Monday, March 10, 2008
Coming on to the edge of the Canyon, I was very happy to be in a helicopter as we were very close to the ground. Much closer than that the airplane would be. Soon, we came over the northern ridge and saw the canyon and the river in their full grandeur. Sun was stating to set and the colors were very warm although the contrast between shadow and light was still quite dramatic.
Following the river, we descended into the canyon and landed on a plateau about 2/3 of the way up. It was a snack stop and while everyone else was snacking and drinking champagne, we were running around with the cameras trying to get as many pictures as possible.
Time flew by and soon we were piling back into the helicopter for a return flight back with a tour of a night Vegas. The pilot suggested that the couple that was sitting up front swap places with the two skinniest people from the back seat (that included me and another lady). The couple upfront gracefully accepted and soon I was strapping into the prime real estate in the heli – right front seat (the heli seats 3 upfront, pilot on the left and then 2 pax).
The flight back was even better as the canyon was basking in the low reddish light of the setting sun and the colors of the desert repeating all hues on the color wheel.
Sun was setting quickly and soon we were approaching the night-time Vegas.
This blog got its start after my first night flight over downtown Toronto that just blew me away. In a way, flying over night-time Las Vegas, I came full circle. That expedience was unreal. Exciting, exhilarating, with a complete visual sensory overload! Trying to hold the camera steady in the shaking helicopter was challenging, but I managed to get a few shots. They of course pale in comparison with how it felt being there, but at least give a hint of what a magic experience that was. And of course the only thought I had as we hovered to a landing spot was “ I got to finish that night rating!!!!”.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Las Vegas? Well, gaming of course. The whole place is purposely built in such way that casinos are unavoidable. Unfortunately, they still allow smoking in the casinos which makes them off limits for me. Looking at what else was there to do in Vegas, I discovered so many options that we would have to stop sleeping for the duration of our four day trip to do them all. Shows, restaurants, shopping, spas, golf and all the day trips to Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.
I was browsing the site offering various day tours when I saw something that made me sit up and pay attention: there were words “Grand Canyon” and “by air” in one sentence. Blame it on my Russian-taught American geography, but somehow, I did not realize that Grand Canyon was within easy reach from Vegas by airplane or helicopter. Having finished jumping up and down screaming: “we are going to see the Grand Canyon” to the great surprise of my office colleagues, I set upon deciding on how exactly to accomplish that goal.
Flying by myself was out of question. I never flew in the mountains or high density altitudes and was very out of currency to even attempt a checkout. I then considered taking an airplane tour until I realized that, well, it was a CANYON, meaning that commercial tours would have to stay high above it and probably would be too fast. I then looked under ‘helicopters’ and the “sunset tour with a landing inside the Canyon” captured my imagination right then and there and I booked it in the spot.
As the day of tour drew closer, I got a bit antsy remembering my past helicopter experiences in Russia. I used to work for a small charter company and flew on my fair share of old and incredibly noisy helicopters, so I was not sure what to expect. As we got out of the limo that picked us up at the hotel and walked into the helicopter company office, I was instantly put at ease by the atmosphere which reminded me of my flight school, except instead of student flights, there were tourist flights and instead of Cessnas and Pipers there were nice looking helicopters.
Depending on the configuration, the sitting capacity in the helicopters varied from 4 to 6 pax. We were in the larger one. As photographers, we were hoping to get a front seat, but unfortunately, due to Weight and Balance concerns, the combined weight of me, my boyfriend and our camera bag delegated us to a backseat. Luckily, side windows were rather large as well.
As we hovered off and started moving in the direction of the Grand Canyon, I congratulated myself on a right choice. Helicopter moved slower than the airplane and we were flying very close to the ground, much closer than any airplane would allowing for some neat pictures of Vegas suburbs, golf courses and Lake Mead. The views were incredible and they were only going to get better!
Last time I visited Vegas, 8 years ago, I visited the Hoover Dam by bus. This time, we had a chance to see it from air and what a sight that was! It was massive even from the air. What was also very obvious form the air were very low water levels in the Lake.
Leaving Hoover Dam, we headed towards the Grand Canyon. I was looking at the multicolored mountain ridges, blue water of the Lake Mead and the desert that was in between when suddenly I saw something that made me sit up straight bumping my headset off. Grabbing a headset and aiming the camera at what appeared to be a mountain dirt strip, I managed to snap the shot that showed about half of it.
I later asked the pilot was it was and he said it was Pearce Ferry airstrip (L25). It was a back up CAA landing strip in the in the 1930’s but was deserted later. There is no operator on that field, but the one of the Runways is still open. I found a better picture of it here:
As we flew towards the Canyon, the amount of helicopter traffic around us was astounding, even for someone like me, used to busy training airspaces back home. There were at least 7 or so helicopters in our group and there were a few all around us. I figured there must be special rules for flying in that area as well as transit corridors like we have around Niagara Falls and true enough, there were – found this presentation when I get back home. http://grandcanyonairspace.iat.gov/generalportion.swf Very interesting read even for those who never going to fly there by themselves.
Grand Canyon and more in the next post…
The waiting lounge of Las Vegas McCarran International Airport faces the hotels on the strip with one of the runways in between the lounge and the hotels. We were getting out of our airplane, having just landed at Vegas, when i noticed that the in between Rwy was in use and provided some unreal shooting opportunities.
So, instead of getting our of the airport and getting to our hotel, we instead spent the next hour glued to the windows with cameras in our hands. Mandalay Bay and Luxor pyramid hotels provided a shooting background that has to be one of the best in the world.
Labels: Airplane spotting