Grand Canyon Helicopters!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words… so, consider this a 15,000 word essay on how just how grand, the Grand Canyon actually is.

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Grand Canyon helicopter flight
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Hot air ballooning over Kapadokya in Turkey, cruising Glacier Bay in Alaska and watching the sunrise over Point Lookout at Straddie – if these things aren’t on your bucket list, they should be. And while you are at it, add taking a helicopter flight into the Grand Canyon! One of the most amazing things I have ever done.

Another Damn Tour

This morning we went to Hoover Dam which seems just one of those things you do when you’re in the area. I mean its such an iconic piece of American engineering that I don’t think you can give it a swerve.

I’m not going to rambling on with facts about one of the most well documented and studied engineering feats of the 20th century… I can always google that stuff up again later if I want… but what I do want to make note of us the tour that you go on to see the dam and hydro plant out here.


First you find yourself ushered into a small theatre which shows a fifteen minute film. I thought this film was going to be about the history of the damn dam – it’s inception, it’s construction, the trials and travails that were surely experienced while creating such an enormous structure that ‘was the largest man made fear of engineering since the building of the Great Pyramids of Egypt’ (yeah, heard that turn of phrase several times today) – and it did touch on some of these things very very briefly.


However, the bulk of the presentation was focused around telling visitors (of which there have been approximately 47 million since tours started some 75+ yrs ago) ‘how fucking fantastic are we?’ Yep, America has tamed the mighty Colorado River, Americas has created the largest man made lake in North America, America has undertaken and completed the biggest engineering fear if the modern era creating a Wonder of The World… and we did it all for You!

So You would have good water management (though I bet there were states downstream not too impressed with their water loss at the time), so You could have a clean hydroelectric power source, so You could have clean drinking water in your taps, so You could have pretty fountains in your parks, so You could have wonderful recreational opportunities around Lake Mead. Whole film felt like they were selling the dam to the public as a Good Thing™, some eighty years after it was a done deal. Weird.


So I roughly came away knowing very little more about the history of the dam, the difficulties encountered during construction or the people who labored up built it during the Great Depression than I pretty much already knew. No anecdotes of ingenuity or heroism or tragedy. Nothing much personal at all about the men who struggled and toiled out here in the desert to build it… just a whole lot of ‘aren’t we fucking fantastic’ and ‘it was all for your (collective) own good’! Just weird… if any place was begging for a built in, in depth history lesson, surely this was the place. Oh well, c’est la vie… I’m sure there’s a good book or fifty full of that stuff available somewhere.

It sure is impressive to stand at top though… and try as I might, I could not fit the damn thing into my photos with a 24mm lens. Oh and yes, we had more than our fill of bad dam puns today from our damn drivers and our damn guides to get your damn T-shirts.

The Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge

Having come all the way from Australia and wanting to experience the Grand Canyon without the hoards that are prevalent at the South Rim, we decided to stay out at the Grand Canyon Lodge on the lesser travelled, and less populated, North Rim. The Lodge itself was built in 1928 and is quite an impressive stone and timber building. The cabins are picturesquely set among the Ponderosa pine forest all along the edge of the rim, some 400 in all I think, accommodation well over 1000 visitors. They have a formal dining room/restaurant, a Saloon Bar, a canteen/deli, a gift shop/bookstore and the National Park Visitors Centre all on site. There are also some very well located terraces from which you can enjoy the grandeur of the Canyon and enjoy the sunsets with cocktail or a sunrise with an early morning cuppa. On paper, the place looks great.

However, when we arrived, we found that you can’t park your vehicle anywhere near you cabins, so you have to park in an allocated space – of which there are THREE – for no more then 15 minutes as you lug your baggage up and down the hill to your cabin. We were also warned off that we might find ourselves with a $150 ticket if we overstayed our 15 mins, or accidentally parked in the very faded painted ‘yellow zone’. Nice, welcome to the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge.

The next thing I asked was whether they could help out a chronic pain sufferer and help me find a microwave that I could put my heat pack in for a couple of minute… I mean seriously, we had driven 5 hrs in Alaska, taken two flights and 5 more hours to get there and about 30 hours in transit so when I was asking, I was literally shaking and tears weren’t far away… they said they didn’t think so, but they’d look into it and call me down in the cabin to let me know where I could take it. Well, no surprise. They didn’t fucking call and I just chowed down on some extra drugs and hoped for the best.

Next we find out that our rooms have a coffee maker but no jug, and this means, no way of boiling water that doesn’t taste like coffee. Unfortunately this seems to be a bit of a running theme in most of the accommodations we have stayed in, but bloody hell, this crap is really starting to piss me off – if you’re a tea drinker, you’re just shit out of luck, and most of the time they are not interested in finding a jug for you.

But the best was yet to come. We settle into our cabin, have a wander out to admire the first sunset on the terrace and marvel at our beautiful surrounds. After that we come back for a quick salad dinner and decide that crashing early would be highly desirable given our long transit. It was at this point that we discovered the walls of our cabin made out of logs about 40cm in diameter, were fucking paper thin! The neighbours came in after their dinner and made a helluva racket and we could hear every single word of their conversations, hell, we probably could have easily joined their conversations if we had wanted to! Grrr… decide on an extra Valium approach for the evening.

The paper thin walls become a constant irritation. I hear the neighbours chucking stuff around and talking excitedly at about 7am but am so drug fucked I can’t say or do anything. Then laying there kinda munted I later hear someone playing pop music next door and think… what on earth dow they think they are doing? A little bit later, I hear the snap of sheets and realize the pop music is coming, not from our neighbours, but from the fucking housekeeping staff who is making up the room for the next occupants!! Oh FFS. I get dressed and march around to the other end of the duplex cabin building… “Do you work here?”… “Yes.” … “You just woke us up with your fucking shit taste in music and complete inability to sing.” Storm off indignantly. After a 30 hour transit, we really needed to catch up but so didn’t happen. :S

The final straw thing wall episode occurred when our new neighbours checked in that afternoon… they had been on the road for over six hours to arrive there and they were in a very familiar frame of mind. One wanted to go check everything out, the other wanted to rest, the first claims if they rest then, that’s it, they’ll be down for the count and an argument ensues.

Arghhh… so much for the peace and quiet away from all the tourist traps and crowds that are prevalent on the South Rim.

Other than all that, the dining room was excellent, the views are unsurpassable and the squirrels were cute. Not sure they were worth the hideous transit and lack of sleep though.

Two days rolled into one.

Time to leave the Great North wilderness and the closest I’m ever likely to come to the Arctic Circle, and head onto the next stage of our trip. I have had such an awesome time in Alaska. I still can’t believe the places we went, and the things we saw, and the experiences we had. Alaska has been on my list for ever so long and I can’t believe I have now actually been here. So many wonderful memories and so amazing I have gotten to do all these national parks with Aunty Mary – the one person I know who really loves nothing more than getting in amongst all the nature. 🙂

So, packed and ready to go. Only one problem. I had arranged some week and a half ago for a parcel to be sent from to myself care of the McKinley Creekside Cabins due to the fact that these Amazon sellers didn’t ship the items I wanted to Australia. And I had been keeping an eye out all week on the post to see when the parcel would turn up… on our last day and nothin had turned up and I was flailing about arranging with the reception staff to forward the item on to Sedona if it turned up after we left. I left the girls at reception – Kayla and Denise – a bottle of Australian Shiraz to thank them for all their help with the stupid parcel. Just on spec, we thought we would pop into the Denali post office before high tailing it out of town. We waited until the post office was open and I walked in with my handy 24 digit parcel post tracker item number and crossed my fingers. Quite unexpectedly, the girls behind the counter went on a hunt and eventually came out of the back room victorious – my parcel had been located and we weren’t going to have to forward things onto an address I’m not even going to be at. Stupid thing was, that, according to the tracker, the parcel had left Anchorage on the 2 July and here was me at the post office asking after it on the 6 July, so I have a feeling it was there all week, it’s just that Mountain Time is a bit like Fiji Time… we’ll get to it when we get to it.

But, all was good. Got to head off to Anchorage for our five hour drive knowing I wasn’t going to have to chase and hunt that parcel anymore. The drive was good, no nasty monster trucks (well, no more than usual) and no roadworks, even better! We decided to spent the afternoon at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage to see some of the animals we saw in the wild but missed out on seeing them up close, like the wolves, the snow leopard, the red foxes, the Dall sheep and tigers… yeah, okay I made that one up, but the tigers at the zoo were still pretty cool.


Not at all surprisingly, I spent most of my visit at the zoo loitering around the river otter enclosure. Nearly every animal I encountered I took a couple of token photos of, but the otters of course, well there are a couple of hundred of otter pics from our short visit to the zoo! With a bit of luck, some of them might even be decent. After the stop by the zoo, we went to the local Wendy’s and had something for dinner. I even picked up a job application for Mr K, just for the sake of nostalgia, he used to work here back in his college days.  😉

After that it was off to the airport to get ready for the transit from hell… who planned these flights?  Oh yeah, that would be me.  :/


Our flight from Anchorage to Seattle was at 0035 and arrived at 0445am… we got to watch the sun rising at the same time it was setting which was quite surreal. We had been told that we would be on a flight leaving for Las Vegas at 0830 which meant a bit of a shitty boring lay over at Seattle with very little to do at that early hour of the morning. Fortunately for us however, we ended up on a flight that was leaving at 0600 and we pretty much landed and walked from one terminal to another, waited about ten minutes and found ourselves boarding for Las Vegas – no lines, no waiting, no problems. Awesome bonus there! Midnight flights are bad enough without finding yourself stuck in the airport doing nothing for hours on end. I did however get some amazing photos of the last vestiges of the evenings sunset out of the plane as we took off north out of Anchorage…


Then the most bizarre thing happened, the plan turned around to head south, and we could see the start of the SUNRISE in the east!  It was weird, and freak, and completely amazing.


We arrived in Las Vegas and, oh my God, the heat just slapped us upside the head and unfortunately not with a wet haddock which might actually have been more pleasant. Being from the subtropics, we are used to the heat, and we are mostly fine with it… but going from a month of tops in the 14C – 16C range one day and o’night temps that make you grab the thermals, to maximum temps of 41C+, well that is quite another story. It was draining.

We went straight from the airport, to picking up our hire car, to hitting a Walmart for some groceries, to heading out to the Grand Canyon! Another huge tick off the Bucket List coming up right there. We didn’t realize it until we were already doing it, but going out to the quieter and less touristy North Rim meant that we drove through Nevada, Utah and Arizona to get here today… so including Alaska and Washington state, that made five states in one day. Crazy.

Got out to the Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim here and got my first look at this Wonder of the Natural World and found myself at a rare loss for words, staring in silence at the amazing vista of the Grand Canyon. Words are unable to capture the scale, and beauty of this place. Even the drive out here was incredible, towering mountains of striated rock in a plethora of colours, through Ponderosa pine forests and open grasslands. Little tufted eared squirrels and a herd of bison on the plains, it all felt very much like stepping into a nature documentary.  Just stunning.


So five hours drive to Anchorage (237 miles of bad road over five hours), a stop at the zoo, flight to Seattle (1800 miles and three and a half hours), flight to Las Vegas (867 miles and two hours twenty minutes) and the drive to the Grand Canyon (265 miles and five and a half hours with a few quick stops), and all up it took us over 30 hours to get here and on no sleep!

Anyway, we are safely here now for the next few days, and I am looking forward to exploring this incredible area.  I was out on the terrace earlier and a guy saw my t-shirt and say ‘Oh wow, you’ve been to Denali… when were you there?’. ‘Yesterday.’ came my exhausted yet exhilarated reply, which started a conversation about how he thought he had come a long way from Denver, but then again he said, perhaps not. 🙂