Arizona Day 7 – Grand Canyon

Breakfast at the B&B we were staying at was to be served precisely at 08:00, leaving us just enough time for us to get ready for our mornings activity. The owner of this place had prepared a buffet of bacon, eggs, pancakes, toast, and bagels though with the flight ahead we decided to eat lightly. She also recommended to us some directions to where we could hike to the Canyon rim and get a view of it that most tourists don’t get to see.

We got to the Grand Canyon airport at around 09:15 and after eventually finding the Papillion terminal, we found that our tour was being operated from a different building. They did however provide a shuttle bus to take us to the correct location which was just down the road.

Upon arrival at the airport they took our weights and then we had to wait. This took even longer than anticipated though as their computer systems failed which meant they couldn’t calculate the weight distributions for the flight. My friend commented that they should be able to work this out on paper, but perhaps this was something the staff weren’t used to doing.

After 40 minutes of grounded helicopters they got this sorted and we boarded the Airbus EC-130 helicopter for our aerial tour of the Grand Canyon. Myself and my friend had paid the extra $50 each to get the front seats of the helicopter as it meant for better photography opportunities. Before take off they even clean the front windows to make sure they’re as clean as possible. As we boarded the helicopter we were helped with fitting the safety harnesses, and then put on the headsets to block out most of the rotor noise, and to allow for communication onboard.

The flight started by going fast over the trees so that when we finally crossed over the canyon rim the helicopter could slow down and let us take in the view below us. The tour took us over quite a large portion of the canyon, including the north rim and a convergence where the Colorado River meets the Little Colorado River causing a mixture of brown and green water.

The pilot’s music selection was fairly good too, starting with “Three Little Birds” as we took off, followed by “Beautiful Day”, “Danger Zone” (from Top Gun), and at the time we crossed into the canyon it was the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey” that played. She also knew a lot about the Canyon, and the efforts in the area to restore the number of Californian Condors.

The Grand Canyon is a place of importance to the different native American tribes that live around the area, and each group has a different name for it. During the time of the Spanish Conquistador’s the European explorers tried to find a point to cross it but were told that none existed. Despite this though they were able to eventually find a crossing along this 277 mile long, 18 mile wide, and 1 mile deep chasm in the land.

It has taken between 5 to 40 million years (depending on which scientific studies you follow) for the Grand Canyon to become what we could see from the helicopter. Although the canyon was carved by the Colorado River, it has also been a product of uplift which has brought 2 billion year old rocks to the surface.

By the time the tour was over and we’d left the visitor centre it was already 11:30 so we had limited time left in the park before we’d need to start our journey home. To start with we stopped off at the visitor centre to buy some lunch to take with us, and then drove north-east until we reached Desert View Point.

At this stop we sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon and had lunch in the sun next to an old lookout tower. Once we’d finished eating we had a look inside the tower as well, but due to conservation efforts we couldn’t go up to the top. We didn’t really need to though as we’d already been able to look down into the canyon.

On the drive back to the visitor centre we stopped at each viewpoint to take more photographs of the canyon. This took a couple of hours and by the time we left the national park it was already 15:00. To make sure we could get back to Phoenix okay we filled up with more fuel at the gas station in Valle and then drove on for a couple of hours before changing over driver again.

I took over the driving for the last 100 miles that started just before sunset and continued on into the evening. This bit reminded me a little of some of the driving I did in California when driving back to San Jose as they were similar conditions and scenery. Before we made it all the way back we stopped just outside Phoenix in Happy Valley for an evening meal.

For food we went in TGI Fridays where I had chicken, a jacket potato and vegetables. The service there was really good, and it was one of the best meals of the holiday. After a brief visit to Walmart we were back on the road and just 30 minutes from the hotel.

Once we’d checked back into the Marriott we emptied the car as quickly as we could and then left my sister at the hotel as me and my friend headed to the airport to drop the car off. It took a while to find a fuel station at the airport, but fortunately I spotted one on the satnav so that when we dropped the car off it’d have a full tank.

Having dropped off the car it was then a bit of a mission to get back to the hotel. We had to take a shuttle bus from the car rental place to Terminal 4, then find our way across the terminal to the domestic arrivals where we waited to be picked up by the hotel shuttle bus. Eventually we got back to the hotel just before 22:00 so we could begin the task of packing for the flights ahead of us.

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