Not So Grand, Not So Grand At All
Sitting in a cluster of bench seating, I stare up at the sky. That’s where I’m headed. No, I’m not imagining a worst case scenario. I’m about to be hurled up into the air in a glorified bumble bee. It’s fifty degrees outside, yet I’m almost shivering in the starkly-decorated, temperature-controlled airport ‘lounge’. There’s not much to do except survey the over-priced gift shop or park up and wait. Nerves swim around my stomach, exacerbating my low body temperature. I’ll be lucky to avoid the flu at this rate, alternating between ice-cold air conditioning and the sweat-drenching heat of the Nevada Desert.
Our mode of transport to the canyon is helicopter. Propellers rotate violently above us and we lift towards the horizon. I’ve got the much-coveted low-level window seat. Unfortunately, I have a fear of heights, a rather inconvenient family trait. My travel companions’ mouths are agape in awe. I scan the horizon to double check that I haven’t missed anything. No, just burnt orange earth littered with clusters of rocks and the odd tumbleweed rolling around.
The Pilot’s voice booms into the headset over the hum of the engine:
“Alright guys, we’re about to fly over The Hoover Dam.”
The Dam supports sin city. Thousands of people were involved in building it. Unfortunately more than one hundred workers never saw the opening of the dam. My attention is easily diverted as we drone over a square kilometre of vacant ‘lots.’ The lots were destined for development into luxury villas, overlooking Lake Mead. The lack of visibility of Lake Mead was a technical difficulty and a likely contributor to the development’s downfall. Now, vagrants have drawn their caravans onto the scene and created their own little shanty-town.
We descend alongside the canyon’s West Rim onto the helipad. I’m paranoid the propeller is going to take my head off in one clean sweep. I drop low as I disembark and walk like the Hunchback of Notre Dame even after what is probably a safe distance. We stand against the hand-rail in the blazing mid-day sun and teeter over the edge of the canyon.
Layer upon layer of rust coloured sediment is stacked like Lego before us, sprinkled with scrubby growth, clinging to the outer edges. The parted earth falls into a concave drop where our eyes meet a distant, mud-churned river at the bottom which seems no more than a puddle. I struggle to process the scale of what is before me. The use of the word ‘Grand’ seems inappropriate. Especially in a country that super-sizes everything from soft drink to motor vehicles.
Shade is also in short supply. I would happily part with double the ticket price at this point for a reprieve from the sun-scorched desert. I turn to my travel companion and whisper:
“People travel six hours by road for this?” while simultaneously thanking the desert stars that I am not one of them.
The flight back to the base is full of air pockets and creaky seats. I check the box against ‘ride in a helicopter’ and ‘visit the grand canyon’ on my bucket list. We wobble away from the helicopter to find that the bus is twenty minutes away but we are “welcome to look through the gift shop” while we wait.