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By Tim Gaynor
Grand Canyon West, Arizona - Just a step away from walking out over the edge of the Grand Canyon on to a glass pathway, my legs started to feel weak, my pulse quickened and I took a deep breath.
Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin had shown the way, waving blithely to the cheering crowds and striding out like a president on to the newly constructed glass-floored walkway that hangs 1 200m over the gorge.
Minutes later, as I stood in line with reporters from around the world to follow in Aldrin's footsteps, we were grateful for every small delay as we shuffled along the red carpet leading to a platform that loomed like a scaffold.
Up to 500 000 visitors are expected at the Skywalk this year, with many paying $25 (about R180) each to peer into the mile-deep chasm through the transparent pathway.
As for me, I wondered which would win out: the novelty of standing over the Grand Canyon with just a piece of glass under my feet, or the sense of fear that was beginning to grip me.
Tugging on buff-colored overshoes, I stepped up on to the edge of the glass over the yawning brink and started walking.
In two short steps I was beyond the red, sandstone buttress of the canyon wall and out over the abyss, gliding forward like a departed soul.
Ravens were circling beneath my feet and then the khaki ribbon of the Colorado River began meandering between my legs, far below. My reflection in the glass floor was framed by high white clouds.
Before my sense of wonder could curdle into fear, a voice barked out from behind: "Keep the line moving! Keep it going! Move along please!"
We were ushered in a group out around the horseshoe curve, across the broad chasm of the canyon, and shuffled back on to the steel scaffold on the far side.
I turned to look at my fellow skywalkers. They were smiling broadly (and with an obvious sense of relief) that said they had conquered fear, all in just three minutes.
The structure was built at a cost of $30-million to $40-million by Las Vegas businessman David Jin on ancestral lands of the Hualapai Indian tribe.
Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, marked the official inauguration of the attraction on Tuesday before a crowd of tourists, dignitaries, tribal members and media.
I returned later in the afternoon after the rush of the first 1 000 visitors had passed and chatted with the maintenance crew about their first day on the job.
Team manager Craig Herriman stood confidently with his feet set wide apart on the glass walkway, clearly pleased with how it had withstood its first test.
The disposable slippers had prevented visitors' heels from scuffing the top layer of glass, or worse, snagging in the narrow expansion joints between the toughened panes.
"Wearing the little booties is the most ideal way for the guest to walk," he said.
A golden light now bathed the emptying walkway, and on the far side of the crystal arc, two cleaners with long-handled dusters buffed up the glass walls and floor.
Tony Martinez, a naturalized United States citizen from Mexico, is proud of his new job and feels at ease with the height.
"The boss told me I would get used to it, and I have... Now I can enjoy the view," he told me in Spanish, as he stood framed by the deep golds and reds of the canyon's north rim.
A thought occurred to me as I looked down one last time at the gleaming crystal floor. How were they going to keep it clean on the underside?
"Underneath? We haven't figured that out yet," said Martinez's colleague.