Day 3: Tuesday. The Grand Canyon by Helicopter.
My Ride. That is my life preserver around my waist. For a flight over the desert.
The big day arrived. Going into the Grand Canyon by helicopter. I had booked a flight through Maverick Helicopters in Henderson over Expedia. $427, plus $15 fuel surcharge. Not sure why people have to add charges when they could just give you the whole price. The trip was supposed to last for four hours. More on that later. I checked out of Bonnie Springs and headed for the airport in Henderson, of course getting on the interstate when I came to it going the wrong way, north instead of south. Found a bus for Maverick helicopters when I got off the interstate to get back on going the right way and followed it. Still got there in plenty of time, and checked in, then waited. I met my party, a family of four originally from Korea, and a young couple originally from the Ukraine, who I had some extensive conversations with. The Korean father helped me with my seatbelt and headphones, and I guess their reverence for their elders is not a rumor. Though I really didn’t feel comfortable filling the role of elder. We took off a few minutes before our scheduled departure, one of four helicopters in the air, reminding me of my Army days and air missions. It was a thirty minute flight to the canyon, over the Hoover Dam and Lake Meade.
Inside the Canyon.
We came down on a small plateau about a hundred feet above the mighty Colorado River that had room for all of the copters and sets of picnic tables with sunshade umbrellas. The mighty Colorado looked more like a creek to me, though it carved that mighty canyon over hundreds of millions of years. I came up with the phrase, Majestic Mountains, Rivers, meh. The cliffs were majestic, and it was really cool to actually be in the canyon, and not just looking down into it. It was hot down there, and unlike the Mojave, it had some humidity. I think 48% was quoted to me. Not up to the standards of North Florida, but with heat around 109 it was still very hot. I noted that living in North Florida must have inured me to the heat, since the people from Sacramento were sweating like hogs and I was barely breaking out with any moisture. We only spent thirty minutes in the Canyon, eating a small snack, then going up and out of the canyon and into the Mojave.
Mountains outside the Canyon.
They landed the helicopters at a desert refueling station. We were told that they only carried half a load of fuel so they could take seven passengers, and had to fill up to return. The desert below was as interesting to me as the canyon had been. Crisscrossing washes, dirt tracks, roads laid out for communities that never happened, a fuel truck sitting out in the middle of nowhere. A coral with no horses and no road leading to it. There were arrays of photovoltaic cells in huge banks getting power from the sun in a place where that was plentiful.
The desert from the air.
We landed back at the field after a trip of two hours and fifteen minutes, out of the promised four hours. No one complained, and I was actually glad to be back in air-conditioning. The heat in the canyon had sapped my strength. Still, they had promised four hours, and hadn’t delivered. Was it worth it? I think so. Just seeing the desert and the canyon from the air was an experience like no other. And I have to admit, it didn’t take long to experience everything there was to experience at the landing site. Still, I would have preferred taking off and maybe going up the canyon another couple of miles and touching down at another spot.
Rains in the distance, Southern Utah.
Before going on this trip my Facebook friend Jonathan LaForce had asked if I was going to go through St. George, Utah. Actually, I had a room booked at the Zion Park Motel right outside of Zion National Park, and St. George was on the way. So I texted him and we arranged to have dinner at his house. I was back on the road, heading up I-15 to St. George, then on to Zion. There was a thunderstorm developing in the east along some mountains and into the desert several miles away. Still amazed me how far you could see out here. The day before Vegas had a storm while I was in Death Valley with high winds and hail, . I really didn’t want to experience a desert thunderstorm, and kept watching the rain, which was probably well over ten miles away and never got closer. I cruised through Nevada, then up through a little bit of Arizona. And that’s where I hit the Virgin River Gorge, otherwise known to locals as The Gorge. The Virgin River isn’t much to speak about. I think I’ve seen backyard hose overflow with more water. But it had carved its way through this gorgeous gorge that seemed to come out of nowhere. One instant the road is headed toward some mountains. No big deal, since it is always heading toward some mountains. Then you’re on this four-lane interstate with towering cliffs on both sides. It was impressive, and I wish they had put in some pull overs here as well. Since I couldn’t stop I have no pictures of the Gorge, though you can find it on Google Maps and there are several points with ground views.
St, George, Utah.
So I made it though and into Utah, my first time in that state, and had Jonathan’s address in the GPS, which got me kind of sort of there. At least to the general vicinity, enough to let me search for house numbers. We had a nice meal, I met his wife and young kids, and we spent a few hours discussing writing and possible future projects. The I headed for the Zion Park Hotel, right at the mouth of the Canyon. I had booked it online before the trip and it was much cheaper than the chain hotels in the area. A very comfortable little motel, that was just about to close for the night when I got there. They leave the keys out in envelops for late arriving guests, so I wasn’t in any danger of being locked out. I fell into bed exhausted from another long day.
Day 4: Wednesday.
Inside Porter’s Smokehouse and Grill.
It was cloudy and raining in the morning, but it was clear enough to get some good pictures of the entrance of Zion. I ate breakfast at a local restaurant, which was very good and came with an enormous cup of coffee. Then into the park. While it was possible to drive through the canyon, it was recommended that you stop at the visitor’s center and take the shuttle, which lets people off at eight stops. I did the shuttle and rode all the way to the end, at a place called The Narrows. It actually works best to take the bus to the end, then hop off on stops on the way back, when it is less crowded, and that’s what I did, taking pictures the whole way. The Virgin River runs through the canyon, and there are pleasant groves of trees along its length. I found one of the settings I will use in my post-apocalyptic series, another refuge for civilization, Zion. It even has the perfect name. I met some guys who were going rock climbing, saw some condors soaring up at the top of the cliffs, and generally enjoyed the canyon. When I was about to leave I saw a mule deer browsing on the side of the road. I decided to take the high road out, which was an adventure.
One of Zion’s formations.
The high road is just that. It switch backed up to the heights overlooking the canyon. In places it is a long drop with no guard rails, just low rows of stones. I was starting to wonder if I had made the right decision as I climbed, but trucks and buses were using it, so I figured it had to be safe, though it was still anxiety producing. I went through a mile-long tunnel and was out in a wonderland as spectacular as the main canyon. Rock formations at all angles, just as they had been laid down millions of years ago, then deformed and pushed up by plate tectonics. For someone who had studied geology this was truly amazing. There were ponderosa pines at this altitude, a change from the lower desert. At one point a young bighorn sheep crossed the road and scrambled up a rock race like it was flat ground.
Mule deer at Zion.
I started off for Bryce, led by my GPS, through varied territory. There was still desert, with stands of pines and some streams lined with cottonwood trees. There were a lot of small farms and ranches, horses and cattle. And almost no stores, gas stations or restrooms. Bryce was a couple of hour drive from Zion by the scenic route. Ten miles up the road from Bryce was a canyon of red rock the road went through, which was also spectacular, with a pair of carved arch tunnels for cars and buses. You couldn’t swing a cat in this country without seeing something eye dropping. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven, except for the scarcity of bathrooms along the way. I went ahead and got a room before going into the park, taking the shuttle bus from in front of the hotel. Bryce was also spectacular, but was not a setting I would use in the series. The main overlook was above 8,000 feet, and I wore out quickly. Saw some deer throughout the park. A lot of Asians and East Europeans were in the park, seeing America. And I talked with some young people from Belgium the next morning at breakfast.
After visiting the park I rode the shuttle back to the hotel, looking to get something to eat. The small town at the park entrance didn’t have a lot of choices. Best Western ran both of the motels, and I have never been a great fan of that chain since travelling as a child with my mom and dad up the east coast in the summers. Ruby’s, the one I picked, was overpriced and not well laid out. There were other hotels on the way, from five to ten miles away, and this decided me on the course of finding a place to stay on the net the night before heading out. I ate in the restaurant at Ruby’s, a big place with a buffet. I was seated immediately, and went over to the small and overpriced buffet. Not recommended at all. As I left there were almost a hundred people lined up waiting to get seated, so I realized that it could have been worse. I could have been waiting an hour to get to the crappy buffet.
I went ahead and plotted my course the next day and decided I would stay in Moab. Good idea, and I went ahead and booked a room online at the Moab Adventure Inn. Then it was another deep sleep.