Into the Grand Canyon by Rosario Albar
This article was published in the Manila Bulletin USA May 15-21, 2003 issue
A helicopter ride to the Colorado River
The Grand Canyon
It took millions of years to form the 227-mile long Grand Canyon, yet visitors to the site have only a few hours to experience this handiwork of nature that can only be described in superlatives.  Most visitors head to the South Rim and some go the extra distance to the North Rim when it is open from mid-May to mid-October.  Fewer still head to the West Rim, which sits at the tail end of the Canyon on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, a short ride from Las Vegas through the 900-year old Joshua Forest.

The Joshua tree is so called because its branches are outstretched like the arms of the prophet Joshua as he pointed his people the Promised Land.  It is part of the yucca brevifolia family and has sword-shaped leaves and may bear a white or greenish flower that looks like an enlarged cone.

Rainfall in February produced low-lying yellow and pink desert flowers, giving color to the parched landscape.  And like a mirage, we saw three wild mustangs, one of them a dazzling white.  How amazing to see life thriving amidst harsh conditions!  But that is the paradox of the desert.

The Grand Wash Cliffs rise like a monolith in an otherwise flat terrain.  Up close, breaks on its walls are more evident from tremors that caused chunks of rock to come off its surface, leaving a visible red line across its width.

The last fourteen miles of the trip is on unpaved road and large passenger buses have to slow down to a crawl to soften the bumps along the way.  At the entrance to the reservation, a large sign bids visitors "GamYu" or welcome in Hualapai language.  From the gate to the rim, it is a smooth ride.

The specific tour I took included a short boat cruise on the Colorado River.  To get there, we boarded a helicopter for a thrilling ride over the banks of the river, 4000 feet below, sometimes flying sideways as we followed the contour of the canyon walls.  My first glimpse of the chasm and the river was unforgettable.  The helicopter ride lent a heart-stompking way to get a rare look at the canyon.

The discovery of a rattlesnake curled up under some rocks leading to the embankment fueled the already highly charged excursion.  In contrast, the pontoon boat cruise was a more tame and relaxing way to view the canyon from a different angle.  From down below, one can get a sense of the depth of the canyon and admire the gradations of colors of its walls.  At this level, the temperatue is ten degrees warmer than at the rim.

The ascent to the rim was a harrowing experience as we barely cleared the cliffs and were skimming the walls of the canyon.  I let out a scream as we traversed a gap and beheld another tremendous view.  The scream was not from fear but from sheer delight, as one would when going down a roller coaster.  Except that we had no tracks to follow.

Lunch was served on a bluff overlooking the canyon.  Unlike the South Rim, no railings guard the edge of the rim here.  It is a steep drop to the gorge below.

Taking pictures can pose many challenges because you are surrounded by incredible beauty; it is difficult to decide where to begin.  As I was boarding the bus for the return trip home, one of the visitors asked me if I had taken enough pictures (after observing how fast my camera shutter was performing). 

"I could not possibly take enough pictures to capture the immensity of the Grand Canyon", I replied.  And he agreed.

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Getting there:  Call LookTours to arrange for a combination bus, helicopter, and pontoon boat tour of the Grand Canyon West Rim from Las Vegas.  Other air and bus excursions to the South and West Rims are available.  Their phone number is 888-609-5665.  Reservations can be made online at www.lasvegas.com/looktours/looktours.htm.

Rules:  "Leave no trace."  This means that visitors should leave the wilderness just as they found it.  Do not leave garbage and do not take rocks, plants or anything you find as souvenirs.  Respect the wildlife.
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