From The Strip to the Grand Canyon

The desert goes from entertainment to ethereal as casinos give way to prehistoric valleys


YOU’VE seen the world and travelled all over, yet might still yearn for that extra something that might make your trip even more memorable.

Well, if you happen to be on holiday in the US, try the Grand Canyon.

Most tourists would reach the Grand Canyon by road from nearby cities such as Phoenix, Arizona, or Las Vegas, Nevada, but to make your experience even more unforgettable, you should try the helicopter tour, as this writer discovered.

It was an impromptu decision during one trip to Los Angeles. A random search on the Internet led to a one-hour flight the next morning to Las Vegas.

Of course, it would be a waste if one does not explore the Sin City before moving on to other adventures.

With the helicopter ride another day away, Las Vegas was where the action would be.

The city is not just about the casinos, mind you. The world-famous entertainment capital is more than gambling, showgirls or the well-muscled Chippendales male dancers.

One of the must-do things in Las Vegas is to take a walk along The Strip. The stretch, approximately 6.7km in length, is the best way to experience the pulse of the city, especially at night.

If you ever get there, bear in mind that you’d do a bit of walking. So, it is advisable to choose appropriate footwear.

The Strip is pedestrian-friendly with footbridges at all the main intersections. As both sides are lined with hotels, casinos, shops, restaurants and other attractions, the footbridges are of great help to pedestrians, who do not have to wait long at traffic lights to cross the busy road.

The view at the centre of The Strip is also rewarding no matter which side of the road you are on.

Here, flashing LED lights are everywhere and one cannot help but be mesmerised by what it has to offer.

Head towards the Bellagio and you’ll find even more breathtaking scenes. The free daily fountain show in front of this hotel is another iconic event not to be missed by any first-timer to this city.

The music and light show incorporates a water display which spans more than 1,000ft (305m), with water soaring as high as 460ft into the air.

Inside the hotel, visitors will be greeted by another must-see show: “O” by the Cirque du Soleil is a stunning performance which integrates acrobatics, gymnastics, dancing and music.

The writer enjoys a picnic at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

The 90-minute show, dubbed as one of the best selling theatrical productions of all time, has been running at the Bellagio since 1998.

And of course, there’s the iconic Caesar’s Palace where Canadian songstress Celine Dion performed for 16 years — until last month, that is.

Although the hotel’s management is still looking for another singer to replace the Vegas Queen, rumour has it that they are looking for the likes of Adele or Barbra Streisand.

Since the main goal is to experience the Grand Canyon by air, the Vegas experience had to be limited.

Nevertheless, the stroll along The Strip proved to be rather fruitful, as a number of booths that sold tour packages to the Grand Canyon were available.

The package of choice was the US$370 (RM1,258) per head helicopter ride. After all, hovering around the Grand Canyon would certainly offer a different dimension.

And what a ride it was! Upon take-off from the Henderson Executive Airport, about 15 minutes via a free shuttle ride to the south of the Las Vegas Strip, the incredible journey began.

Carved over 17 million years by the Colorado River, the rugged rock formations set against endless blue skies at the Grand Canyon are certainly a sight to behold.

The massive canyon is 446km long (nearly the length of Titiwangsa Range) and 29km wide, with a depth of over 1.6km.

Historically, Native Americans who built settlements within the canyon and its many caves for thousands of years have continuously inhabited the area.

In 1540, Spanish captain Garcia Lopez de Cardenas discovered the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, along with Hopi (a Native American

tribe who primarily live in north-eastern Arizona) guides and his small group of soldiers. Many other explorers have made the trip to the area since. The helicopter, seating six passengers, offers 360 degrees of unrestricted panoramic viewing.

The pilot of the day, Bill Johnstone, narrated the journey’s informative commentary as he flew the chopper over the magnificent Mojave Desert, Hoover Dam, Bypass Bridge and Black Canyon.

“Keep your eyes wide open for wildlife along the way,” Johnstone reminded passengers as the chopper passed the barren rural landscape of the Mojave.

The tour has three stops, including one to refuel “in the middle of nowhere”.

Each batch of passengers would also have the chance to sit at the front row next to the pilot.

One highly anticipated stop is, of course, the Hualapai Indian Territory. As the helicopter descended 3,500ft into the depths of the Grand Canyon, one couldn’t help but feel like an eagle swooping over the mighty Colorado River past all the rock formations that took millions of years to form.

Every corner is sculpted, with cathedral buttresses and pillars with amazingly vivid, natural colours.

The tour also included a 40-minute picnic at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Beverages and light snacks were served some 300ft over- looking the majestic Colorado River (champagne is also served upon request).

That might be the moment one realises the Grand Canyon is not just a bizarre painting.

On the canyon floor flows the Colorado River, where layers of red, ochre and yellow overlap, seemingly painted over the strangely shaped tower formations and broken cliffs.

From there, one can see the rocky terrain dotted with pinyon pines and junipers, along with different types of cacti.

The air is pure and mercifully unpolluted, thanks to virgin nature — a rare commodity for any city dweller.

Before reaching the picnic spot, one would notice the famous Grand Canyon Skywalk, a popular tourist attraction in Arizona, at the west end of the canyon.

The structure — a horseshoe-shaped bridge — juts out 70ft from the end of the Grand Canyon, offering visitors who travel there by road a view of the Colorado River 4,000ft below.

It might just be a four-hour trip to the Grand Canyon, but the picturesque yet surreal landscape will be one of the tales you’d tell for many years to come.