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Las Vegas Bishop

19th August 2010

A Chill Out Cruise on Lake Mead Followed by Riding with the Valkyries into the Grand Canyon

Panorama of Lake Mead      (please use scroll bar)

Desert Princess
    This morning we drove down to Lake Mead for a two hour cruise. Our vessel was the Desert Princess, a craft built to resemble a paddle steamer. It had been constructed in Wisconsin, taken apart, and shipped over to the lake some years back.
    As we walked along the jetty to where the boat was berthed, I noticed large fish congregating in the shadow of the vessel. I later discovered they were milling around for their next round of popcorn from a tour guide. No wonder they were big.
Ahoy Dan!
    We boarded, watched the proceedings of the cast off, and after three shrill blasts of the ship's horn, we were adrift and gliding over the still, blue water. It was already a hot day, and the occasional hint of a breeze off the water was welcomed with delight.
    We sipped fruit juice as the ship's Tannoy system relayed a complete rundown of the geology and cultural history of the region, plus the more recent history of Lake Mead and Hoover Dam; an excellent way to chill out and learn something at the same time. Other passengers were totally laid back too, perhaps they were all seeking peace and quiet from the Strip.
    We sailed up into Black Canyon towards Hoover Dam. Here the white deposits on the canyon walls were most pronounced. The 120' high 'tidemark' showed how much the water level had dropped over the last ten years of drought. Below us, near the dam, over 500' of water still remained. Jet-skis buzzed past and circled us like annoying bluebottles, disturbing our euphoric states. I idly thought what fun it would be if our vessel had been equipped with water cannon such that we could swat these pesky nuisances; it would make good sport.
    After the couple of hours of chilling out, we returned to Las Vegas, giving me just enough time to visit the launderette before our evening activity.
Hoover Dam and the New Bridge
Take Off Past the Strip
    We were picked up in a stretch limo and whisked to the airport for our evening helicopter flight to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. At the airport, we were given strict flying instructions and protocols by Mark, our pilot, and were soon flying out over the Strip before turning east towards the 'Big Hole'. In short time we were crossing desert and passing over Las Vegas Lake, before heading across to and circling the Hoover Dam a couple of times.
A Long Stretch over Lake Mead
    From there it was keep heading east over Lake Mead. It was only by flying the length of Lake Mead that I really got the sense of the enormity of the lake. I could see why it was classified as the largest man-made lake on the US.
    We wore earphones during the flight, partly to subdue the noise, but also to listen to some good music interspersed with a commentary about the land we were flying over. Occasionally Mark would throw in his two penny-worth too.
Descending into the Grand Canyon
    The flight took us over the 3000' Grand Wash Cliffs that marked the western extremity of the Grand Canyon. The Colorado River could be seen emerging from the cliffs far below like a chocolate coloured ribbon, which eventually deposited its 'chocolate' silt in a delta on Lake Mead. Once over those, we slowly dropped down into the canyon as we weaved up stream following the river, passing the West Rim Sky Walk on the way. We continued our slow descent, listening to the 8 minute long Ride of the Valkyries, one of Wagner's best-known pieces. How wonderfully appropriate I thought. The music more or less ended as we touched down on a plateau just above the Colorado River, with almost mile high cliffs towering above us.
Colorado River from the Landing Strip
    Soon we were joined on the plateau by six identical helicopters from the fleet all operated by the same company. It was ironic that earlier in the day I had cursed the noisy jet-skis for disturbing the peace, and here we were destroying the peace of the canyon in our noisy helicopters. We climbed out of the machine, and walked a short distance across the plateau to a cliff edge overlooking the Colorado River. Here we had the opportunity to take photos and chat to the two young couples who shared our flight, unhindered by the helicopter environment.
    One couple were on their honeymoon, and were flying off to Hawaii in the morning. The other couple had come from Crawley; the organisers had decided to lump the Brits together on the same flight.
    In the meantime, Mark had organised a picnic and champagne for us on a table on the plateau. We joined him for a congenial get together in this quiet, idyllic and magical setting, and it gave us a chance to talk with him. He was a Canadian by birth, and he seemed to be the lead pilot of the fleet. I asked him if he had trained as a pilot in the military. Neither he nor any of the other pilots had gone down that route, they had all trained as civilians. As for where we had landed, the land belonged to the Hualapai Indian Reservation, and the helicopter firm had to pay very substantial landing fees to the Indians.
Grand Wash Cliffs at Sunset
    Mark noticed I was wearing a Canyonlands T-shirt, and soon we were talking about canyons in general. He was fairly knowledgeable about US geography, which made our subsequent chat all the more interesting.
    Sadly, the pilots did not want to linger too long in the canyon after the sun had disappeared past the canyon rim and long shadows were quickly lengthening. We departed and climbed up an offshoot canyon from the main one, and were greeted by the setting sun as we reached the rim. Dusk was creeping in as we crossed the Grand Wash Cliffs and Lake Mead again. At a ground speed of 120mph, our flight time was 45 minutes.
    We arrived back over Las Vegas as darkness was falling and the Strip was all lit up. Mark flew us parallel to the Strip before turning across it by the MGM Hotel, and dropping down to the airport. Looking down on the illuminated Strip at night was fantastic.
    That was not my first helicopter ride, so the novelty factor was not there for me, but the experiences of flying down into the Grand Canyon and landing there, plus the bonus of flying down the Las Vegas Strip at night were amazing and memorable.
    In the evening, Dan and I walked down to a few other hotels to investigate the atmospheres and themes before returning to base for a couple of mojito nightcaps.
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Las Vegas Bishop

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Last updated 30.8.2010