Day 14. Ok, let's get this out the way. WE FLEW IN A HELICOPTER TODAY!! For both of us, it was our first time and it was fantastic fun! A real buzz.
People told me that the Grand Canyon was... big (I'm looking at you Ben). They weren't wrong. It is, in fact, quite big. One might say grand. But. In the last 2 weeks we've seen some pretty amazing stuff. Lots of canyons. Lots of rivers. Lots of scenery. I was pretty much averagely "whelmed" by the Grand Canyon. Apparently this is a word according to Cat which I take to be the equivalent of "meh".
We drove to 3 or 4 different viewpoints along the southern rim and took the obligatory selfies. We overheard someone else say "it's good, but it's all the same view isn't it?". Yeah, I suppose from the rim it is.
It's so big. So vast. That it's practically impossible for my little brain to properly comprehend. I was honestly more impressed at the much smaller Dead Horse viewpoint a couple of days ago. Maybe it's canyon overload or something.
I started looking through my 150-600mm telephoto lens at the details down in the bottom of the canyon and only then did I begin to appreciate the vastness laid out before me. This shot was taken at 600mm down to the Colorado River below capturing some people rafting down it. It was impossible to see with the naked eye. So yeah, I stopped feeling "whelmed" and realised I actually feeling a little more appropriately, overwhelmed by it's sheer magnitude.
I'd been eyeing up a helicopter tour over the canyon for months but the only prices I could find were in excess of $400 each, far too much. Plane rides of 45 mins could be found for $160 a head so it just didn't make sense. We both really, really wanted to try flying in a helicopter and by just walking into Papillon Helicopters a few miles south of the GC village, we got a ride for $219, each. Still eyewateringly expensive for a 30 minute flight but what the hell, you only live once and as I said above I was struggling to comprehend the canyon from dry land.
I was sat just behind the pilot, in the window seat (woot!), with Cat next to me. Must take some real skill to fly as smoothly as our pilot did. The whole experience of flying in a heli is bizarre. Yawing left to right in the wind whilst still shooting forward at 150mph skimming 120ft above the trees of the plains approaching the rim. Then, suddenly, we were over a mile above the river. Floating.
It was a bit like a memory I have from scuba diving. There I was happily
swimming flying along 120ft up and then suddenly the sea floor canyon rim gave way to reveal an eyesight defying landscape below. Our flight was in a Eurocopter, the same heli used by UK police forces I believe. Very smooth flight and quite the thrill when banking for turns.
An experience that will live with me forever.
From the air the canyon was completely as awe-inspiring as I'd expected it to be. It's obviously horrendously expensive but absolutely, completely and totally worth it. A must if you can.
After the flight we set the GPS towards Vegas. I-40 got boring quickly and I couldn't resist the signs urging me to pull off and drive "historic route 66".
This historic portion of route 66 ran parallel with the Southern Transcon railroad. Route 66 now takes a different, more direct route but the locals in Seligman play the heritage card. Well, it worked on me! One of the busiest railroad corridors in the country it wasn't long before I was able to play trainspotter again and grab some train snaps.
I just missed the 3 locos pulling this train down the hill but saw headlights coming up the hill too. I love stuff like this coming together for a picture - it's just so exciting!!
The rain was coming down hard (you can see it in the picture if you look hard enough) but this train had five locos. The heat coming off them as they thundered past up the gradient was unbelievable. Like standing next to a big bonfire. Really something. Trains on this stretch are on average 1.8 - 2.4km in length. Isn't that ludicrous?!
A short while later I spotted another train coming, this time going downhill and pulled in to grab this shot. I had a model of these exact BNSF locos on my N gauge railway as a kid so being this close in real life as they shot past was just awesome. I was having such a great day!! Helicopters. Trains! What's not to like?!
En-route we stopped to have a quick look at the Hoover Dam - finding they give guided tours of the power plant and dam interior. Something we decided to do tomorrow there and then.
Given that we had no accommodation booked tonight either we began the search for a motel nearby, hoping for better luck than the night before. The gods prevailed in nearby (to the dam) Boulder City. $77 for a king room in a drive-in motel? Sold! Bucket list item ticked off!
There isn't a huge amount in Boulder City but we managed to find a sports bar nearby for dinner with a great vibe, baseball on the screens and live music. We stayed for a couple of drinks before calling it quits. 27C at 9pm in the desert we strolled around town in shorts and t-shirts - going home is going to be quite the adjustment!
What an epic day. Tomorrow we'll go inside the Hoover Dam, 10 mins up the road from here and then head on toward Vegas for our final full day in the US of A.
God bless America Steady on, I like it here but fairytales needn't come into it!