The Grand Canyon from Great Heights
One minute I’m among the glitz and glam of the neon flashing Las Vegas strip and the next I’m soaring high above it all, on a helicopter flight out to the mighty Grand Canyon.
Visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Listed site is one most popular day trips for Expedia’s Aussie travellers when they’re in town. The Air and Ground Grand Canyon Exploration Tour is a bestseller but there’s plenty of experiences to choose from.
By air is definitely breathtaking, but be warned: there’s a weighing scale at the helicopter check in counter before you board your flight. They’ll make you stand on it with any items you’re planning to take with you. I blamed my heavy handbag but beware the buffets!
Once in the chopper with our seatbelts and headsets on, we lift slowly from the tarmac and turn our nose to face the mountains, then up and away we soar.
The beauty of helicoptering to the Grand Canyon is the time saving. Within 10 minutes we’re circling the engineering wonder that is the Hoover Dam. The Dam holds back the silty brown Colorado River from its source in the Rocky Mountains before it enters Lake Mead and continues south to the Gulf of California. It’s a fascinating day trip from Las Vegas so if you’re not up for the added two and half hour drive to the Canyon, hop on a Hoover Dam Tour or drive the 45 minutes for a spot of fishing or water sports.
After a couple of loops high in the sky, the helicopter heads further east towards the ridge of pink hued mountains. They’re 20 minutes in the distance – the mighty Grand Canyon cuts a 433km gorge with towering 1.6km high cliffs.
We descend to the top of the rim and peer down at the lines of colour and formations in the depths below. Layers of different rock are glimpses into the intricate make up of soil and earth eroded over millennia.
Lower we fly, following the brown river as it snakes across the canyon floor. To our right is the West Wing, where the Hualapai tribe have built the glass-bottomed SkyWalk. It hangs 25 metres out over the canyon for those with a stomach for such views.
We press on and land near other Papillon helicopters, where passengers are already picnicking under a makeshift awning. Our pilot has brought sandwiches, brownies and packets of chips plus a bottle of Champagne to toast the view.
Of course on the day I visit there’s an unseasonal heat wave. Expedia’s Aussie travellers usually wait until autumn, when the temperatures cool off around September. Today it’s 45˚C with a breeze that makes it feel like I’m being fan baked, but with plenty of water, a sun hat, sunscreen and my camera working overtime capturing one of the Seven Wonders of the World, I think I’ll manage.
Besides, in half an hour I’ll be back in an air conditioned building in Las Vegas with memories to last a lifetime.