Flying over, around, and down into the Grand Canyon!

Grand Canyon Travel Blog

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Our plane. It would fly us to the western side of the Canyon

Today was the day! We’re going to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We had to be at Scenic Airlines, about a mile south of the hotel, at 7:30AM. As expected we were running behind, but we made it only about 10 minutes late. That was no big deal, as our flight did not leave until 8:00. “Our flight” that I mentioned was going to be the start of a really great day. At 8 AM all four of us would board a small plane and fly from the airport here on the South side of the Canyon, to the West side. From there we would transfer to helicopter that would take us down 4000 ft to the Colorado River. Once there we would board a pontoon boat and take a short river ride.

On the way. The not so Grand part of the Grand Canyon
Then we would reverse, with a lunch thrown in, and end up back on the South side about 1 PM. Everyone was looking forward to this.


We left at about 8 AM, as scheduled. The flight was to be 45 minutes or so. To be honest, it felt a lot longer. You would think that flying in a small plane, over the Grand Canyon would be full of Oooohhhhhs and Aaahhhhs. It wasn’t. It was actually a bit boring. It wasn’t the Canyon’s fault, because we were flying over the outer edges, and it was no where near as spectacular as deep and endless main area. But, it was still pretty.

The helicoter that took us to the bottom of the canyon. It is much hotter down their than up top!
Part of the problem was we had kind of hyped it up in our minds. Much like the Super Bowl, when the actual game often is anything by the ultimate showdown the network had been promising for weeks. But, also like the Super Bowl, you had to respect the grandeur anyway. More of the problem was it was noisy and the seats cramped. I know I’m whining a bit. If you are not a seasoned flyer (we are, at this point in our lives) you will still probably find this portion of the trip enjoyable.


Anyway, if this was the most I had to complain about today, it was going to be great. As it turned out, it was the worst I had to complain about. 45 minutes later we touched at the airfield on Hualapai Indian Reservation. We were on the ground just long enough to be unloaded and reloaded back into a helicopter.

Margo on helicopter
In just a few short minutes we were airborne again. This leg of the trip was a hundred times more interesting. In this day and age flying in a machine is something that you take for granted. Some more than others, but I know very few people who have not been in an airplane. With an airplane you get a nice running start and the ground falls away. You get the feeling you could do that in your own car if it had wings. But a helicopter ride brings that back into perspective. You start by being in a very confined space. An airplane definitely qualifies as a confined space. But for me it does not project the same kind of feeling of intimacy. It’s more like a bus with seatbelts. The intimacy of a helicopter ride is more like a thrill ride at Disney or Universal Studios. You have not only a smaller group of people, but the atmosphere of something special. Then the noise starts as the rotors turn faster and faster. You feel your pulse quicken and wonder “Are they turning fast enough yet” They keep going, and quickly they rotors are beating the air into submission, and the helicopter lifts off, in a manner so gently as to take you by surprise.
That brown road looking thing is the Colorado River.
Your intellect fights with itself. One side saying “This happens everyday, probably a million times” The other side says “Really? People defy gravity to descend into a mile deep pit” Then the third half of your brain tells the other two to shut up and look out the window. There is tons of room all around you, so you don’t get a feeling of doom. But it is a tad weary as you descend as see cliffs rise up around you. It’s not just an air based elevator ride. The pilot needs to fly you down to a specific spot that is not right below you. So even though the ride feels like two minutes, and lasts for about 8-10, it fills you with a sense of awe and wonder all at the same time.


When you get out of the whirlybird, your first thought is “Wow”.

Kind of an optical illusion. We were still high enough up that the Colorado looks like a muddy stream. The Canyon walls are just so huge they help to distort your perspective. It is actually about 75-100 yards across.
Not “Wow! That was great!” or even, “Wow! I’m at the bottom of the Grand Canyon!” But, “Wow! It is flippin' hot down here” This is June in Arizona. The temperature up top when we took off was in the low 90s. It was in the mid 100s down on the floor of the Canyon. That is not an exaggeration. They warned us ahead of time, but it is still a bit of a shock. I had my camera going the whole time, snapping pics here and there. I got a pic with us, using the helicopter as a backdrop. We were quickly greeted by the guide at the bottom who ushered us towards the river with the sentence “Let’s get you all on the boat. It’s much cooler on the water” She did not lie. We got onto the large pontoon boat, similar to the large bass/party boats I had seen at Lake Powell and other places.
On the Canyon floor! Margo, Jessi, and Patty. That's me behind the camera not getting his picture taken again
It look us less than 10 minutes to land, take a few pics, walk to the river, board, and be cruising on the Colorado River.


This last twenty minutes had passed in a blur. After having been bored to death for the prior 45, we were being thrown many new sights to see. As such the information our guide tried to impart to us about the geological and cultural history of the canyon was ignored while our brains focused on all the visuals. The view of the Grand Canyon is radically different from the river. You get no feeling of the canyon’s immense size on the river. It has a rough comparison of being in the midst of a major city, with the high buildings on each size. Of course you have to subtract out all of the people and 99 percent of the noise.

On the River, Patty, Margo, and Jessi
But that more intimate, but far from claustrophobic feel dominates. It is so peaceful, at least on that section of the river. I do know from the IMAX movie we saw yesterday that there are areas of serious white water. But, here the only white to be found was in clouds above us.


The twenty minutes we got to spend on the boat was over in what seemed like five. Our guide took a final picture of us, on the boat, with the River and Canyon as the background. Then we docked and walked back to our waiting, exceedingly expensive, but worth every dollar, elevator. The ride back up was not quite as spectacular is the ride in, but it was a close race. When we landed we were sent over to a waiting, air-conditioned (Yea!!) coach bus.

Canyon walls. This was so cool!
It was going to take us to Guano Point, where we would be having lunch. Lunch, as I recall, was some sort of a shredded beef, that was seasoned in either an Indian (Native American) or Mexican way. It was a just OK. But, it was served buffet-style so we got to eat our fill. For Scenic Airlines, at least I guess, the primary reason for stopping here was an agreement with the local tribe, to allow them to sell their wares to an audience that had been flown in. In return, or more likely as partial compensation, the tribe gave them access to this area. It was beautiful! It may have been the prettiest part of the canyon. I walked around and took a few pictures and admired the desert birds and such. Then we all headed to the area where the crafts were set up. None of us found anything we had to have, and we tried. But, in the end there was just nothing that inspired any of us to pull out our wallets.


We did manage to leave some money, buying bottled water and tipping the bus driver, whose name I have forgotten.

Patty, Margo, Jessi, and Me at the bottom of the Grand Canyon
I did take his picture and he was a bit of character. We were among the first to return to the bus, as Patty wanted to get out of the heat, and the other two girls found no fault with that idea. While we were waiting he asked us, and the few others waiting if we enjoyed our lunch. He told us that it was Coyote. That got a few chuckles. He told us a little bit about the cultural history, as he was a Hualapai Indian. He told his ancestors moved out of the canyon, centuries ago, as it there was no electricity to power the air conditioners. He went on in that same humorous vein for several more minutes, and through the short ride to the airport. That earned him a little extra in tip when we completed the journey.


Our ride home was a reverse of the ride in.

The Grand Canyon viewed from Guano Point
It was too loud to talk, too cramped to relax, and not picturesque enough to get excited about. But, I have spent many worse hours not only at work, but on vacation, so this was small potatoes. It had been a good five hours, when all was said and done. It was somewhere around 1 PM, when we completed the last leg. So now it was time to go back into the park. We were going to see the sunset today, but that was still 6 1/2 hours away. There is not a lot to do, but yesterday had only served as reconnaissance for the girls shopping. There was still the canyon to look at from several different angles, The Yavapai Museum, and the Bright Angel Trail, that went down into the canyon.


I already knew that latter was going to be me alone.

Hunter/Gatherers at the Indian Reservation
Patty was not able, and the other two not willing. But, I was going to hike into the canyon. Not too far, as I had read over and over about how dangerous it could be, especially if you took it too lightly. As I walk regularly (8-10 miles per day) for exercise in the Colorado summer, I was confident I could handle whatever the canyon had to offer. But I wasn’t stupid either. Flat level ground is one thing, even at altitude. Hiking down and then back up, in 100 degree heat is another. I was only going to take about a liter of water. That is not nearly enough for an extended hike of that type. So my plan was to walk down to Mile and a Half Resthouse and back. I figured it would take me about an hour and fifteen minutes. I was never dumb enough to think I could walk from top all the way to bottom in one afternoon. It is probably possible to do it in one day, but not without a camelpak, and training first.
Our bus driver. We didn't really eat coyote, did we?
At this point you are probably expecting a horror story about how I had underestimated the canyon and my ability. But the hike went fine. It was hot, but there was some shade. I have hiked in similar conditions, and event the extra stain of walking uphill was fine. My legs were up to the task and I made if back on time. I did turn around within sight of the resthouse, but only because the others were waiting on me, and I didn’t see that I would be missing anything by continuing on. The sights were OK. I mean, we are talking the Grand Canyon here, so “OK” means in relationship to looking from the rim. There was not a lot of difference, but there were many more different looks as you were exposed to something via a twist of the trail. To me the real allure was just to hike into the canyon, even if it wasn’t much of a test.


Back on the rim, it was time for ice cream.

View from Yavapai Observation Point
Hike or not, it was still Arizona in June, so anytime is great time for ice cream and a cold drink. The girls had gotten some shopping in, and took me to a few of the places they had discovered. After some of that we decided that we were going to need to eat supper, and then at least think about a spot to watch the sun set. We decided on the Bright Angel Lodge Dining Room for dinner. The food was good, and it was again nice to be out of the Arizona sun. About the only thing we had not done was to go to the Yavapai Observation Point and Museum. The museum had exhibits about the geology and people of the area, but really the big draw was yet another stunning view of the Grand Canyon. It is truly amazing at how people can get used to anything, good or bad, and then be able to take it for granted or ignore it all together.
The sun gets in your eyes
Be it the people who can eat lunch in a slaughterhouse without throwing up, or those who have been looking at the Grand Canyon for two days and start to think they have seen it all. I was a bit guilty of the latter, but you only had to stare in one area for a few minutes to be taken away again, wondering what “that” was or how “that” was formed, or it anyone had ever set foot “there” before. We spent half an hour or so there checking out the museum and the view, and then decided to find a place to sit and watch the sun go down.


I saw one sunset over the Grand Canyon, in 1989. But, I did not even try to get it on film, as I knew I did not posses either the skill or the right piece of equipment.

I told them they had to smile this time
I was not that much more confident in my skill, but I did have a better camera. We walked along the Rim Trail searching along the boulder lined asphalt path for a good spot that was not already taken. We had started our search about fifteen minutes later than we should have, as all of the really good spots, in our area were taken. But we eventually found a spot that was good enough, and staked out our rocks to sit on. I went off the path, closer to the edge and found two places to sit my camera. I had neglected to bring a tripod, so I would have to use a tree or boulder to hold my camera steady as I took a low light shot. And I planned to use the blind squirrel technique to take my pictures. This technique requires you take as many possible pictures as possible, operating under the theory that even a blind squirrel can find a nut if the ground has enough on them. I ended up taking almost a hundred pictures from a couple of different angles, over the course of about 30 minutes.
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
None of them were truly spectacular, but a few of them were very nice.


But as it was now getting dark we decided to go back to the hotel and get to packing. It had been a long and very fulfilling day.

L_L_Travel says:
Wow! Great blog....We didn't do the helicopter on our trip, but maybe next time!
Posted on: Jul 17, 2011
sylviandavid says:
Bill you write a great blog..... and...... go hunter gatherers...... I'm into it! sylvia
Posted on: Mar 23, 2008
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Our plane. It would fly us to the …
Our plane. It would fly us to the…
On the way. The not so Grand part …
On the way. The not so Grand part…
The helicoter that took us to the …
The helicoter that took us to the…
Margo on helicopter
Margo on helicopter
That brown road looking thing is t…
That brown road looking thing is …
Kind of an optical illusion. We we…
Kind of an optical illusion. We w…
On the Canyon floor! Margo, Jessi,…
On the Canyon floor! Margo, Jessi…
On the River, Patty, Margo, and Je…
On the River, Patty, Margo, and J…
Canyon walls. This was so cool!
Canyon walls. This was so cool!
Patty, Margo, Jessi, and Me at the…
Patty, Margo, Jessi, and Me at th…
The Grand Canyon viewed from Guano…
The Grand Canyon viewed from Guan…
Hunter/Gatherers at the Indian Res…
Hunter/Gatherers at the Indian Re…
Our bus driver. We didnt really e…
Our bus driver. We didn't really …
View from Yavapai Observation Point
View from Yavapai Observation Point
The sun gets in your eyes
The sun gets in your eyes
I told them they had to smile this…
I told them they had to smile thi…
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Almost time to take off!
Almost time to take off!
On the way down!
On the way down!
Jessi and Margo, on the Colorado R…
Jessi and Margo, on the Colorado …
Margo on airplane
Margo on airplane
Helicopter stuff. Hand off or you …
Helicopter stuff. Hand off or you…
Helicopter Pedals. Also bad for th…
Helicopter Pedals. Also bad for t…
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Sunset at the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon Sights & Attractions review
Scenic Airlines Colorado River Adventure
Scenic Airlines offers several tours of the Grand Canyon. We chose the deluxe model, The Colorado River Adventure. This particular tour encompasses bo… read entire review
Grand Canyon
photo by: Sunflower300