There are a number of ways you can visit and experience the wonder of the Grand Canyon such as car and bus trips or fly overs with a fixed wing plane but none can match a helicopter flight over this vast geological wonder.
Maverick Helicopters of Las Vegas offer a variety of tours but the Dream Catcher Sunset Tour offered the ultimate experience; take off in downtown Las Vegas, fly out over the Bowl of Fire, Valley of Fire and Lake Mead, fly into the Grand Canyon, land in the canyon floor close to the Colorado River for champagne and canapés, fly out over the Hoover Dam then return into Las Vegas at sunset as the lights on the Strip came on.
Maverick Helicopters are based at McCarron Airport, which is a short distance from central downtown Las Vegas. After registering and being allocated to a helicopter we took off directly over the downtown area of Las Vegas giving us a stunning view of the city and our hotel, the MGM Grand. Heading east we headed out over the flat desert land on the outskirts of the city where we could see some exclusive housing areas around some lakes and then north east into the area known as the Bowl of Fire and Valley of Fire.
Valley of Fire State Park is the oldest state park in Nevada, USA and was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1968. It covers an area of almost 42,000 acres (17,000 ha) and was dedicated in 1935. It derives its name from red sandstone formations, formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs. These features, which are the centerpiece of the park’s attractions, often appear to be on fire when reflecting the sun’s rays.
Valley of Fire is located 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Las Vegas, at an elevation between 2,000–2,600 feet (610–790 m). It abuts the Lake Mead National Recreation Area at the Virgin River confluence. It lies in a 4 by 6 mi (6.4 by 9.7 km) basin.
Complex uplifting and faulting of the region, followed by extensive erosion, have created the present landscape. The rough floor and jagged walls of the park contain brilliant formations of eroded sandstone and sand dunes more than 150 million years old. Other important rock formations include limestones, shales, and conglomerates.
Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States in maximum water capacity. It is located on the Colorado River about 24 mi (39 km) from the Strip southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, in the states of Nevada and Arizona. Formed by the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead is 112 miles (180 km) long when the lake is full, has 759 miles (1,221 km) of shoreline, is 532 feet (152 meters) at greatest depth, with a surface elevation of 1,221.4 feet (327.3 metres) above sea level, and has 247 square miles (640 km2) of surface, and when filled to capacity, 28 million acre-feet (35 km3) of water. However, the lake has not fully reached this capacity since 1983 due to a combination of drought and increased water demand.
As we came over the next rise of hills we could at last see the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon as far as the eye could see. From the air is really the only way to really appreciate the size, extent and complexity of this geological feature.
The Grand Canyon (Hopi: Ongtupqa; Yavapai: Wi:kaʼi:la, Spanish: Gran Cañón), is a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River in the United States in the state of Arizona. It is contained within and managed by Grand Canyon National Park, the Hualapai Tribal Nation, and the Havasupai Tribe. President Theodore Roosevelt was a major proponent of preservation of the Grand Canyon area, and visited it on numerous occasions to hunt and enjoy the scenery.
The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and attains a depth of over a mile (6,000 feet or 1,800 meters). Nearly two billion years of Earth’s geological history have been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted. While the specific geologic processes and timing that formed the Grand Canyon are the subject of debate by geologists, recent evidence suggests that the Colorado River established its course through the canyon at least 17 million years ago. Since that time, the Colorado River continued to erode and form the canyon to its present-day configuration.
For thousands of years, the area has been continuously inhabited by Native Americans who built settlements within the canyon and its many caves. The Pueblo people considered the Grand Canyon (“Ongtupqa” in Hopi language) a holy site and made pilgrimages to it. The first European known to have viewed the Grand Canyon was García López de Cárdenas from Spain, who arrived in 1540.
Down below we could see the Colorado River snaking its way through the canyon floor. On the valley side on the right hand side we saw in the distance the Grand Canyon Skywalk, the glass viewing platform which many tourists travel out to experience the Grand Canyon. Seeing how small this platform was in relation to the canyon made you realise that from this platform you really only saw one very small part of the canyon.
We descended into the canyon itself and flew above the Colorado River with the steep-sided canyon walls on either side. The pilot guided the helicopter to a small elevated landing area just above the Colorado River. At this small private landing area there were small benches with umbrellas all set up for us to get out and enjoy our champagne and canapés as we took in the wonder of the breath-taking beauty that surrounded us.
We had about 45 minutes on the canyon floor giving us a good opportunity for photographs and get a close look at the barren and stony canyon floor environment. There were a variety of cacti and small dried bushes growing on the hard, stony ground.
Leaving the Grand Canyon we then headed back west, making a short re-fueling stop, then past the Hoover Dam where the pilot made a few turns giving us all a great view of this incredible feat of engineering. Then it was back to Las Vegas as the sun was dipping down to the horizon. The lights on the Strip were coming on and we had a great view of all the hotels and casinos on the Strip as we descended back to McCarron Airport.
This trip was truly spectacular …. expensive, yes …. but a highly recommended way to truly appreciate the grandeur of the Grand Canyon.
Video of Grand Canyon – Dream Catcher Sunset Tour by Maverick Helicopters