A Birthday I’ll Always Remember

Our original plan was to end our adventure around my birthday November 4th at a great park somewhere in the desert southwest.  Fortunately our plan worked out that way.  My birthday was the second-last day of our adventure, and we spent the day in Grand Canyon National Park.

Flying over the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

We have visited many many amazing parks on our trip, but there is no place as truly grand as the Grand Canyon.  It’s such an iconic place that we’ve all seen so often in photos and movies, that when you first see it in person, it’s hard to wrap your mind around it.  Standing on the rim, the canyon appears larger than life, and yet it also appears two-dimensional and flat.  To really experience the canyon, to understand its immense size and scale, and to fully appreciate its beauty, you have to hike down into it and then fly over it.

So my wonderful wife Theresa was nice enough to buy us a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon on the morning of my birthday!  There are strict no-fly zones over much of the canyon, which we appreciate because it makes for a quiet hiking experience into the canyon.  But aircraft can still fly over a few select corridors that bisect the canyon and offer spectacular views. 

Kaibab National Forest with the Grand Canyon in the background

We took off from the Grand Canyon International Airport just south outside the park.  First we flew east over the Kaibab National Forest, heading parallel to the canyon toward the first flight corridor.  We could see smoke rising from the prescribed burns on the north rim of the canyon.  These fires were set purposefully by the National Park Service to clear and regenerate the forest—an important part of keeping a healthy forest—but honestly their timing sucked.  The few days we were visiting, the Grand Canyon was often filled with smoke from the fires, and the beauty and detail of the canyon was unfortunately muted.  So we were hoping that the smoke wasn’t too bad during our flight.

 

East end of the Grand Canyon

After a while we turned north, and within minutes we were approaching the south rim of the canyon.  One second we were flying just a few hundred feet over the trees in the forest.  Then the next second as we flew over the rim, the ground dropped away dramatically and soon we were a mile high over the canyon floor.  That was one of the most exciting moments of our entire trip.  We had terrific views of the entire east end of the canyon, and the relatively slow speed of the helicopter (versus a plane) made the experience last even longer.

 

Multi-colored canyon walls

We crossed the north rim, again flew parallel to the canyon, this time heading west, then flew back over the canyon toward the airport.  It was a little more smoky on this end, but we still had great views.

 

Timm is happy after a chopper ride over the Grand Canyon

Fifty minutes after takeoff we were back on the ground.  It was a wonderful way to experience the canyon.  We had hiked into the Grand Canyon the day before, and today we flew over it… the ying and the yang, the micro and the macro experience.

 

Theresa, Timm, Shadow and Darby on the rim of the Grand Canyon

But the day wasn’t over.  When we returned to the RV, Theresa had decorated it with balloons and streamers.  We had a nice lunch, then walked along the canyon rim with our dogs, Darby and Shadow.  Dogs are not allowed into the canyon, so this was the best way we could all enjoy the canyon together.  After a couple-hour walk with terrific views the entire way, we dropped off the dogs at the RV, fed them dinner, then went for some delicious pizza and football in a nearby pub.

This was an amazing year I’ll always remember, and thanks to Theresa, this was a fantastic birthday I’ll never forget!

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