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Back in October I had one of the most humbling experiences of my life – exploring the impressive Grand Canyon both from the air and on foot hiking down into the depths of this majestic wonder of the world. I’ve been considering this blog post for a while – struggling to put into words just how epic that day truly was. I spent two nights at the Grand Canyon whilst on an epic journey round the Western USA with Trek America. As clich├ęd as it sounds, words and pictures really don’t do it justice.

As we drew closer to the Grand Canyon, even before we entered the Grand Canyon National Park, I could feel my excitement building as I caught my first glimpses of the narrowest points of the canyon. The fields in the distance appeared to suddenly dip away into the abyss below. The van was buzzing with excitement, certainly this would be the highlight for several on the trek.  

The Grand Canyon National Park is found in the state of Arizona and is around 270 miles long. The sheer scale is hard to imagine. At its widest it’s 18 miles wide and over 6000 feet deep. For those of us from the UK, think of it this way, you could easily fit Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, inside it and still have over 2000ft to spare! Mind blown. Or how about this… you’d need to stack the Empire State Building nearly four times to reach the top!

We arrived at our hotel at the Grand Canyon, the Red Feather Lodge, on a chilly Halloween weekend. Our tour guide had called ahead and had requested early access to the rooms so we could shower. We had just spent two nights in the wild, with a night at Betty and Rusty’s Cowboy camp, followed by an epic overnight Hogan stay with the Navajo in Monument Valley. After two nights roughing it with no running water or electricity, we were all extremely grateful when the hotel staff obliged and gave us all early access to our rooms.

The hotel was pleasant and most importantly had a plentiful supply of hot running water! After showering I grabbed some food from the McDonalds across the street. Who would have thought, a McDonalds at the Grand Canyon! Not usually a McDonalds fan but it was nice for convenience. What was to happen next was going to be one of the most epic experiences of my life. I’ve travelled to many of the USA’s best national parks, monuments and cities but nothing comes close to the excitement and anticipation of this moment. Yes, you guessed, flying over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter!

Im a bit of a geek. I admit it I. I’m fascinated by aviation and flight in general. This was to be my first ever helicopter flight and I was buzzing – what a way to do it! If your travelling with Trek America to the Grand Canyon I cannot recommend enough how much this $280 optional activity is worth it. Do it. You will not be disappointed! We were staying at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and took our tour with Maverick Helicopters.

After arriving at Maverick Helicopter Tours and signing in, we were all weighed and allocated to helicopters! It was soon time to get on board. I was with another guy in the group and we were sat in the back of the helicopter. Great views mind, but I was secretly hoping for a seat up front so I could grab some awesome photos. Still, as you can hopefully see I still managed to get a few shots which were on point! We were given a short safety briefing and donned our life vests before boarding setting off.

As we lifted of I was buzzing with excitement as we gained altitude above the Kaibab National Forest and increased momentum towards the canyon. The views were out of this world. It felt surreal to be in a helicopter. The pilot gave a commentary through the headphones whilst the aptly fitting theme tune to Jurassic Park was playing in the background as we drew closer to the canyons edge. And then, suddenly, it happened, the ground dropped thousands of feet below us as we passed over the precipice of the Grand Canyons South Rim. I think we all let out screeches of ‘Oh my god’ as everyone on board lit with glee at this mesmerizing moment.

Helicopter in the sky at Grand Canyon

Words really cannot describe the moment; it was insanely special and a once in a lifetime moment for many. I think I took a million selfies. Thousands of feet below I could see mighty Colorado River winding its way round the canyon, which days earlier I had enjoyed swimming in and camping by the river’s edge under the stars. Indeed, at 1450 miles long, it is the 5th longest river in the United States.

The tour lasted about 45 minutes, and it was probably the fastest 45 minutes of my life. I was in awe at the beauty and power of mother nature. Below us, this epic landscape created over six millennia. It was incredibly fascinating how you could really obviously see the different layers of rock as the canyon evolved over time. The pilot provided an interesting a commentary and the music set the scene. I’m especially humbled to have had this opportunity, something which many will never see.

Ross Murray in front of Maverick Helicopter

Firmly back on land and recovering from the excitement of the past hour, we regrouped for dinner. Our Trek tour leader had organised a very special pizza lunch. We drove to a scenic outlook and enjoyed one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen as we ate our tasty pizza. It was a really magical moment – for some in the group, this was their first proper view of the Grand Canyon. I was lost for words for much of my time here, and just enjoyed gazing away at the beauty of our planet.

Grand Canyon Sunset

The next day we woke to a crisp blue sky, a frost had formed and the temperature had plummeted to around 0 degrees. Wrapped up warm we headed into the van. This day we were going to hike our way down into the canyon. This is something I was really looking forward to and we really couldn’t have asked for a better day!

We arrived at the Grand Canyon Visitor Centre and hopped onto the yellow route bus, for the South Kaibab Trail. This was to be a strenuous day hike, with some of the group aiming to go down as far as possible and back before 3pm. With packed lunches and water to hand, we started on the trail.

South Kaibab Trail Head

The trail was steep and winding, and towards the trailhead was covered in shadow meaning that on the way down it was pretty damn chilly! But this didn’t matter. The views were awe-inspiring, I couldn’t walk more than a few minutes without stopping to take in the view. Its worth noting that their isn’t much opportunities to get water on the trails, so definitely plan ahead! As photography lover, I was constantly taking photos. Simply, it’s a travel bloggers paradise.

Ross at the Grand Canyon

Some of the group went ahead but myself and a couple of others, the photographers in the group!, took our own pace and just took in the views with loads of time for photos. We made it to Ooh-aah Point, a stunning panoramic view of the canyon. The view-point is a 1.8 mile round trip, with a steep ascent on the return journey. At 6,600 feet, it offers epic views and I’d highly recommend this view-point on the trail. We stopped here for about half an hour for lunch and to take in the views before making the return journey.

After our day hike and exploring the visitor centre, it was time to return to the hotel after one of the best experiences of my life. The day ended with us all attending a Halloween street party, in costumes that we had bought days earlier in San Diego. What a perfect all American experience!

I visited the Grand Canyon for two days on Trek America’s Westerner tour in October 2015. To find out more about the Trek America experience, be sure to check out my full series of blog posts dedicated to Trek America.