Sure, there are practical ways to explain the majesty of the Grand Canyon—feats of engineering; millions of years of the Colorado River carving into shale, limestone and sandstone—but I liked my daughter’s version best. “Magic,” she said, as we flew above one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World in a helicopter.
Gazing out the window at the west rim and its depths, I couldn’t agree more. And the best part? We were only halfway through our adventure.
We’d driven to Peach Springs, Arizona the evening before. The west end of the Grand Canyon is far from any major city, and Morgan (10), Blake (8) and myself (closer to 40) were excited for the adventures ahead. In preparation for a full day of great heights and depths, we spent the night at the Hualapai Lodge.
Located on Route 66, the lodge serves as a hub for backpackers about to depart—or just back from—20-mile round-trip hikes to Havasupai, as well as day explorers like our family of three.
With full intentions of taking advantage of the area while we were there, I signed us up for The Grand Tour through Grand Canyon West, a robust package that covered a full spectrum of experiences. Over dinner at Diamond Creek Restaurant, I amped up my kids for what tomorrow would bring—two helicopter rides, the Skywalk, river rafting and more.
The only competition for their oohs and aahs was the menu, which included the Hualapai Taco, a fry-bread base topped with refried beans, ground beef, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream and side of salsa. Kid-friendly adventure fuel.
The next morning, Morgan first referred to magic when her little brother wondered aloud what was holding the glass Skywalk—a 10-foot wide, horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends 70 feet out over the rim—up 4,000 feet above the Grand Canyon’s floor.
Even though I was aware that the Skywalk could hold 70 747-sized airplanes (that’s about 35,000 people at once), I had to work up some courage to step out onto the platform. With the ground seemingly gone from beneath me, my stomach did a bit of a tumble. But, after a few shuffles further from the edge, and a bit of faith in magic, my back straightened up and my strides were more purposeful.
I compared myself to my Morgan, who confidently urged Blake closer to the apex of the curve just ahead of me. “Come on, guys!” she insisted. “Let’s find the eagle!”
She was referring to the rock formation that resembled an eagle’s profile, after which the Skywalk at Eagle Point was named. Admittedly, I was grateful to be looking around me as opposed to below. As we searched, a helicopter occasionally flew above us, depositing and collecting fellow visitors to and from the Colorado River below. Otherwise known as our next destination.
Our helicopter landed with ease at the base of the Grand Canyon, far below the Skywalk upon which we had just been standing. We looked up to see if we could spot it, but only saw an ombre rock cake in ocher, burnt orange and scarlet. Beside us, the Colorado River rushed and flowed, a tumble of chocolaty water that Blake couldn’t believe was responsible for the layers of canyon above us.
We loaded into the pontoon boat, led by Hualapai River Runners, and were taken on a journey of sights and words. Our captain took the time on the placid waters to discuss the history of the Hualapai people and the Grand Canyon. He explained how the Colorado River is sacred to the tribe, which believes that without it, the Hualapai cannot survive. The tribe believes that its people were created from the sediment and clay of the river. “Like magic,” Blake said.
Our boat neared mile 239.8—known as Separation Canyon—where our education of the Grand Canyon’s history continued. Our guide told of the Powell Expedition, an 1869 journey of exploration through the Grand Canyon. Major John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran, led a group of nine men on a discovery of the Colorado River—the first of its kind.
Disaster struck after an intimidating rapid caused three of the men to call it quits and hike out from the canyon. They were never heard from again. A bronze monument is left in memory of these members of the Powell Expedition. Powell completed his journey of exploration. Despite the tragedy, he returned again in 1871.
Fulfilled from a jam-packed day, the three of us were silent—well, as silent as you can be among the cacophony of a helicopter—as we ascended 4,000 feet back to the rim of the Grand Canyon.
This tour, and our experiences on it, revealed so much more than can be seen from the edge. Or, even 70 feet out from it.
The Seventh Natural Wonder of the World is a marvel to be seen. But the stories made in and told from within it are its canyon echo—legends that deserve a lesson. It will always have the ability to make its visitors feel small. And, believe in magic.