Helicopter blades pound a shrill tempo deep inside my chest. A four-point harness cinches my lap and shoulders, securing me in my sculptured perch over scorched landscape. I'm staring slack-jawed and drooling at the breathtaking scenery passing below, when the EC-130 Eco-Star rounds a tight corner at the western edge of the Grand Canyon and suddenly plunges 5,000 feet in gut-wrenching time to the floor below.
A trip such as this riding in tight confines with six strangers past sheer rock cliffs millions of years old is not for the claustrophobic or faint of heart. But it may be the perfect way to experience the size and grandeur of this eternally evolving landscape.
The trip begins in urban Las Vegas, but we quickly enter another world. Cresting a scrub brush—infested hill, the sight of the Hoover Dam, a marvel of human engineering, seems trivial from this vantage point. Lake Mead fills our vision, a kaleidoscope of azure and turquoise mixed with sandbars, rock outcroppings and small jagged islands. At lower altitudes, sunbathers are clearly seen taking advantage of the sun-drenched shores.
After a 45-minute ride over the majestic desert, we arrive at the landing site on the shore of the Colorado River. A covered pontoon pleasure boat awaits our arrival for a luncheon cruise under a cloudless blue sky. Champagne corks pop as we push out from the dock on part two of the Grand Celebration tour: a glistening ride upstream.
An hour later, the whir of helicopter blades thumps overhead again and we jostle our way back on an express path to Sin City. During a quick flyby of the Strip, it seems entirely possible to reach out and touch the rooftops of Caesars Palace and the MGM Grand.
While Las Vegas is certainly a great city for those seeking entertainment with a twist, Papillon as well as various other tour companies offer similar rides in equally exclusive locations around the world. Destinations including Kauai and Maui, the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada, and downtown London, England, are all places that may be better seen by helicopter, where "the sky's the limit!"