Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Summer of 2009: Fun in the Grand Canyon, piloting a pontoon tour boat.

In the summer of 2009, on one of my days off, I would work for a company that did a helicopter tour down into the Grand Canyon at the west end of the canyon on the Hualapai Indian reservation.
I would drive to the Boulder City airport and fly out to the canyon with Vegas tourists in a 15 passenger, Twin Dehavilland airplane.

The tour is popular and the plane is almost always full.


This is a photo of the new by-pass bridge at Hoover Dam as we passed overhead on the way to the canyon. It wasn't completed until October 2010.



On the way to the canyon you pass over some beautiful but desolate country.



As we approach we get our first look at the canyon.



Me, enjoying the 35 minute flight. It takes 2 hours+ to drive to the closest point of the Grand Canyon from Vegas.



Once landed on the rim at the Hualapai Reservation, we would transfer to a Papillon Helicopter and fly to the bottom of the canyon where the pontoon boats were moored.


It is exhilarating and breathtaking as you drop over the rim and head down into the canyon.




Here are a couple of photos of the helicopter at the bottom of the canyon.
This photo is looking up-river.



This photo is looking down river.



It is about a 1/4 mile hike to the boat dock from the landing pad. The boat operators were always the first to the bottom of the canyon. It is so quiet and tranquil early in the morning before the rotor-wash noise has completely disurbed the surroundings.



I would do a quick oil and fuel check and then maneuver the boat to the loading dock. Within 20 or 30 minutes the first tourists would start making their way to the dock.



During the hottest part of the summer, it is killer hot. Luckily you have an abundance of 50 degree water. The bandana around my neck would be soaked in the river and then tied around my neck. Usually within about 5 minutes or so it would be evaporated and dry.



A lull in the flow of tourists, usually about a 15 or 20 minute break.




Tourist, looking down from the rim think that it is grass growing along the river. It is actually 16 to 18 foot trees: Tamarisk and Canyon Willow. When the Spanish discovered the Grand Canyon in 1540, they looked down and thought the river was only 60 or 70 feet wide. The Colorado River actually averages 300 feet wide in the Grand Canyon. Many people are fooled by the perspective at the Grand Canyon.



Usually, the rotor-wash from the helicopters would scare all of the wildlife away, but every once in a while we would get a good look. These Desert Bighorn Sheep were on ledges just above the river.



This guy was laying down, taking it easy on ledges right above the river. 
During the time I was working on the river I saw Bighorn, some beautiful white Crane's that were migrating through the area, a Roadrunner, a Red-spotted Toad, a Skunk, and one time a Beaver came swimming down the river. Because the Colorado River is melted snow from the Rocky Mountains, and because the river runs at a fast clip, the water temp in the winter is in the mid 40's and in the summer the mid 50's. They say that 50% of the people that fall into the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon without a PFD drown.




At the end of the day I would jump onto the last chopper and reverse the order to get back home, except that sometimes I would fly back to Boulder City on a helicopter if that was the next aircraft that was returning.


Brooke and I paid $250 each in 2006 for a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. Today, the cost for a helicopter tour from Vegas is more like $400.



This photo is for my brother Jeff, who flew helicopters in the army. He was in Panama when Noriega was captured and did some pretty hairy flying in the midst of the fray, even having his co-pilot shot when they flew into a hot landing zone.


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