04:20am Hostel Cat, Las Vegas, Nevada.
As quietly as possible we dress in the dark, gather our things and attempt to slip out of our dorm without disturbing anybody.
Upon entering the hostel courtyard however, we quickly discover these efforts were fairly redundant, as there already remained perhaps half a dozen people around the outdoor table partying on, as well as a few slinking back in through the main gate after a night well spent on the town!
We walked on to our pick-up location (outside the Stratosphere Casino, as our hostel was not on their list of pick-up locations), our driver promptly arrived, and we then did the rounds of the other collection points before heading on out to Boulder City.
The reason we’d be heading to this city that was created by the US government to house workers during construction of the Hoover Dam?
Well, we’d decided to do this tour a bit differently, and by that we mean by helicopter!
It would be my first time in a chopper and only the 2nd such adventure for Sarah (she’d experienced the thrill in New Zealand several years ago), so it was all very exciting.
A quick check in, an hours wait, and before long our group was ready for take-off!
The thrill of the launch was pretty cool (not so unlike a hot air balloon actually, although it feels like you’re getting buffeted about a bit more), and when the pilot cranked up the tunes, and first on the playlist was ‘Fortunate Son’ by Creedence it was like we were in a Vietnam War movie (Okay, I do have a good imagination).
Our flight path took us directly over the Hoover Dam which was an impressive sight, and beyond we were able to get plenty of good aerial views as houseboats took to the resulting man-made lakes in preparation for the days 4th of July celebrations.
The lakes eventually became the Colorado River as we began to approach the canyon itself, the area directly below us not actually part of the National Parks Service domain, but in fact an American Indian Reservation.
It was incredible to see this place first hand, initially from purely above, before we began to descend into the canyon ourselves where we could then see the walls rise all around us as well.
Part of our tour package involved us actually landing in the canyon, where we were able to take plenty of incredible pictures, before enjoying a champagne breakfast with the other members of our group.
Other helicopter groups with the same package also began to descend, however through some random luck, ours happened to be the first, so we were able to enjoy our time there without any other people before the hordes (well, at least the helicopters) began to descend.
All too quickly however, it was time to depart, and we found ourselves on our way back towards Boulder City.
We still had many breathtaking views to absorb as we made our ascent towards the canyon rim.
For our pilot, I can only imagine his office (or cockpit) being one with a view, of which you would never tire!
Other random sights awaited us on the return flight.
Strange lines reminiscent of the Nazca Plains, in fact turned out to be a failed real estate venture (who’d have thought no water would be an issue in the desert?), now nought but uniformed grid lines and home to the occasional squatter.
Our helicopter tour with Papillon came to an end all too quickly, but for US$350.00, we were pretty happy with our mornings adventure!
It truly was an impressive way to see one of the worlds great natural wonders!
* The cost of the trip per person was $350.00 US per person, which included helicopter flights, breakfast in the canyon and transfers from selected hotels (because we were staying in a hostel, we had to walk to the nearby Stratosphere for pick-up).
* You can check out Papillon Tours at http://www.papillon.com/