My government-enforced air tour of the Grand Canyon

Nothing as inconsequential as the shutdown of the Federal Government of the United States of America is going to stop this ardent traveller from seeing the Grand Canyon…

The Grand Canyon from a plane

So, remember how I told you how a political fracas in Washington resulted in the shutdown of non-essential services such as national parks (see Obama hates my US honeymoon road trip)? Well, that obviously ruined any plans we had to stay at Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

Ever the clever traveller, my wife scrambled to book another night in Las Vegas and we opted to see the Grand Canyon from the air.

A tour of the Grand Canyon by helicopter would have been our preferred option, but we quickly found it too expensive (you can take the backpacker out of Southeast Asia but you can’t make him fork out a small fortune for a helicopter ride), so we opted to do it by aeroplane instead.

A company called Papillion seemed to be the cheapest – about $130 US per person, including pick up and drop off – so we decided to go with them.

The plane that took me on a tour of the Grand Canyon

They picked us up in a shuttle bus and dropped us off at an airfield outside of Vegas, where perhaps 80 other travellers were all waiting for their respective Grand Canyon tour. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long before we were shepherded out to a tiny little aircraft with room for about 14 passengers.

Did I ever tell you that I’m scared of heights?

I’m not normally a nervous flyer – but my knees started to shake almost as soon as we were in the air. The plane seemed to buckle and shake, moving sideways with each gust of wind. I’m not a religious man, but I have to admit that I was praying for a safe return to terra firma.

Thankfully, before I started screaming “we’re all going to die!” the plane levelled out and we were on our way to the Grand Canyon – via the world-famous Hoover Dam.

The Hoover Dam from above

The Hoover Dam from the air

I’m sure the so-called “wonder of the industrial world” is absolutely awe-inspiring in person. From the air, however, it’s merely remarkable. You get a feel of how massive it is, even at however-many-thousand feet in the air, but it still looks like a scaled-down model of the tourist attraction.

Lake Mead, behind the dam, is far more impressive. This beautiful azure lake along the Colorado River is actually formed by the Hoover Dam. At 180km (112 miles) long and comprising 890km (550 miles) of shoreline, the largest reservoir in the US is an amazing sight from the air.

Lake Mead is almost as amazing as the Grand Canyon itself. What I always thought was just a giant hole in the ground, remarkable only because of its size, is exactly that and so much more.

The Grand Canyon makes you feel tiny and insignificant, even from the air. Its distinctive layers of rock, exposed like so many books stacked on top of each other, range in colour from deep red and purple to off-white.

My photos don’t do the colours of the Grand Canyon justice. The problem with doing a tour by plane is you have to photograph through glass, and you end up with the propeller in most of your shots.

An aerial photograph of the Grand Canyon

After more than an hour of flying, complemented by an above-average audio commentary about the main sights, the landing was less scary than the takeoff. (I’ve got to admit that every time we hit a bit of turbulence my stomach leapt in my chest.)

I wasn’t the only one a little nervous. I overheard some other Kiwis from the flight saying that they’d never fly on such a small aircraft ever again. Perhaps, like our name-sakes, Kiwis just aren’t that into flying. Or perhaps we just need to man up?

A stretch limo in Las Vegas

Either way, we were dropped off in style at our lodging, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, by a freakin’ stretch limousine. Why? I have no idea – but we loved pretending to be high-rollers as we pulled up to the casino.

Our government-enforced tour of the Grand Canyon turned out pretty good.

About Simon Petersen 505 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.

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