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USA: Arizona: Grand Canyon West
Grand Canyon West, Arizona, USA: Breathtaking rim
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
A powerful and inspiring landscape, the Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size; 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. The Grand Canyon is so large that each of its rims offer a different perspective altogether. The south rim is the most popular with tourists followed by the west rim – which is nearest to the city of Las Vegas.
The known history of the Grand Canyon area stretches back 10,500 years, when the first evidence of human presence in the area was found. Native Americans have inhabited the Grand Canyon and the area now covered by Grand Canyon National Park for at least the last 4,000 of those years.
A business conference took me to Las Vegas. On one of the days prior to the conference, we were given the opportunity to explore a day trip to Grand Canyon West. It would be about a 3-hour drive from Las Vegas to the west rim of the Grand Canyon. The drive goes past Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and cuts across the desert. During my last visit to Las Vegas, I spent a day exploring Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. You may want to check those features. What one could do by road can also be done by air, which I did. The flying time would be only 35 minutes.
Papillion Helicopters offer trips to various rims of the Grand Canyon. Our schedule for the day was a combination of bus (from our hotel to Boulder City where the Papillion’s aircraft hanger is); scenic plane to west rim; a van to show us around the west rim; a helicopter to take us down on the canyon floor and finally a pontoon to cruise the Colorado River. A traveller couldn’t have asked for a better variety to move from point A to B in a single day.
We left very early from our hotel The Venetian in Las Vegas. We were at the hanger in about 40 minutes. Our flight was scheduled at around 8AM. Since it’s a private tour, we were happy to board our scenic flight sans the airport frisking!
Those sitting on the left side of the plane could see the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. Those on the right were presented with breathtaking desert sand basking in the morning light. At around 8:30AM we were at the private airstrip near the Grand Canyon west rim. We were now in the State of Arizona.
While The Grand Canyon falls under the National Park, Grand Canyon West is an Indian Reservation – the Hualapai Tribe. Visitors can tour the area only in authorised vans and under the supervision of a local guide. There are various paid packages to choose from. From just visiting a couple of points on the rims to the very elaborate helicopter ride to travel to the base of the canyon and a pontoon ride on the Colorado River. We were booked on one of this elaborate trip. A light meal is part of any of the package.
The Hualapai (meaning the people of the ponderosa pine) are a tribe of Native Americans who live in the mountains of north western Arizona. Their traditional territory is a 108 miles stretch along the pine-clad southern side of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River with the tribal capital located at Peach Springs. The tribal economy is based on tourism, river-rafting, cattle-ranching, hunting expeditions, and timber-cutting, as well as crafting of traditional and modern folk arts. Business matters are guided by the Hualapai Enterprise Board, a committee of independent, business-minded tribal members and non-members.
We were greeted by a member of the tribe at the visitor centre. She would be the driver of our van and will double up as a guide. Our first stop was Guano Point.
The point offers probably the finest view of the canyons. There’s a comfortable little trek along the rim that took us to an old mining location. During the 1950's and 60's, bat guano was mined from a cave across the canyon and was sent back on cables. Rich in nitrates, it was used for the production of makeup, fertilizer and explosives. Some of the mining relics still exist. Picnic tables make for a good spot to enjoy the boxed lunch – a sandwich, fruit and soft-drink. After enjoying the light meal, we proceeded to our next stop – the Eagle Point.
The Eagle Point is named after the shape of a rock that resembles an Eagle. The bird is revered by the Hualapai Tribe and therefore the spot is of great significance. This is also the location of the famous Skywalk.
The glass bridge is suspended 4,000 feet above the Colorado River on the very edge of the Grand Canyon. The Skywalk, managed by the Hualapai Tribe and located on tribal lands, consists of a horseshoe shaped steel frame with glass floor and sides that projects about 70 feet from the canyon rim. Indeed, the Skywalk is the most famous attraction at Grand Canyon West. There’s a fee to walk the glass bridge. The first step is scary. It’s fun thereafter.
Personal belongings, including cameras are not allowed on the bridge. To protect from dropping any items into the canyon or onto the glass, you will be asked to store your items in the provided lockers. Photos of the Skywalk may be taken from the side with personal cameras. Professional photos of you on the bridge are available for purchase after your walk.
At Eagle Point there’s a collection of traditional Native American dwellings, including Hualapai Ranch, a western-themed town that evokes the spirit of the old west through gun fights, cattle drives, cowboy games, and horseback rides. However, the show was not on during our visit.
After spending an hour at the Eagle Point, we drove for about 5 miles to visit the Hualapai Ranch. It’s an old western recreation town which was erected in 2004 and offers a gift shop, restrooms and dining facilities. Visitors get an opportunity to inspect the cabins (which can be rented for the night) as also try their hand at hatchet throwing and lassoing. I was way of the mark!
It was time to turn back to another very interesting part of our trip. A helicopter took us down 4,000 feet just near the Colorado River. A waiting pontoon took us upstream for about 15 minutes. Thereafter, engines were shut down. We just drifted silently downstream with the current. The silence trapped between the majestic canyon walls needs to be experienced. In summer months rafting the Colorado River is very popular.
By the time we were up again on the rim it was 2PM. We took our plane back to Boulder City and boarded our bus to reach Primm – our next destination.
Grand Canyon West Image Gallery Photo viewer
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