Helicopter offers spectacular views of Grand Canyon

Travel Weekly associate editor Lori Tenny recently took a helicopter flightseeing tour of the Grand Canyon. Her report follows:

The Grand CanyonGRAND CANYON, Ariz. -- Seeing the Grand Canyon from any vantage point on the ground is awe-inspiring, but getting a bird's-eye view has to top the list of ways to experience this geologic wonder.

During a recent stay at Enchantment Resort in Sedona, I took an excursion to the south rim of the Grand Canyon (about a two-hour drive from Sedona) and boarded a helicopter for a flightseeing journey that was a highlight of my trip to northern Arizona. We flew with Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, which offers air tours ranging in length from 30 minutes to a full day, including ground activities. All of the programs are commissionable to agents at 10%.

We took a combination air tour and day outing in the Havasupai Indian Reservation. Papillon, the only tour firm with service into the reservation, allows passengers to explore the area on their own or take a horseback-riding tour guided by a local Havasupai. Because we were escorted by Uqualla, who is a Havasupai born in the village, we hiked on our own.

At the Papillon heliport complex, I was strapped into the seat next to the pilot and given a pair of headphones before we ascended, veering north over an expansive flat stretch of untouched wilderness. As we listened to music and narratives, we suddenly soared over the south rim, the canyon dropping thousands of feet in jagged rock formations.

Our helicopter descended until we were surrounded by canyon walls, and the pilot maneuvered the aircraft through twisting, narrow gorges before we emerged over a lush valley dotted with the small houses of the Havasupai. The village, which is 1,200 years old, is populated with 400 to 500 Havasupai, who mainly work in tourism. The only access to the reservation is by helicopter or trails.

We walked along the dirt roads of the quiet village, which has a church, a small lodge, a school, a general store and a restaurant. We were lucky enough to spot the mule train arriving -- the village's lifeline to the outside world for food, mail and supplies.

Surrounded by the drama of the canyon walls, we hiked along streamside trails, passing prickly pear cactus and bright green cottonwood trees before arriving at three waterfalls -- Navajo, Havasu and Mooney. After lunch next to the turquoise pools at the base of Havasu, we headed to Mooney, meandering through descending wall caves to reach plateaus facing the waterfall.

As the helicopter took off again from the reservation, Havasupai children waved goodbye to us, and we ventured farther into the vast canyon, peacefully floating in what seemed like a glass bubble over the amazing scenery. For the next hour, the canyon's magnitude unfolded before us as we passed over the three waterfalls we had visited, the Colorado River and vivid red and gold canyon walls and gigantic rock formations. During our tour, we covered about 160 miles of the Grand Canyon, which is 277 miles long and 18 miles wide.

The Havasupai Daytime Excursion is priced at $330 for the air tour and $105 for the ground tour on horseback. Without the guided horseback tour, the ground cost is $60. Agents do not receive commissions on the ground cost. Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, Phone: (800) 528-2418. Web: www.papillon.com

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