Beijing's "UFO" glass structure is out of this world


Don't look down.

Actually, do. That's the point.

Now, freak out.

So ... you're very, very high above the ground, staring through the glass floor upon which you're standing-likely with very, very wide eyes.

(Unless you don't fear death. Or can fly.)

This is what it's like aboard Beijing's "UFO", the world's largest glass sightseeing platform that opened in the capital's suburban Shilinxia scenic spot on April 30.

It takes its nickname from its saucer shape rather than anything actually related to little green men who come in peace.

The structure really is out of this world-or at least extremely high above it.

And you do feel like you're flying.

(Or falling, depending on your acrophobia.)

The 415-square-meter platform soars 33 meters from the mountainside, offering a top view of the scenic site in every sense. The platform exceeds the Grand Canyon Skywalk by 11.4 meters.

Yet the vistas it affords are quite different.

Shilinxia translates as Stone Forest Gorge-for good reason. This swathe of the Huangsongyu Geopark bristles with stone spires that resemble thickets of tremendous trees.

The UFO offers a high-level platform for viewing this unearthly terrain.

The 12-square-kilometer scenic area is shaped not only by its thrusting rock quills but also by such other otherworldly marvels as the Jiutan Flying Waterfall, from which ribbons of water flutter 120 meters down four tiers.

The 6-km gorge is exceedingly slender. The belt of lowland between sheer bluffs tightens to just 3 meters at its slimmest. The earth whittles the sky into a silver sliver.

The area is littered with boulders that can surpass 1,000 tons. It's as if it were mighty nature gods' shot put arena.

Cypresses uncoil from cliffs. Twisted trunks unravel outward horizontally while their roots clench vertical precipices. These trees seem to defy gravity and testify to the tenacity of life.

Speaking of gravity and life-and of clinging to cliffs-it's worth recalling the world's longest glass walkway, spanning nearly 400 meters, that opened in Henan province's Yuntai Mountain Scenic Park this fall shattered soon after.

Needless to say, the thrill exceeded visitors' expectations.

Glass bridges and platforms have been proliferating nationwide in recent years.

Hunan province's Shiniuzhai National Geopark opened the aptly named Brave Man's Bridge 130 meters above the ground last autumn, weeks after a 900-meter-long bridge opened in Yunnan province. Hunan's Tianmen Mountain became an early mover of people over transparent floorboards at jittering elevations when it built a 1,430-meter-high, 61-meter-long glass walkway half a decade ago.

Beijing's "UFO" is just the latest opportunity to walk above our world to land in China-where more places to go are using vertigo to give tourism destinations an adrenaline shot in the arm.

That is, more reasons to say: Seriously. Don't look down.

But, again, that's the point.

So, we do.

Hey, we all need to sometimes stare down mortality-from above.

Don't we?