CHICAGO: The canyon is grand, but itís not in Arizona. Itís deep but you arenít along the Snake River.
But you will definitely feel that you are at the bottom of a canyon when you walk on Chicagoís now-completed Riverwalk. Stunning skyscrapers form the walls on the pedestrian-friendly, very urban waterfront.
The nine-block-long walkway sits next to the green waters of the Chicago River. Surrounding streets and sidewalks are one story up, with steps to access the Riverwalk.
You walk under the imposing bridges that carry traffic across the river. There are 18 moveable bridges in a two-mile stretch.
So you are at the very bottom of the canyon, looking up and up and up. It is a great walk ó only about 1.25 miles in length ó that really captures the flavor of Chicago.
It connects the Lake Michigan shoreline with the heart of downtown, the Loop, and makes the river accessible to residents and visitors. In fact, the Riverwalk is already very popular and is being touted as Chicagoís second lakefront.
The Riverwalk is flanked by restaurants, wine bars, fountains, benches, gardens, museums, monuments, boats and kayak rentals, ecology programs and even a few Adirondack chairs where you sit by the river and watch the parade of activity. Itís stunning at night with city lights twinkling.
Attractions include the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum at 99 E. Riverwalk (www.bridgemuseum.org).
Sights include the Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building, the Trump International Tower and the very distinctive Marina Towers condos on the north shore. There is a historical marker near LaSalle Street, where 844 people died in 1915 when the USS Eastland capsized.
The walkway is open to bicyclists but it gets a heavy crush of walkers, especially on sunny weekends. The river itself is used by water taxis, tour boats and kayaks.
The east-west walkway stretches along the riverís south bank from Lake Shore Drive within sight of Lake Michigan west to Lake Street.
The pricey project was built in three phases, beginning in 2001; planning began in the 1990s. All three phases were built at or below the lower level of double-tiered Wacker Drive.
The plan was to extend the shoreline as much as 50 feet into the river that was about 200 feet wide. That was done in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Fill was brought in by barge and dumped between sheet piling and the existing shoreline to create room for the Riverwalk, creating almost 20,000 square feet of land and turning rotting industrial-era docks into a new recreational amenity.
The Riverwalk was designed to create outdoor spaces that would provide different experiences. The sections are separated by bridges.
The first phase, opened in 2009, has a formal civic character and includes Chicagoís Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The second phase, opened in 2015, combines public spaces with retail amenities. It contains Marina Plaza, the Cove and the River Theater.
The newest section, from LaSalle to Lake streets where the riverís north and south branches meet, opened last fall. Its sections are known as the Water Plaza, the Jetty and the Riverbank.
That three-block-long section includes a zero-depth fountain with arching water jets and colored lights, floating gardens and a patch of greenery that covers nearly 30,000 square feet acres at the confluence. The fountains will allow children to play in water next to the polluted river.
The Jetty area between Wells and Franklin streets includes seven waterside piers for anglers and a floating garden with planters in the river. It showcases fish and plants that live in the river and Lake Michigan.
The Riverbank at the western end of the walkway, between Franklin and Lake streets, includes a handicapped-accessible ramp.
Riverwalk is a key element of Mayor Rahm Emanuelís plan to transform the river into Chicagoís next great recreational space.
It takes visitors close to Navy Pier and the Lakefront Path, Chicagoís No. 1 trail. You are also close to Millennium Park and the elliptical Bean, the $23 million stainless steel sculpture by London artist Anish Lapoor.
Navy Pier celebrated its 100th birthday last year and is Chicagoís No. 1 tourist attraction. It gets upwards of 8.6 million visitors a year.
It once had its own streetcar line, theater, restaurants and hospital. It served as a pilot training base in World War II and once housed the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois.
The 3,000-foot-long pier reopened in 1995 after a $150 million renovation. Today it is an entertainment facility with IMAX theaters, a concert venue, the Shakespeare Theater, a childrenís museum, a gallery of stained glass, bars, restaurants and shops. Itís often filled with people and totally crazy. One of its biggest features is a Ferris wheel, 196 feet high and capable of holding 400 passengers.
Plans call for a new 220-room hotel and an elevated walkway at the pierís eastern end.
The Lakefront Path runs 18.5 miles north-south along Lake Michigan. The downtown skyline is never far away. It goes through city parks and past 31 beaches, plus playgrounds, picnic areas, statues, marinas, a golf course, ballfields, museums and more.
Itís tucked between Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive. The northern terminus is 58 blocks north of the Loop, the southern terminus 71 blocks south. It can be crowded with walkers, joggers, bicyclists and inline skaters, and breezy with chilly winds off Lake Michigan.