Las Vegas is a great launchpad for a Grand Canyon adventure. I was fortunate to be able to attend a conference in San Francisco in November last year and decided to take the opportunity to tick another item off my bucket list: The Grand Canyon. I was very short on time as I had used all my leave on trips to China and Russia & the Baltic States earlier in the year. I knew that I didn’t want to hire a car and drive myself. Even though I would have loved to have hiked or rafted in the canyon, I didn’t have enough time but I also wanted to see as much of the canyon as I could. So I started looking at whether, if I found my way to Grand Canyon Village, there was a flight of some sort that I could take. Most of the options I looked at would have taken a lot of time and money.
Then I discovered that there are Grand Canyon day tours that leave from Las Vegas and that you could pack a huge number of activities into a single day for a very reasonable price. I usually associate helicopter flights with being extremely expensive but my whole day cost around US$500 and included a bus transfer, plane flight, helicopter flight, boat ride, Skywalk pass, shuttle buses, and lunch. I could not have arranged all this for myself for that price and certainly not in just a single day – it was money extremely well spent in my opinion.
The trip I did was called the Grand Voyager with Skywalk tour run by Papillon. The whole exercise was run with great precision. We were picked up from our hotels all round Las Vegas by shuttle bus and taken to the airport at Boulder City, Nevada. Here we are all given different coloured stickers depending on which particular tour we had booked on. In our different colour groups we were dispatched to our small airplanes (ours was a 12 seater) to fly 35 minutes to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon with magnificent views of the Hoover Dam, Colorado River and Lake Mead (I paid an extra $20 to make sure I got a window seat).
Once we got to the West Rim airport, we were marshalled to our different tour activities. Five of us were shown towards a helicopter, and I was delighted that I was travelling by myself as it meant that I got to sit upfront next to the pilot with a perfect view. I do get motion-sickness so there was a moment when we swooped towards and over the rim of the canyon that I wondered whether I had made a terrible mistake. But once my stomach had caught up with my brain again, I was so busy absorbing the awesomeness of the scenery and taking photos as fast as I could go that I quickly forgot about anything else. We flew along the canyon, following the river and swooping from side to side before we reached a flattish area near the floor of the canyon. Here we are met by some Native American locals from the Hualapai tribe who take us on a gentle hike down to the base of the Colorado River to board a pontoon boat.
The boat trip is a relatively short one – we motor upriver and then float gently back down to our starting point – but we are on the majestic Colorado River and keep having to remind ourselves that this is real, that we are here IN THE GRAND CANYON! Then we have some refreshments before returning to helicopter for our flight back up to the rim of the canyon. This is spectacular in a different way as we fly right in close to the canyon walls and get amazing views of the rock formations.
Back on solid ground again we are taken by bus to Eagle Point where we get to experience the Skywalk, a glass bottom bridge suspended 70 feet over the edge of the rim. This is quite a feat of engineering and whilst it is amazing to be cantilevered out over the canyon with seemingly nothing beneath you, it is quite shamelessly a tourist venture to make money for the Hualapai peoples. While I have no problem with them making a living from tourism, I did find it disappointing to have a man-made structure marring the spectacular natural wonder.
Then we caught the shuttle bus to Guano Point where we were provided with a local barbeque lunch and had lots of time to explore and just take in the wonder that is the Grand Canyon. I spent my time with a delightful couple, Holly and Mike, from New Hampshire. Then it was back to the airport, reuniting with our other red stickered people who had been on other adventures, to fly back to Boulder City and then back to Las Vegas.
This was a fantastic introduction to the Grand Canyon. I have ticked it off my bucket list but it is definitely somewhere that I would love to return to and explore in more detail over a longer period of time. I have a photo of it as my screensaver on my computer to keep that dream alive.