Leaning deep into a turn on a Harley Davidson I caught a glimpse of the guy I once was. I could see the young me, the kid, who turned twenty and rode his motorcycle to the ocean just to smell the salt air. Punching out of the turn, the white center stripe unspooling below me, the piney scent of the forest hit me hard. Sandstone. Grey asphalt. Nothing but blue skies and breezes to challenge my focus.
One hand on the clutch, one hand on the gas and feet pressing the pegs, I was cruising through the Grand Canyon on a hog.
How long had it been since I’d felt so alive?
The day began with a sunrise plane ride with Papillon, coasting 10,000 feet above the rim of the Grand Canyon. Later, my group of seven boarded helicopter, where we buzzed the jagged edges of the southwestern desert, dipping deep into the canyon then popping up for air. Then it was switchbacks and vistas on Harleys.
Vegas to the Grand Canyon: My own version of planes, choppers and hogs.
You should know that there is never a reason to wake up at 4:30 in Las Vegas. You go to sleep at 4:30 am. You check your watch during a good run at the craps table and see 4:30 am. You might even use 4:30 am as the critical point in the club to use the last of your pick up lines to make sure you are having breakfast with a stranger.
However, you never wake up at 4:30 am. It just doesn’t happen.
So I did it.
Drowsy and in need of coffee I pulled into the Papillion Helicopters Boulder City Airport for my adventure. I should have taken the shuttle from the Las Vegas strip as that would have easily given me a few more minutes of sleep.
It is included in the experience but apparently I have control issues.
The airport in Boulder City is apparently the only other place where everyone thinks it is ok to wake up before the sun rises. The place is jumping with energy as tourists talk nervously over coffee and await their airplane for the 55 minute flight to the Grand Canyon.
As you fly across the desert a taped narration guides you through interesting facts and tidbits about the region. Flora, fauna and geology mixed in with some history make it an educational trip as well. The scenic flight takes you over the Hoover dam and Lake Mead. The sight of the sun coming up over the desert is alarmingly beautiful as the colors of the rocks change and the water from Lake Mead begins to glisten and soon the Southwest is in full view.
Looking down on the dessert the landscape transforms from sand and brush to spaces devoid of matter. The years of weathering and erosion sculpted the scene and the alluvial deposits and stratigraphic columns are what remain in a landscape that changes daily albeit in such a small way that it appears cemented in time. Millions of years and more water than you can imagine raced through this area and created canyons, gulleys and mesas, meanwhile rivers and tributaries continue to shape the desert and change the depth, clear the beaches and expose the rocks.
If you can appreciate the patience of geologic time, the Grand Canyon depicts the ultimate hourglass sand timer only that it allows a pebble by pebble narration of time. It takes a lifetime to see the hour hand move but it does and it has been for at least 6 million years and some say for as many as 70 million.
When you look down into the Grand Canyon from a helicopter or an airplane you’ll see rock deposits in the sedimentary layers that can date back as much as 2 billion years. It’s then, when you realized the history of the Grand Canyon that you realize the irony in flying over this ancient spot in an aircraft. We race over almost in a hurry as if the canyon will disappear.
The plane ride to the Grand Canyon Airport transported me to a waiting helicopter that would have me hovering over a 6000 foot void in the earth.
The Colorado River, a silt laden strip of murky water races far below and it continues to cut through the ages of sedimentary deposits. Like a sculptor the water even to this day attempts to find its lowest point so it advances the Grand Canyon further into the earth. It’s fascinating.
Two German tourists in the helicopter with me pose for pictures with the canyon in the background and the shutter in their camera is on overdrive. I listen to a narration of the journey but the view is so captivating you don’t need much by way of words to describe the sight. As far as your eye allows the Grand Canyon is immense. It drops deep down and far away. Space seems so relative as we sit in the helicopter high above the vast space below us.
No sooner than I step off the helicopter I am trying on a leather jacket. I put leather gloves on and a black helmet and I’m standing beside a Harley Davidson motorcycle. My Grand Canyon adventure is one that allows me to see it from the air and from the side of the road. I’ll step to the edge of a cliff and see it race by on a motorcycle and I’ll stand way up high and pick out the details of the canyon floor from an overlook.
The tour includes a motorcycle ride with Eagle Rider Motorcycle Rentals and they put me on a Harley to ride through the Grand Canyon. The rest of the people on my tour opt to ride along with one of their guides. I take my control issues and opt to ride alone. As long as you have a license you can rent a bike and tour the Grand Canyon from a motorcycle with or without a guide. I’m not sure you get to see as much from the motorcycle simply because you do have to pay attention but I can tell you that the smell of the pine trees as you move through the canyon is uplifting. You peek through the trees to see the Grand Canyon fall away. You stop to get a good view and you have a little snack. Every aspect of the motorcycle ride is enough for me to already want to do it a second time. If you are already going to drive around the Grand Canyon to get a better view you might as well do it on a motorcycle.
By the time we make it back to the airport for our flight back to Las Vegas I feel different. Maybe it was the leather or maybe it’s just the energy from the rocks but I have a smile on my face. As we fly over the Hoover Dam on the way back to Las Vegas I take a picture of the scenery and send it to my 11 year old son. I tell him how my day went and he responds almost immediately.
“I want to be you!”
My response, “I know, right?”