By Xanthe Aintablian, October, 2017
I had the opportunity to visit the Hualapai Reservation, whose northern boundary is the Colorado River in the western portion of the Grand Canyon. While I was there, I stayed at the Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs, AZ, and toured with the Hualapai-owned and operated Grand Canyon West.
I’d never heard much about the western half of the Grand Canyon. I’d been several time to the South and North Rims of Grand Canyon National Park, and several popular hikes in the greater Grand Canyon area, but never to the west. I seemed to be unaware, however, and learned that Grand Canyon West receives close to 1 million visitors annually.
I stayed at the lodge for a few days and had one day of adventures booked with the company. On my first outing, my companions and I were bussed from the lodge in Peach Springs to Grand Canyon West, next to the rim, about 2.5 hours away. Once there, the plan was to head out on the glass Skywalk, helicopter down to the bottom of the canyon, take a boat ride several miles up and down the Colorado River, fly back up to the west rim, and stop back at the Hualapai Ranch before heading back.
Inside the Skywalk building, you leave your items in a locker and done stretchy shoe covers that protect the glass Skywalk. Before you walk outside, you pass an infographic on the wall showing how high up the Skywalk really is. It shows the comparisons, like the Empire State Building (around 1,250 ft.), and then shows how high you will be, at 4,000 ft., above the bottom of the canyon.
I felt uneasy walking out at first, and stayed nearer to the side, which has material right under the glass and handrails. I paused and wondered if my vertigo would kick in at that moment, and how unfortunate it would be if I suddenly had to run off to save my spinning head. But, I kept looking down where the glass sees straight through to the earth below, and feeling no spinning, decided to walk out and enjoy the experience. At that point, I was grateful for the infographic because my eyes couldn’t even tell how far down I was really looking. It looked farther than I’d ever seen, certainly, but just how far, I’m not sure I would have been able to even guess, had it not been for the information I already knew.
As my group gazed at distant objects trying to decide how far away they really were, one employee pointed and said, “Look at that little stretch of sand you see on the river down there.” We all looked, and he continued, “That little strip is the length of two football fields. That’s how far you are.” It really did help put it in perspective for us.
A photographer employed by the company took our pictures for us, which were available for purchase inside, much like a roller coaster at an amusement park. When we were done, I wandered inside the gift shop before bussing over to the helicopter pads.
When we arrived at the helicopters, we were organized into exactly where we would sit. Once we were loaded in, it was only a minute or two before we were up in the air. We lifted off the earth and soared toward the rim of the canyon. The experience was incredible. I felt a little of the stomach-dropping roller-coaster sensitivity, but I hardly noticed while my eyes were taking in the aerial view, zooming by and then descending into the Grand Canyon.
I was slightly disappointed the aerial tour was over already, but boating upriver and seeing more of the mighty Colorado sounded appealing as well. We went upstream several miles, while our guide showed us many peaks and canyons that held special significance to the Hualapai people. Each bend we zoomed around showed a new picturesque view of the canyon, so different from the view you see above. A feeling of smallness overcame me as we went further upriver, walls looming all around, the plateau so high above.
I realized there was something about the Colorado River I’d always felt but never articulated. Growing up on the Colorado Plateau, there are little streams, creeks really, by almost any other regions’ definitions, but there is only one mighty river. It is powerful and deep. It brings so much life and movement to one of the most desolate regions. I felt so connected to that life while moving on the Colorado.
Once we arrived back where we’d launched, we boarded our helicopters again and flew back up out of the canyon. This time I made sure I didn’t have my phone out and tried to savor the experience. Seeing so much of the canyon so quickly really was a special treat.
Before we continued back to the lodge, our bus stopped at the Ranch so we could get out to eat or shop if we chose. It was a cute display of an old western town, including several buildings, a gift shop, ice cream parlor, old town square, etc.
After about eight hours of traveling and adventures, it had been a long day, but I’d loved everything I’d experienced. Next time, I might consider staying in the cabins located closer to Grand Canyon West, if I prioritize shorter travel over the amenities offered at the lodge. Either way, Grand Canyon West did an awesome job at providing a variety of unique experiences, without the hassle of planning, and I’ll hopefully be back to experience it all again sometime.