Some time in June, I forget when exactly, I came up with this idea that I wanted to see the Grand Canyon. As this was the “summer of me”, I knew I had to travel to at least one place that I’d never been to before. After doing some research, I quickly discovered visiting the Grand Canyon included a wide scope of activities. On one end, I could fly above the Grand Canyon, spending less than 30 minutes above it, never setting foot near or in the canyon itself. On the other end, I could spend several days at the canyon, hiking down from the lip all the way to the floor, camping, and exploring the national park. Either the ends of the spectrum didn’t exactly work for me. A simple flyover wasn’t in-dept enough, while hiking and camping in the canyon itself was a bit beyond my current physical abilities. If I had decided to hike it, I probably would have had to do it alone, and it’s not recommended to do so as you could get into trouble and no one would know about it.
While I was getting my haircut, I mentioned to my stylist that I wanted to go the Grand Canyon but was unsure what the best way was to go about it. She suggested I look at going to Las Vegas first and then heading to the canyon from there. I did some more research when I got home. It was way cheaper to go to Las Vegas than Flagstaff, Arizona, which is the largest city close to the canyon. Once in Vegas, I’d just to have figure out how to get out there. I really had two options: a bus or helicopter. I knew two people who did the bus tour. They had to wake up super early and get on the bus by 6am. The trip itself to the canyon took about five hours. The ten hours or so on the bus in a single day didn’t really appeal to me so the helicopter option seemed like it was the best way to go.
There are several tour operators that fly out to the Grand Canyon but I wound up booking with Papillon and their Grand Celebration Tour. I initially balked at the listed price of $450 but there was a special going on and I was able to get it for less than $300. I had convinced a friend to come along to Vegas with me but he wasn’t interested in the Grand Canyon. No big deal for me.
We arrived in Las Vegas on a Sunday and I had booked the tour for early Monday afternoon. I wanted to get the tour out-of-the-way right off the start because in my experience, you start to feel tired at the end of most Vegas trips. I wanted to fresh and excited for my visit to the canyon.
Around noon on Monday, I was picked up from my hotel and driven to Boulder City, Nevada and the airport there. It was about a 30 minute drive which was quite interesting at times since I had not seen much of Nevada outside of Las Vegas itself. Boulder City is interesting in that it is only one of two cities in the state where you cannot gamble. Once at the airport, I got myself checked in and had to wait for my helicopter to arrive as it was coming back from another tour. As a sign of things to come, I was told my helicopter was late and it’d be another twenty minutes or so before it would arrive. To the company’s credit, they gave me a free drink voucher at the airport convenience store. As I waited, more bad news came. A sudden thunderstorm cell had formed and it was right where my tour was headed. It was explained to me that the chances of the storm dissipating in time for the tour was very slim but they’d wait another ten minutes. Ten minutes went by and nothing had changed so the tour was cancelled. I was given a few options. I could either re-schedule or I could get a full refund. I decided to re-schedule as I still had several days left in my trip. There was a spot free the next day for a 11am departure. With that booked, I boarded another bus and I was driven back to my hotel. It was a waste of about two hours but I had to take it stride.
The next day, I repeated the whole thing again, getting driven out to Boulder City again and checking into the airport once more. This time, no weather was going to stop the tour. I met my pilot for the trip, a young-looking Norwegian man who I later found out was getting experience flying so he could transfer over to working for oil companies. He was going to trade Grand Canyon tours for flying guys to and from oil rigs which sounded like a very lucrative job. The six other tourists with me were a French couple and a German family.
I lucked out when they did the seating arrangements as I got a front row seat next to the right side window. I had a great view from where I was sitting. Previous to this, I had only been in a helicopter once, when I did a short tour of the island of Oahu in Hawaii. This helicopter was much larger and seemed newer as well. As we took off, I almost got overwhelmed by the sight of the ground just feet below me, whizzing by in a blur. As we gained altitude, I felt much better.
Higher in the air, it was plainly obvious that we were in a desert. There was basically nothing around us for miles other than grey and brown. Even though the helicopter’s A/C was on, I could feel the hot sun was trying force its way into the cockpit. It was a definite hot day in the desert. The trip out to the canyon would take us past Lake Mead, which I didn’t realize was a man-made reservoir. Through headsets that everyone was wearing, the pilot narrated the tour and gave us some key highlights about Lake Mead. The reservoir is huge as we’d fly over different parts of it for minutes at a time. The pilot also flew us over the iconic Hoover Dam, which previously I had only seen in movies. The dam is a great looking piece of modern engineering. The bus tour I mentioned earlier actually stops at the top of the dam, which would have been amazing to see.
As we flew towards the Grand Canyon, I was incredibly impressed by the sight of it on the horizon. Earlier, I had some slight fears that once I saw it with my own eyes, it would be a let down of sorts because I’d seen so many pictures of it. Those fears were misplaced because it was unlike anything I’d ever seen in my life. Pictures cannot fully capture the scope and striking beauty of the Grand Canyon. As we flew above the canyon, the pilot pointed out the Colorado River that runs through it. On this day, and I’m not sure if it changes ever, the river was a distinct and uniform muddy brown. I could see people in boats, kayaks, and canoes, floating down the river. I imagine that could be quite fun. Before the pilot descended below the rim of the canyon, he showed us the Skywalk, where people have a very unique view from the top.
The pilot fly us below the rim of the canyon and this was where I got to see the edges of the canyon up close. Words really cannot express the spectacular ways that nature carved out the canyon. It is something you have to see with your own eyes. We eventually landed on a flat piece of land near the river. There was no paved helipad or anything, just a flat piece of rock and gravel covered land. Next to us was a small covered area with a few picnic tables. Once we were allowed to exit the helicopter, the pilot explained to us the rules while on the ground. We were to throw away nothing. I believe it’s actually illegal to dump any garbage in the whole canyon itself. There are no garbage cans where we were. If we were to finish a bottle of water, we had to take the bottle back with us. We also could not take anything back with us. We couldn’t keep any souvenirs, not a single rock, pebble, plant, nothing. We were also on Native American land so we had to respect that as well.
Now the tour included a “champagne lunch” while we were on the canyon floor and that’s why the covered area existed. I previously had decided though I wasn’t going to sit and eat a boxed lunch while we only had thirty minutes or so to explore the canyon. The pilot brought the lunches out in a cooler from the helicopter and set them up. I quickly grabbed a brownie and a bottle of water and immediately went exploring.
For the next thirty minutes, I went as far as I could within common sense. It was a miserably hot day though. I’d guess it must have been around 40 degrees Celsius. Undeterred, I took a ton of pictures. Even though it was bone dry, there was a few plants here and there, mostly cacti. The ground itself looked almost alien. Lots of dry, small rocks, on dry brown dirt. It reminded me a bit like the pictures the rovers on Mars take.
At one point, my life was slightly in danger. I was well away from the rest of my group who was eating lunch. Another tour helicopter had caught my eye. As I watched it fly closer and closer, I began to realize that I was perhaps standing on the area where the pilot was intending to land. I had no idea if he saw me so I had to quickly run down towards the river as I knew he wouldn’t land on the edge of the cliff like that. The pilot wound up touching down very close to where I had been standing. I still wonder what would have happened had I not moved. After more exploring, I also realized that I should watch where I was stepping because there was a chance there could be a snake or something on the ground. Nature can be scary sometimes.
With the time drawing to a close, I headed back to my group, most of whom had spent most of the time eating a sandwich in the box lunch. We piled into the helicopter and flew off. The helicopter had been sitting in the sun this whole time so it was like an oven when we first got into the air. The A/C was still in the process of cooling the cabin down, so it felt like it was genuinely 50 degrees Celsius in there. I started sweating profusely. I cannot remember another time when I began to sweat that much. I had to wipe the sweat from my face and my legs and arms were glistening. I had to stop myself from resting my arms on my thighs because I was leaving wet marks on my shorts from all the sweat. Mercifully, the A/c eventually got the cabin back down to a better temperature and my sweat thankfully dried up.
Interestingly, the pilot took us back to the airport on another route, which was very boring. There wasn’t a lot to see at all on the return. It was another thirty minute flight back to Boulder City. Once we landed, I thanked the pilot for an amazing trip. A few minutes later, I was back on the bus for the drive to Las Vegas.
Overall, I was very pleased with my initial visit to the Grand Canyon. It’s a spectacular wonder of nature. The canyon is breathtaking in both scope and beauty. If I were to go again, and I think I would, I’d like to spend more time there. The canyon is huge and the views from the various parts of the rim are worthy of the trip. So perhaps one day, I’ll take the necessary time and money to go spend several days right at the canyon itself.
So as a reward for reading all of this, here is a link to some pictures I took while on the tour. Enjoy!