Las Vegas can take you to elated highs but can also drop you into the lowest lows. Leave those lows on the casino floor, and book a helicopter tour with Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters for unparalleled scenic vistas of one of the seven natural wonders of the world that you will be proudly sharing on all your social media outlets.
Papillon, the original Grand Canyon aerial tour company, was founded in 1965 and is going strong with a fleet of 48 planes and helicopters that shuttle an estimated 600,000 tourists in and out of the Grand Canyon every year. Known as the world’s oldest and largest sightseeing company, we were assured an unforgettable experience beginning with shuttle service to and from Strip hotels. The day we were scheduled to fly was perfect: azure blue sky, light wind, and high in the 80s. We were ready for takeoff.
From the Tropicana Hotel and Casino, we took a short van ride to the Boulder City terminal for our first helicopter ride. We were flying to the west rim of the Grand Canyon to see the Hualapai Nation’s sacred site and to eat at the newly opened Sa’ Nyu Wa restaurant, perched next to the Grand Canyon skywalk. We excitedly made our way into the lobby as the signature red and gold helicopters bobbed up and down on the runway like hovering dragonflies. After our safety video, we gathered with our group to be escorted out to our awaiting ‘copter. The pilot seated us according to weight, and being the smallest people on the flight, we got the front seat, with its oversized windows for unobstructed photography. Headset on, mouthpiece adjusted, and seatbelts buckled, we were ready for takeoff. The whirring blades created the speed to propel us first vertically and then up into the air, quickly ascending over the diminishing desert landscape.
Rising up over the Hoover Dam, we headed toward our destination, with a brief stop down into the canyon to let a couple off for boat tour down the Colorado River. At our stop, we were again ushered into a van for a short drive to the famous skywalk, where the deeply red, gold and brown canyon walls vibrated with the low sounds of gentle breezes and cawing birds. We stood in awe of Mother Nature’s majesty and pondered her grandeur. A saying posted ahead of the walk read: “We are walking through a very sacred site of chiefs and leaders, walking through their footsteps,” wrote Danzel Putesoy, a Hualapai youth. Today, we were walking high above those ancestral footsteps.
We hesitantly stepped onto the horseshoe-shape, glass-bottom structure that took us 70 feet past the edge of the Grand Canyon wall and stand 4,000 feet above the Colorado River in awe. Cameras are forbidden, but friendly photographers will take your photo. Many opted to sit on the glass floor to have their time captured above this wonder. As we stepped on the glass floor panels, we had an unobstructed view of soaring birds beneath us. This engineering masterpiece took four years and $30 million to complete this engineering marvel.
The reverence for this special land is reflected in the maintenance of the skybridge, the old-timey western town, the cabins, and the various restaurants despite being visited by thousands annually. After touring the rustic old town, we went on to Sa’ Nyu Wa restaurant, the upscale fine dining facility overlooking the canyon. Joining us at our table was marketing director Wilfred Whatoname, who gave a brief history of the Trail of Tears and Hualapai Nation’s struggle to survive on the land that their ancestors valiantly worked to maintain. “We struggled with the idea of the skywalk at first but we then saw the ability for great economic resources for many of those where struggling financially and we eventually saw the economic feasibility of the project,” said Whatoname. “The skywalk has indeed helped us in many ways.”
Sa’ Nyu Wa, headed by chef James Mendoza, serves several Native American special dishes. We began with a creamy acorn stew, garnished with toasted pine nuts and accented with seared steak. We also enjoyed the special Native American fry bread, pillowy soft and kissed with sweet butter. Our main course of roasted stuffed quail atop of a cornmeal cake was rich and sumptuous with a touch of sweetness from the prickly pear beurre blanc sauce. To finish off our meal, we had to try the rich flourless chocolate cake with seasonal berry compote. Enjoying these dishes with the breathtaking view just beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows, gave us an epic dining experience that we will cherish forever. With mind, body and soul filled with many good memories, we once again boarded our awaiting helicopter with a renewed sense of awe and wonder.