Breaking Travel News investigates: Grand Canyon helicopter tours out of Las Vegas
A lot of what puts Las Vegas on the tourism map is centred around the famous Strip, and the numerous world-class casinos and attractions that are dotted along it.
But there is a great deal more on offer to the visitor if you are willing to get out and explore.
Just a half an hour drive through the desert is Boulder City – a small community of 15,000 souls which, interestingly enough, is one of two places in Nevada to ban gambling.
It is home to 5 Star Helicopter Tours, a boutique operator which has seen its fleet grow from one to six helicopters since its inception in 2012.
The company now welcomes around 50,000 guests a year, but during my visit it was obvious they still had that personal touch.
“We are a small company making sure that our guests get a personalised experience from start to finish,” explains John Power, owner of the company, as we arrived for a day out.
Like many other day trippers, we had come to experience the Grand Canyon Helicopter Eagle Point Rim Landing Tour, a relatively new experience taking in the famous Grand Canyon Skywalk.
Power explains: “When they visit, everybody has it set in their mind that they have to land on the canyon floor – but there are only a couple of tours where you can physically go all the way to the bottom, and usually that is if you are doing the pontoon boat.
“What we have done is focus on the views, which I think people are more interested in.
“We fly through the canyon, taking in those views, before you get to the airport and hop onto a bus to visit the Skywalk.
“We think there is more to this tour than just landing on the canyon floor for 30 minutes and then coming back – people are looking for more than just one experience and we are able to give it to them.”
With that in mind, and after a quick stop for refreshments, we jump into our Eurocopter AS350 and prepared for take-off.
I am told the helicopter is the latest on the market, and it comes with all forward-facing seating allowing for a 180-degree view of the Grand Canyon as we set off.
Heading past the Boulder Basin, considered the largest manmade lake in the world with some 750 miles of shoreline, we take in views over the famous Hoover Dam before skirting along the Colorado River.
Our pilot cheerfully relays his extensive knowledge of the area and takes us through a demonstration of how a helicopter operates.
As we lurch from side to side the cheers from the passengers are excited before turning to horror as we dip, briefly, sharply downward.
The Mojave Desert beneath us is home to more than 750 species of animals.
However, most are nocturnal and as I strain my eyes in the hopes of seeing an odd coyote, I discover it is perhaps still too early in the day to spot one.
As we cruise at a few thousand feet above the desert it slowly starts to sink in how beautiful the canyon is.
As 16 million years of history is laid out before my eyes in all its gold-copper glory, I feel like no words can do justice to the Grand Canyon – it really is one of those wonders that has to be seen to be believed.
For many people it remains the top tourist attraction in the world – and as we hover overhead it is easy to see why.
Completely in awe I put away my smart phone camera and try not to blink in case I miss even a second of the spectacular scenery passing below me.
After about 40 minutes in the air we make our landing at a small airport on the West Rim and take our transfer to Eagle Point.
Christened after a rock formation in the shape of this majestic animal, the site is sacred to the Hualapai tribe, who own the land.
A stone’s throw away is the Skywalk itself, a horseshoe shaped viewing platform 4,000 feet above ground.
The platform has a glass floor, so you are able to see all the way down into the canyon – so certainly not for the faint hearted!
We were lucky to visit Eagle Point on a clear day, so we were treated to an unobstructed view of the majestic canyon spreading for miles and miles to the horizon.
It is an exhilarating, uplifting, poetic and humbling experience all at the same time - the image of which will forever be burnt into my memory.
All too soon it is over, and we are headed back – but the views over the canyon on route make it an invigorating ride.
Back at base, we are treated to complimentary champagne, which is always a welcome touch.
On the drive back to Las Vegas we head toward the now familiar neon lights as they pulsate and shimmer under the night sky.
The city has been undergoing something of a renaissance of late, and it remains a true spectacle – a candy cane slot machine and knickerbocker glory in the desert.
But there is plenty to see for those who are willing to venture outside city limits.
The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority is charged with marketing southern Nevada as a tourism and convention destination worldwide, and also with operating the Las Vegas Convention Centre & Cashman Centre.
With nearly 150,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas alone and more than 11 million square feet of meeting and exhibit space citywide.
The UK serves as the largest source of overseas non-stop flights into Las Vegas with as many as 30 weekly flights from London, Manchester and Glasgow on Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Thomas Cook and Norwegian Air.
Las Vegas is considered World’s Leading Meetings & Conference Destination by voters at the World Travel Awards.
Find out more on the official website.