Grand Canyon

Today was a really exciting day. I had an early start, but it was worth it. I’d booked a day trip to the grand canyon, and was being picked up at the hotel at 7.40am. I got ready, then went downstairs for breaky. My accommodation included a $9 breakfast credit at the cafe downstairs, so I went there to check out what was on offer. They only had fruit, muffins and plain croissants so I was a bit disappointed in the choices. I got a fruit cup and apple muffin, then went around the corner to find somewhere to sit. Right next to the tables was another cafe by the same name – and this one did egg and bacon bagels! I made a note to remember that for the next two mornings, because I didn’t feel like three days of fruit and muffins!

For some reason the tour bus didn’t do pick ups from my hotel. Instead I had to walk to the hotel next door (which is actually across the road). I got there 10 minutes early, and it was already there and waiting for me! It was a small mini bus which took us to another hotel where we transferred to a big coach to head to Boulder City.

Boulder City is about a 40 minute drive from the Vegas Strip. There’s a small municipal airport there where we caught a light plane to the Grand Canyon. When we arrived at the airport we had to queue to check in for our flight. Since it’s such a small plane, they weighed us so they could allocate seats to balance the aircraft. We were given coloured stickers to group us into flights.

We had to wait for about 30 minutes at the airport for the plane to be ready. It was a small building, with seats for about 50 people in the waiting area and a gift shop and cafe off to the side. There were about 70 people waiting.

The light plane we flew in to the Grand Canyon
The light plane we flew in to the Grand Canyon

Once the plane was ready we were given our seat numbers, then made our across the tarmac to the waiting plane. The plane was tiny. It seated three people across, grouped into 2 and 1. There were about 20 passengers all up. The aisle down the middle was just wide enough to fit through while the seats were empty, but once people were seated there was barely a gap. We could see straight through the cock pit to the pilot and all their controls.

Inside the cabin
Inside the cabin

I was towards the back in a single seat on the left hand side. Directly behind me was the door, and looking at it I worried that it might swing open during our flight. Fortunately it didn’t, but it looked like someone could’ve just yanked it open mid-flight if they’d wanted to.

The wings were mounted at the top of the plane giving a great view out the large windows. This also meant that the propellers were just outside the window and I could watch them spinning as the plane tried to take off. It felt like it mightn’t lift of before reaching the end of the runway, but it did. Being such a small plane, it didn’t feel like take off was as effortless as it is on a big jet.

Watching the propeller out the window
Watching the propeller out the window

Everyone had a headset, and a recorded narration played as we flew telling us about landmarks we were flying over. In between the speaking there was background music that reminded me of the music from Jurassic park as they flew to the island.

As we flew over Boulder City it looked very small. It was strange to see a collection of green parks and backyards in the middle of the desert. There was a golf course as well, with bright green lawns, bordered by the dry, brown of the desert.

Not far from Boulder City, we flew over Hoover Dam. I had no idea what to expect, but it was massive! I can only imagine what it would look like from the ground. It reminded me of something out of a James Bond film. As we flew over, the audio guide provided some details on the dam. The dam was built in the 1930s, and Boulder City was actually established to provide the workers with somewhere to stay while working on the project. There’s more than 6.5 million tonnes of concrete in the construction! There are some other interesting stats on the US Bureau of Reclamation website.

Traffic used to drive over the actual dam wall, but the arching bridge was built recently due to concerns about potential terrorist threats from cars crossing over the dam wall.

Flying over the Hoover Dam
Flying over the Hoover Dam

From there we followed the Colorado River for a bit, and then crossed over Lake Mead. We were flying quite low, so low that the cabin wasn’t pressurised, and we could see down to the ground really clearly. It was an amazing view, and a really interesting landscape with rocky cliffs, flat plains with small shrubs and dense sections of forest.

Colorado River
Colorado River

The flight was about an hour, and towards the end it started to get rough. Just as I was starting to feel a bit sick in my tummy we started to land – great timing! I hadn’t even thought about motion sickness until then, but it wasn’t really an issue.

As soon as we landed at the Grand Canyon National Park airport we were put into smaller groups for our helicopter ride. We watched a safety video where they explained that the door may open during flight and it’s perfectly normal! Luckily ours didn’t, but we were quite firmly strapped in so I understand now how it still would’ve been quite safe. They gave us all life jackets, because apparently part of our flight would be over a body of water. During the flight the only water I saw was the Colorado river. Given it’s only a few metres wide, the chance of needing a life jacket seemed pretty slim. I parachute would have been way more useful! Fortunately we had a safe flight, so it didn’t matter anyway.

There were six of us in the helicopter, and again they allocated seat numbers based on our weight. Being smaller than the aeroplane it was even more important that we stick to our seats for the helicopter. One girl sat in the front with the pilot, and the rest of us sat in the back. I was facing backwards, and had a bit of a panic that I’d get motion sickness facing backwards. But the trip was really smooth and it wasn’t an issue. I think that because the helicopter flies lower than the plane, and I could see the ground moving below, motion sickness was less of an issue.

Our helicopter for a flight over the Grand Canyon
Our helicopter for a flight over the Grand Canyon

As we took off, it was hard to tell that we’d even left the ground – it was really smooth. The pilot warned us it might be a bit rough once we got out over the grand canyon, but it didn’t feel too bad to me. The first 5 minutes or so we were flying over trees, then we reached the canyon. As the ground dropped away below us it was a little bit scary looking straight down from the helicopter. The views were amazing and we flew pretty close to some of the cliffs.

Cruising in the helicopter
Cruising in the helicopter

Out of the 20 people on my tour, 11 of them were Portuguese. So, of the 6 in my helicopter, 5 of them were Portuguese! They spoke some English, but it made it a bit tricky to talk. Still, they were quite friendly and took a couple of photos for me. The view was so amazing though that it was enough to just smile across the seats at each other and we knew what everyone was thinking – “wow”!

Flying over the grand canyon
Flying over the grand canyon

For the most part the floor of the canyon is bare, but there are some trees and shrubs, particularly around the banks of the river. I could see some tracks as well that have either been made by cars or hikers. Down one of the cliffs there was a narrow zig zagging path which I think must be where the mules go. Our guide told us about them later in the trip, saying that you can travel down into the canyon on the back of a mule.

Flying near some rocky outcrops
Flying around a rocky outcrop

After about 10 minutes of flying there was a rocky ‘island’ in the middle of the canyon. We flew around it then started to make our way back towards the rim. The cliffs were amazing, showing various layers of rock in different colours and textures. The thought that over millions of years the river and winds have worn away the earth to create the canyon is just incredible.

Once we were safely back on the ground we all got back on the bus where our driver gave us a ‘box lunch’. It was literally a small cardboard box with a packed lunch, just like something you’d have at school. When I read the description of the tour I was worried that they might not feed us well enough, but I should have known better after 3 weeks of American sized portions. It was more than enough, filled with a ham, cheese and tomato croissant, cheese stick, water bottle, apple (healthy!), chips and muesli bar (the muesli bar was a handy snack on my flight to LA).

We ate on the bus as we drove to the south rim of the canyon. The road took us through national park where there is actually a small village. The village was built before the area was declared a national park. A railroad was built to transport metals that were mined in the area, and the village built up around that. Our guide explained that most of the buildings were designed by the same female architect, which was why everything seemed to go together well. The buildings are mostly timber, and fit in nicely with the natural surroundings.

We were dropped off in the village, just a couple of hundred metres from the rim. We had about 45 minutes to explore on our own, then we had to be back at the bus. It would’ve been good to have a bit longer, but I managed to soak up the view and take a lot of photos.

It was great flying over the canyon and getting a birds eye view, but it was equally impressive standing on the edge and looking out over it. There is an asphalt path that follows the rim, but it only had a knee high stone fence along the edge which was very easy to step over. I’m not sure if you’re allowed to leave the path, but I was able to walk right up to the edge of the cliff. Here’s a link to a photosphere I took on the edge – it gives some idea of how amazing the view was.

I walked along the path quite a way, stopping at different places to take in the view. I came across a man with a really big camera and he asked me to take a photo for him. He was pretty serious about his photos because he took a photo to show me what he wanted in the background and where he wanted to be in the photo, then positioned himself for me to take the photo. Then, we swapped and he took some really nice photos for me too! We crossed paths again a little way down the track and did the same thing again. He had a big flag with a map of the world and different timezones. He took a photo with his flag, then gave it to me for a photo too. His name was Alex, and it turns out he has a website, World Time Zone, where the flag is his site logo. I guess he wants pictures of his flag in different places around the world to put on the site.

Before I knew it the 45 minutes were almost up so I had to hurry back to the bus. I was the last one back to the bus, and the driver pulled out as soon as I was on board. It made me wonder what would have happened if I’d been any later back to the bus!

The bus took us back to the airport where we boarded the small plane again for the return flight to Boulder City. After the amazing views we’d had over the canyon, the return trip wasn’t quite as exciting as it had been on the way to the canyon. It took a bit longer on the way back because the we were flying into the wind. You could really feel the engines working hard.

Back at the airport I browsed the gift shop and bought a key ring, then went to the bookings desk to put my name on the list for the next bus back to Vegas. The bus came about 10 minutes later, and took us all back to a hotel in Vegas where we split up into smaller vans again, each covering two or three hotels.

I got back to the hotel about 5pm, an hour before the pool would close. I slipped into my boardshorts and made my way back downstairs to the pool. It was a really hot day, up around 37 C, so I was really looking forward to cooling off. There are two pools at the Flamingo – a family pool and an adults only pool. I went to the adults only pool, got a frozen mojito and settled down on a banana lounge. It was a pretty cool set up, with banana lounges all around the edge, and little gazebos with mattresses that could be reserved the day before.

People were sitting on the edge of the pool with drinks, and some people had even taken them in the pool with them! Everything was served in plastic or cans, so there was no risk of broken glass. They had loud music playing too. It was a nice way to relax after my big adventures of the day, but just before six the sun went behind the hotel and it was quite cool in the shade. Not sure if that’s the reason they close it at 6pm, but I was quite ready to leave at that point.

From there I went back to my room for a quick shower, then went to Margaritaville for dinner. It’s a restaurant that’s part of the Flamingo, and has a Caribbean / pirate theme to it. As the name suggests, they specialise in margaritas!

Margaritaville
Margaritaville

I took a seat at the bar, ordered a margarita and chicken fajitas and settled down to enjoy the scene. The decor was quite extravagant, with a volcano on top of the front bar, and a sea plane hanging above the tables. There was also a small stage, and halfway through dinner a couple of pirates came out and did a dance. At the end of the show, a girl appeared on the top of the volcano which erupted and she slid down a water slide into a big margarita glass. It was a bit strange…¬†¬†Dinner was really good and the margaritas were great. As always it was a really big serve. The fajitas came in pieces (tortillas, chicken, beans, guacamole and sour cream) for me to put together myself. There were enough tortillas for four, but I could only get through three. After that I was ready to head out and do some night time exploring.

Pirate show during dinner
Pirate show during dinner

First stop was the Bellagio. I’d already seen the dancing fountains the night before, so I went inside to check out the casino. There’s an amazing ceiling just inside the lobby, covered in big glass flowers. It was beautiful.

Glass flowers on the ceiling of the Bellagio
Glass flowers on the ceiling of the Bellagio

Through the lobby is a really cool garden with hot air balloons hanging from the ceiling, kites floating above the trees, snails as tall as me made from flowers (the sign said it was made from 1500 cut flowers!), and garden beds filled with hydrangeas. I’m not sure how often they have to refresh the decorations, because I would’ve thought in the case of the snails the flowers wouldn’t last long indoors, but it was very impressive to see.

Indoor garden at the Bellagio
Indoor garden at the Bellagio

As I walked through the casino there was a bar where a man was playing a grand piano. I stopped there for a drink and to enjoy his music. It was nice to stop for a bit and watch all the people going past. There was an interesting mix of people wandering around in casual clothes, and others dressed up in suits. I felt like I fit in nicely as a tourist, with my shorts, bag and camera.

Dancing fountains outside the Bellagio
Dancing fountains outside the Bellagio

When I went back out the front the fountains were going off, so I stopped to watch. They were dancing to Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas which seemed very appropriate. You can see in this photo just how high they shoot! By this time I was started to feel pretty tired after my early start and big day visiting the Grand Canyon so I decided to go back to the hotel for a good night sleep ready to enjoy the next day.

Looking across at Paris from the Bellagio
Looking across at Paris from the Bellagio

Overall I think this was one of my favourite days (after visiting Hogwarts, of course). The Grand Canyon was amazing, and that combined with some night time exploring it was a very varied day.

Posted from GRAND CANYON, Arizona, United States.

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