Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

The Year, Part II – A threat to the Grand Canyon

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim, Uncategorized by canyoneering on December 19, 2017


The forecast has looked awful all week. This is never a good thing when heading into the canyon lands. You may have gotten a sense of this when reading my last postbut for this excursion it was for an entirely different reason than the fear of a flash flood. Despite the forecast, I am joined by Grand Canyon explorer Rich Rudow into the remote western part of the Grand Canyon on an Arizona Republic/ reporting trip to visually document the hundreds of helicopter flights per day that leave from Las Vegas. They offer tourists a chance to fly into the canyon along the Colorado River and get back to the slot machines in a matter of hours. With the rain and wind however in the forecast would the Las Vegas tourists choose to see Penn and Teller instead? Would the tour operators even still fly? For me it’s a long way to travel to document what the activists are calling “Good Morning Vietnam” if all the helicopters are grounded.

Grand Canyon Helicopter

After a 10- hour drive, followed by an all day off trail hike, dropping nearly 5,000 vertical feet through multiple layers of geology I hear my first helicopter. Clouds fill the sky but the ground remains dry.  We reach the river and set up camp. Helicopters buzz over head around every 15 minutes. Rich comments that the volume is down. He thinks because of the weather. Until now the skies have stayed dry but halfway through my chicken and dumplings Mountain House the weather begins.

Grand Canyon Helicopter

The rains come in heavy and quickly. We haven’t seen a helicopter in 20 minutes and I assume the popular sunset tours have been cancelled because of the storm. Just then I can hear the drone of rotors approaching. A pair fly directly over the river and land on the opposing bank a quarter mile upstream. As I’m being hammered by rain I shoot stills and video of the helicopters. Night begins to close in and the helicopters remain grounded. Red and white lights flashing on their tails can be made out through the thick atmosphere. “I think they’ve found themselves fucked out there,” Rich comments besides me. He elaborates, they are not supposed to be here after dark but the weather may be preventing them from getting out. The winds bring them good fortune and they die down slightly as do the rains. Just before full dark they take off and head back to the lights of Sin City.

Grand Canyon Helicopter

We retire to Rich’s tents and go horizontal. While sharing in the pleasant chit chat of adventures past I notice a warm glow illuminating the walls of the tent. I race outside to see the most amazing Grand Canyon sunset I’ve ever seen. The light show of the Fountains of Bellagio have got nothing on this.

Grand Canyon Helicopter

The following morning, less than an hour after sunrise the noise can be heard before they can be seen. Its a striking juxtaposition to this wild and remote place. Then they start coming one after another and that pristine essence is shattered. Rich and I spend the better part of the day walking along the river documenting chopper after chopper. Some claim it is the busiest helicopter corridor in the world. Though I can’t verify this it wouldn’t surprise me. Long after losing count on the actual number, Rich and I begin the long trek back to the rim. The following morning I have a rendezvous with friends for another nearby adventure. The rain didn’t stop the helicopters, but as you may already know it will stop this one, only creating a different one.


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One Response

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  1. Steve Schwartz said, on December 19, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks David. Beautiful as always.

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