12

MARCH, 2012

I was so excited as I made my way on foot to the Tusayan Heliport, I had never flown in a helicopter before. But this was to be no ordinary copter flight, I was to fly over the edge of the Grand Canyon, into the canyon abyss to enjoy one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, simply awesome.

Today is “The” day! At 6:30am it is time to get my butt out of that lovely warm bed. Outside it was getting light. My flight over the Grand Canyon is scheduled for 9:00 am but by confirming my booking yesterday I was advised to get there at 8:00 am to secure my front seat. It was a case of first come first served. I was early & decided to walk the short distance to the airport, it’s a stones throw from the hotel. I actually arrived 15 minutes too early at 7:45 am. This gave me enough time to examine the choppers from a distance, their rotors were covered in plastic sleeves to protect them from the night frost. It gets pretty chilly out here even in the summer months.

The waiting room at the Tusayan Grand Canyon Park Airport from where I would be taking my first flight in a helicopter.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I Checked in, paid the $50 supplement for the co-pilots seat and sat happily waiting for 9:00 am to arrive. The snack bar opened at 8:00 am so I indulged in a coffee & a croissant. I got into a chat with the guy serving the coffee behind the counter, a middle aged man who, because of my blessed accent was curious where I came from. We made small talk about flying in a helicopter but were abruptly interrupted by flight personel who prompted me & the other now present passengers to attend a safety briefing with instructional Video. The video basically showed what to do in the case of an emergency & where the fire extinguisher is to be found. What they forgot to advise was how to pray because if a helicopter gets out of control over the Grand Canyon there is no chance of a soft landing anywhere. The Video ran a good 15 minutes & almost directly after we were called up to be kitted out with a safety harness & inflatable life jacket. Minutes later we were making our way to our machine, a Bell E430. The pilot was a young woman named Dale, very pleasant & a very competent flyer as I was soon to find out.

 

“Then we were off, floating on a magic carpet away from Tusayan in a northerly direction over the Kaibab National Forest. After 10 minutes of flying low over the dense woodland I caught my first glimpse of the rim.”

My flight was to be with this EcoStar EC130 helicopter, specially designed for tourist flights.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

After takeoff it was off northwestwards over the Kaibab National Forest towards the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

An early morning flight is the best time of day to fly over the Grand Canyon, the view was spectacular to say the least.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Then we were off, floating on a magic carpet away from Tusayan in a northerly direction over the Kaibab National Forest. After 10 minutes of flying low over the dense woodland I caught my first glimpse of the rim, second by second we were getting nearer, the turbulence increased & for a moment I had to think of the guy at the coffee bar who told me that it could happen that we through turbulence start flying sideways laughing at my worried expression, exactly that was happening at the moment, a strange feeling I can tell you.

I got the Gopro ready, unfortunately it isn’t allowed to stick anything on the machine with the suction pad but afterwards I was glad as I could pan shots & film in short bursts. I was continuously swapping between filming video & shooting stills.

All of a sudden, in the bat of an eyelid we flew over the edge into the abyss. WOW! All of a sudden the whole expanse of this world wonder slapped me full in the face with an impact that I must admit to shedding a tear through sheer joy, it was overwhelming to put it mildly. All the waiting & saving for this moment was more than worth it. An hour long orgasm, beat that anyone ;-) I had a headset for the in-flight commentary, unfortunately I wasn’t alone on this trip, behind me sat a Japanese & a French couple. First 10 minutes of Japanese, then 10 minutes of French before they got around to the English commentary. It seems that we had first flown to the east around the Grand Canyon over woodland & actually flew over the North Rim because I noticed later that only the south rim had snow. I was quite chuffed to see the canyon snow albeit just a rest from a shower a couple of days earlier. The Colorado was now below us slivering snake like through the deep narrow gorge.

We spent most of the flight on the eastern part of the park where some very dry & dramatic canyons are to be witnessed like this one near Sixty Mile Creek.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

As we arrived back & our pilot had thanked us for flying with her wishing us a nice day I was still floating on that magic carpet with a grin from ear to ear believe me. In the afternoon I ventured down to Mather Point with the car to get my first glimpse of the canyon from the ground & hopefully experience a Grand finale at sunset. Mather Point is very popular for good reason. It lies near to Grand Canyon Village where many have rooms in the lodges there & especially due to the spectacular views. I arrived at around 14:00 pm met by a vista that was just out of this world. My poor camera had to sweat a little until the sun went down at around 18:34 pm. The sunset was normal by Grand Canyon standards, unfortunately no Cumulus Nimbus but nonetheless grandiose. A picture can never capture the full beauty & scale of a location, this has to be said of the Grand Canyon especially. It is like viewing a fantasy world in a dream but the cool evening breeze holds you in reality, the sun had departed for today, leaving the canyon with some nice colours from orange to purple before everything ducked into a  shadow of desaturated blue/grey.

One of the side canyons in the north east part of the park near the Salt Trail Canyon Trailhead.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Shortly after sundown I made my way back to the car, it certainly gets pretty nippy in the evenings here I thought. A breeze makes it even colder, I was glad that I had my three layers on. I learnt quickly that in the sun it’s warm but in the shade there is quite a difference in temperature, sometimes quite extreme. Add to this an altitude of 6000 ft/2000 m making walking quite tedious due to the thinner air & a very dry air too with very fine sand particles being blown around. I think it can be conceivable just how tiring a day here in the open can be.

Further north-east Grand Canyon flattens out a little with the Colorado slivering through Tanner Canyon near Comanche Point.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Back at the hotel the rest of my evening was spent transferring files to the hard drives before falling into my bed at around 23:45pm. I was knackered but very happy.

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