Navajo president takes firm stance against Grand Canyon tram

May 14, 2015, 12:37 AM | Updated: 8:24 am
This undated image provided by Confluence Partners LLC., shows a proposed aerial tram and boardwalk...
This undated image provided by Confluence Partners LLC., shows a proposed aerial tram and boardwalk at the east rim of the Grand Canyon on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation's newly inaugurated president surprised many when he signed an agreement that included plans to build a tram that takes visitors to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. (Confluence Partners LLC. via AP)
(Confluence Partners LLC. via AP)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Newly inaugurated Navajo President Russell Begaye stood before hundreds of people at his inauguration ceremony and signed a document stating he would pursue development of an aerial tram at the Grand Canyon.

A day later, on Wednesday, Begaye issued a statement saying he’s opposed to the project and always has been. His spokesman Eric Descheenie said Begaye was blindsided by the agreement and didn’t actually read what he signed.

Begaye’s predecessor, Ben Shelly, presented the agreement to Begaye on stage and said the signatures by the two leaders would showcase a continuity of leadership and commitment to the prosperity of the Navajo people.

Here’s a look at questions surrounding the project and the political landscape.


The Grand Canyon Escalade is a proposed aerial tram at the east rim of the canyon outside the boundaries of the national park. Tourists would be shuttled from the cliff tops of the Navajo Nation to the edge of the Colorado River below before it meets the Little Colorado River.

The area known as the confluence is roughly a 100-mile drive from Flagstaff and has no paved roads, running water or electricity. Plans call for infrastructure development, a riverside boardwalk, hotels, cultural center and places for Navajo artisans to sell their goods.


Visitors to Grand Canyon National Park can hike or ride a mule to the bottom, and rafters can reach it by way of the Colorado River. Tourists can pay for helicopter rides into the canyon on the Hualapai and Havasupai reservations. A road that leads to the Colorado River on the Hualapai reservation also offers rafters a chance to get on or off the river for a fee.


That is up for debate. Some Navajos say the development would mar the landscape of sagebrush, rolling hills, arroyos and canyons that tribal members consider sacred ground. Shelly and the developers say it would bring much-needed revenue and employment to the reservation where half the workforce is jobless. Proposals call for the tribe to put up an initial $65 million investment for infrastructure, with developers chipping in $165 million to start off. Full build-out would approach $1 billion. Estimates from developers have put visitation at 2.5 million people per year, with annual revenue ranging from $20 million to $65 million a year depending on actual visitation.


The Navajo Nation Council, the tribe’s legislative body, would have to approve the project. Legislation has not been introduced in the council, said spokesman Jared Touchin. Environmentalists, the National Park Service and the Hopi Tribe have opposed the project. Hopis consider the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers among the birthplaces of their ancestors, whose spirits dwell in the area. The project also could raise a jurisdictional challenge from the Park Service depending on how close it gets to the Colorado River.


The Hualapai Tribe operates the Grand Canyon Skywalk west of Grand Canyon National Park. Visitors can step out onto a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge 4,000 feet above the Colorado River and look into the depths of the canyon. An Italian real-estate group is planning a massive development just outside the Grand Canyon’s South Rim entrance in the town of Tusayan. No water source has been identified for the proposed dude ranch, high-end boutiques, five-star hotels, hundreds of homes and high-density shopping area.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

(Screenshot/ADOT Webcam)...

Crash shuts down eastbound US 60 near Loop 202 in Mesa

An accident shut down eastbound U.S. 60 in Mesa early Wednesday, transportation officials said.
6 hours ago
Janet Murguia, president and CEO of UnidosUS, spoke about her group's "Count on Us" campaign at an ...
Griselda Zetino

Campaign launches to paint ‘accurate narrative about Latinos’ in Arizona

A national campaign aimed at highlighting the contributions Latinos make in Arizona and other parts of the U.S. recently launched in Phoenix.
6 hours ago
(KTAR News Photo/Taylor Tasler)...
Taylor Tasler

Police foundation hopes to raise money to remodel Phoenix Victim’s Center

The city of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Foundation are making sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors a priority with new funding for its victim services center.  
6 hours ago
Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone a podium...
SuElen Rivera

Maricopa County Sheriff Penzone says few responses from officials for election safety meeting

Paul Penzone said the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has received few responses following an announcement it will host a safety summit for elected officials and those seeking office on Thursday.
6 hours ago
(Mar-A-Lago and Kari Lake: AP Photos; Shipping container border wall: Twitter Photo/@DougDucey)...
Kevin Stone

Q&A with Arizona governor hopeful Kari Lake on Trump search warrant, border barrier, more

Here’s what Kari Lake, the Republican nominee for governor in Arizona, had to say about the FBI search at Mar-A-Lago, border barriers and more.
6 hours ago
(Twitter Photo/Pork on a Fork)...

Pork on a Fork opens Chandler location after more than year of delays

The wait is over in Chandler for the debut of barbecue restaurant Pork on a Fork after more than a year of delays.
6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
Navajo president takes firm stance against Grand Canyon tram