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Photo opportunities on an unforgettable trip flying below the rim of the Grand Canyon
Red Rock Canyon is a joyous drive through the desert, while the towering, multi-coloured rock formations of Valley of Fire State Park are stunning, especially viewed near dawn or dusk.
But the ultimate has to be the Grand Canyon which, for once, wholly deserves what is a much over-used description around these parts – awesome!
If you’re staying on or near the Strip, getting there requires a bit of an effort: reckon on a five-hour journey by road for a DIY visit or coach tour. You can see it from above on a plane trip too but, for the ultimate experience, there is but one choice: helicopter.
Only then can you experience the size and the grandeur of the Grand Canyon from the best possible vantage point – inside it.
As usual, it’s best to book in advance. Attraction Tickets Direct, who specialise in this kind of thing, recommend 5 Star Helicopters, with good reason.
Run by two genial Brits, John Power and Mark Stanway, they operate one of the newest fleets in town with a 100 per cent safety record and boast more than 250,000 happy customers so far.
The trip begins with a Mercedes Benz pick-up from your hotel for the short drive to Boulder City airport and a safety briefing at 5 Star HQ; this is also where we’ll enjoy some complimentary Champagne and drinks in the luxury lounge on our return.
Our trip was the Below the Rim Extended Air Tour, a 70-minute flight, flying below the rim of the canyon for 16 miles, and taking in views of the Colorado River, the Hoover Dam and Mojave Desert.
During the 70-minute flight the helicopter glided over Hoover Dam
Pilot Kyle Demuth carefully and cheerfully explains procedures, we all don headphones and take off. Within a few minutes we are looping over the first of many remarkable sights we’ll see over the next hour or so, the vast and brooding Hoover Dam – a remarkable monument to man’s endeavour and, as Kyle told us, cherished as the only major project undertaken in the US to come in ahead of schedule and under budget.
Swinging around we head for the canyon, enjoying the curiously bleak and beautiful desert landscape along the way.
Throughout, Kyle constantly puts nervous flyers at their ease by warning of impending updraughts and minor wobbles.
5-Star Helicopters is owned and operated by Brits
He also has an amusing and entertaining line in commentary, pointing out notable sights as we pass over, such as the spot where the climactic scene of Thelma and Louise was filmed, and the remains of a dirt airstrip at a silver mine once owned by the Mob; apparently a trip here was all-too-often one way, the desert being just the spot to dispose of the recently “whacked”.
Almost before we know it, we turn a corner and – thrillingly – find ourselves inside the Grand Canyon itself.
The first – not entirely surprising – revelation is the sheer size of it.
Annoyingly for a reporter, it is difficult to describe just how astonishing an experience this is. Shock and awe, if the Pentagon forgives the phrase, is one reaction. Humbling is another, as we see the colour degradations of the rock, eroded over what’s thought to be 16-17 million years.
Cameras and smartphones click constantly as Kyle flies us what seems like an unfeasibly long way down the canyon before the slow spin round for the return journey.
Bathed in morning sunshine the canyon is unspeakably gorgeous, spectacular beyond belief and, on a visceral level, intensely moving.
For most people this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, which is a shame – because you could do this a hundred times or more, and still never come to terms with the scale and majesty of the place.
THE KNOWLEDGE The Grand Canyon Below the Rim Extended Air Tour with 5 Star Helicopters costs from £215 and includes luxury hotel transfers from Las Vegas and complimentary drinks, including Champagne. To book visit www.attraction-tickets-direct.co.uk