Helicopter flights over the Grand Canyon aren’t cheap, but Poor John and I decided it was something we should splash out on. Heck, we were camping instead of staying in hotels, and cooking most of our meals instead of eating in restaurants. We decided the flights could be our birthday presents to one another.
In case you’re wondering about the price, it was just under US$300 (or almost A$400) per person for a 45-minute flight. We travelled with a company called Maverick, but I can say the pilot was no cowboy.
All five passengers (and their cameras) were weighed before boarding and seating was assigned so as to distribute weight evenly across the helicopter. I was thrilled to be seated in the centre of the front row. Best seat in the ‘house’.
The airport is several miles from the south rim of the canyon so we got views of the countryside (not impressive enough to share pics) and then we were over the canyon.
We all wore headphones/earmuffs and, when possible, the pilot gave a running commentary on what we were seeing. Can I remember any of his spiel? Of course not. Oh wait, I think one rock formation is called The Castle because that’s what it looks like.
Some of the canyon’s vital statistics
Geologically, the Grand Canyon is significant because of the ancient rocks that are well preserved and exposed in its walls. These rock layers expose nearly two billion years of Earth’s geological history.
While geologists disagree on some aspects about how the canyon was created, several recent studies support a theory that the Colorado River established its course through the area about 5 to 6 million years ago.
Today the canyon measures 277 miles (446 kilometres) from Lees Ferry in the east to Grand Wash Cliffs in the west. The Colorado River, which carved out the canyon, lies, on average, 5000 feet (1525 metres) below the rims.
Speaking of the rims, they are about 10 miles (16 kilometres) apart with the southern one being most popular with tourists. That rim has an elevation of 7129 feet, which is about 1000 feet lower than the northern rim.
Climate varies considerably according to elevation—the higher north rim is cooler and wetter than the south rim, and gets much more snow. Weather conditions can change rapidly on both sides, although we had excellent weather when we were there.
The canyon is bounded by two dams that hold back two large lakes. The Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell are upriver, while the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead are at the other end. On the way to the canyon, we had a quick stop at Lake Powell and its visitor centre.
Plants and animals abound in the park, even though we didn’t see many. We had a few glimpses of bison on the north rim. Overall, the canyon area has more than 2100 species of plants and 90 species of mammals.
A little history
For thousands of years, the area has been continuously inhabited by Native Americans, who built settlements within the canyon and its many caves. The Pueblo people considered the canyon a holy site, and made pilgrimages to it.
Spaniard García López de Cárdenas was the first European known to have viewed the canyon in 1540. He, along with Hopi guides and a small group of Spanish soldiers, travelled to the south rim. It is thought that their Hopi guides knew routes to the canyon floor, but were reluctant to lead the Spanish to the river. No Europeans visited the canyon again for more than 200 years. James Ohio Pattie, along with a group of American trappers and mountain men, may have been the next Europeans to reach the canyon, in 1826.
US President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon in 1903. An avid outdoorsman and staunch conservationist, Roosevelt established the Grand Canyon Game Preserve that year. The Antiquities Act of 1906 followed and gave Roosevelt the power to create national monuments. He declared the Grand Canyon an official national monument in 1908. It became a national park in 1919.
And for those of you who want to know the gory bits—almost 800 people have died in the canyon since the mid-1800s. Causes have included falls, dehydration, drownings, lightning strikes, heart attacks, suicide and murder. The worst casualties were in 1956 when two commercial airplanes collided and 128 people were killed.
And finally a rant
The visitor centre wasn’t open when we first arrived at the canyon, so we stopped at the coffee shop. The fellow at the counter simply filled two paper cups with black coffee from a machine.
Imagine my surprise and rather enormous irritation when Poor John tapped his credit card to pay, a $1 tip was automatically added to the US$4.70 for the two coffees. A more than 20 per cent tip for virtually no effort or genuine service!
Maybe someday I’ll do a post on my attitudes about tipping in general.
P.S. Enjoy the pics and don’t worry about the absence of captions. Seriously, what is there to say?