,'' said Hualapai spiritual leader Frank Mapatis. ''It's a living being, and it can feel those things.''

Environmentalists also have criticized the project for diminishing the canyon's majesty.

In Arizona Desert, Indian Trackers vs. Smugglers


TOHONO O’ODHAM NATION, Ariz. — A fresh footprint in the dirt, fibers in the mesquite. Harold Thompson reads the signs like a map.

They point to drug smugglers, 10 or 11, crossing from Mexico. The deep impressions and spacing are a giveaway to the heavy loads on their backs. With no insect tracks or paw prints of nocturnal creatures marking the steps, Mr. Thompson determines the smugglers probably crossed a few hours ago.

“These guys are not far ahead; we’ll get them,” said Mr. Thompson, 50, a strapping Navajo who follows the trail like a bloodhound.

At a time when all manner of high technology is arriving to help beef up security at the Mexican border — infrared cameras, sensors, unmanned drones — there is a growing appreciation among the federal authorities for the American Indian art of tracking, honed over generations by ancestors hunting animals.

Mr. Thompson belongs to the Shadow Wolves, a federal law enforcement unit of Indian officers that has operated since the early 1970s on this vast Indian nation straddling the Mexican border.

Tracking skills are in such demand that the Departments of State and Defense have arranged for the Shadow Wolves to train border guards in other countries, including some central to the fight against terrorism. Several officers are going to train border police in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which border Afghanistan, and in several other countries.

In the renewed push to secure the border with Mexico, the curbing of narcotics trafficking often gets less public attention than the capturing of illegal immigrants.

But the 15-member Shadow Wolves unit, part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is recruiting members to reach the congressionally authorized complement of 21. And the immigration agency is considering forming a sister unit to patrol part of the Canadian border at the Blackfeet reservation in Montana, where concern about drug trafficking is growing.

“Detecting is one thing, and apprehending is something entirely different,” said Rodney Irby, a special agent in Tucson for the immigration agency who helps supervise the Shadow Wolves. “I applaud the technology; it will only make the border more secure. But there are still going to be groups of people who penetrate the most modern technology, and we need a cadre of agents and officers to apprehend them.”

The Shadow Wolves have seized nearly 30,000 pounds of illegal drugs since October, putting them on pace to meet or exceed previous annual seizure amounts. They routinely seize some 100,000 pounds of illegal drugs a year, Mr. Irby said.

They home in on drug smugglers, who use less-traveled cattle tracks, old wagon-wheel trails and barely formed footpaths to ferry their loads to roads and highways about 40 miles from the border.

The Tohono land, which is the size of Connecticut and the third-largest reservation in area in the country, has long vexed law enforcement. Scores of people die crossing here every year in the searing, dry heat of summer or the frigid cold of winter. And its 76-mile-long border with Mexico, marked in most places with a three- or four-strand barbed-wire fence that is easy to breach, is a major transshipment point for marijuana, Mexico’s largest illicit crop.

Stone Towers Are Decoded as Earliest Solar Observatory in the Americas


Early people in Peru, like others in antiquity, went to great lengths to track the rising and setting of the sun through the seasons as a guide for agriculture, an object of worship and a mystical demonstration of a ruler’s power.

Archaeologists have now discovered that a line of elaborate stone towers erected on a low ridge by Peruvians 2,300 years ago formed an artificial toothed horizon with narrow gaps at regular intervals for making alignments almost exactly spanning the annual arc of the sun.

This is the earliest known solar observatory in the Americas. The site precedes by several centuries similar monuments by the Maya in Central America and by almost two millenniums solar observatories of the Inca civilization in Peru.

In a report in the current issue of the journal Science, a Peruvian archaeologist and a British archaeoastronomer wrote that the 13 towers, varying in height from 6 to 20 feet and extending 1,000 feet, are clearly visible from an imposing complex of concentric circles of relatively well-preserved walls enclosing ceremonial buildings. They said the position of the towers in relation to observation points inside the walled complex was firm evidence that this was a place for solar study in calendar-making and ritual ceremonies and feasts of sun cults.

The observatory, known as the Thirteen Towers of Chankillo, is in the Casma-Sechin River Basin of the coastal Peruvian desert, 240 miles north of Lima. Since the 19th century, archaeologists have speculated on the function of the walls and towers, whether the complex was a temple, the setting for ceremonial battles or a fort, the most common explanation.

Ivan Ghezzi, a doctoral student at Yale University who is studying ancient Peruvian warfare, visited Chankillo to investigate its battlements. Part of the complex did appear to be fortifications.

“In the first hours of measurements,” Mr. Ghezzi said in a telephone interview from Lima, “we realized the nature and importance of the towers.”

Clive Ruggles, an archaeoastronomer at the University of Leicester in England, joined Mr. Ghezzi, who is also director of the National Institute of Culture, in Peru, in the investigation. They concluded that Chankillo provided “evidence of early solar horizon observations and of the existence of sophisticated sun cults,” beginning in the fourth century B. C.

Clark Erickson, an Andean archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the research, said he was convinced by the new findings. They are important, he said, because they reveal “what was going on in the heads of these people.”

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Inuits Blame U.S. for Climate Change

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States has come under heavy criticism, including from people who live almost on top of the world.

The Inuits of Northern Canada and beyond are taking their case against the United States on Thursday to an international human rights commission. They have scant chance of a breakthrough but still hope to score moral and political points against the U.S. and its carbon spewers.

''The point here is that our way of life is at stake,'' says Sheila Watt-Cloutier, who was nominated with former Vice President Al Gore for a Nobel Peace Prize for their work on climate change.

She was preparing to make the Inuit case at a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the 34-member Organization of American States.

The Inuit population hails from Canada, Russia and Greenland, as well as Alaska, where they are known as Eskimos. They have been trying to tell the world for more than a decade about the shifting winds and thinning ice that have damaged the hunting grounds the Northern peoples have used for thousands of years.

Watt-Cloutier spoke earlier this week in Iqaluit, the capital of Canada's Arctic Nunavut Territory about 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle, before leaving for Washington.

Simon Nattaq, a hunter, blames climate change for the loss of his feet in February 2001. He says his snow mobile and all his gear plunged through unusually thin ice, leaving him stranded for two days. He now walks -- and still hunts -- with prosthetic feet and believes God kept him alive to warn the world about global warming.

Many researchers believe the world likely is growing warmer because of the heat-trapping, or ''greenhouse,'' properties of carbon dioxide and other human-generated gases that are being emitted into the atmosphere.

Scientists generally agree the Arctic is the first place on Earth to be impacted by rising global temperatures. They say that unless developed nations such as the United States -- responsible for one-fourth of world's greenhouse gases -- do not dramatically reduce their emissions within the next 15 years, the Arctic ice likely will melt by the end of the century.