While Coastal Georgia was facing its biggest snowfall in 30 years, my lovely husband whisked me away to the West Coast for a warm, sunny and fantastic vacation.
The highlight of this and a wonderful start to 2018 for us was definitely a helicopter trip and picnic to one of the most majestic places on earth: The Grand Canyon.
After flying out of Las Vegas, Travis, our reassuringly overqualified helicopter pilot, let us enjoy amazing views of most of the major landmarks in this part of the world, including the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and the Mojave Desert, as we flew from Nevada to Arizona.
We set down an hour later on a private landing area at the bottom of the canyon, at a beautiful but rugged little plateau overlooking the Colorado River. This involved an exciting 3,200-foot descent in our helicopter.
We had last visited the Grand Canyon 12 years ago on a driving tour, but seeing it after so long and from a completely different perspective was spectacular.
After a champagne picnic and some wonderful photos, we set off for the return trip as sunset was arriving. The views and lighting as the sun went down was magical, and the contrast between what is considered to be one of the seven wonders of the natural world and the last leg of the journey – a trip over the Las Vegas Strip in early evening with the millions of lights in their full glory – was striking.
Thus inspired, I thought I would share a few facts about The Grand Canyon:
• It is 277 miles long, at its widest it is 18 miles across and at its narrowest only four miles. Its average depth is about one mile and experts estimate that it took 3 million to 6 million years for the canyon to form due to erosion by The Colorado River.
• The canyon is an important geological site. And for such a barren looking place, I was surprised to learn that around 70 species of mammals, 250 species of birds, 25 types of reptiles and five species of amphibians live the region. The California condor, which was close to extinction by the late 20th century, was reintroduced 22 years ago and is now flourishing at the Grand Canyon. We saw a number of them from both the air and the ground.
• The first people living in the canyon were the paleo Indian, ancient Native American people, 12,000 years ago who left behind tools. The Navajo Tribe is the indigenous people of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado and is the largest tribe in the U.S. today.
• The first Europeans to visit the Grand Canyon were Spanish, arriving nearly 500 years ago. John Wesley "Wes" Powell, was the soldier, scientist and explorer who is credited with leading the first group of Colonial Americans down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1869.
• Tourists started visiting the Grand Canyon in the late 1800s, and it now receives close to 5 million visitors each year. Sightseeing, hiking and rafting are popular day-trip tourist activities, but overnight camping requires a special permit.
• The Grand Canyon was made a national monument in 1908 and became the country’s 17th national park in 1919 when Woodrow Wilson was president. The first automobile to reach the Grand Canyon’s South Rim was in 1902 and it took five days from Flagstaff, a distance of only about 75 miles. In 1926, the Southern Pacific Railroad connected Arizona with the eastern states.
• And just for fun: Did you know that it is illegal to refuse a person a glass of water in the state of Arizona? Also, if you cut down a saguaro cactus, you could face 25 years of imprisonment?
You can learn a lot more at www.explorethecanyon.com.
I will leave you with a quote from Wes Powell, written shortly after he visited this amazing part of the world:
"The glories and the beauties of form, color, and sound unite in the Grand Canyon – forms unrivaled even by the mountains, colors that vie with sunsets, and sounds that span … from tempest to tinkling raindrop, from cataract to bubbling fountain."
God bless America!