John Biladeau and I took a fast trip around the western united states in December of 2004. We hit Portland, Redding, Bakersfield, Las Vegas, The Hoover dam, Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Salt Lake City, Missoula, and back to Seattle all in just 7 days. However, the following will focus on a flying tour of the Grand Canyon.
We had a late start getting out of Phoenix and didn’t make it to the Grand Canyon area before heavy twilight. Oh yeah, if you take US Highway 180 from Flagstaff north, you’ll need to pay a $20 access fee to go through the Grand Canyon area unless you have a Golden Pass. They don’t tell you before you’re about 60 miles up US 180 and there’s no bypass. It was good for a laugh.
About 3 miles from the South entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park, I spotted my favorite motel chain, Best Western, in Tusayan. It was the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn. We quickly stopped and booked a room for the night since it was about 5:30 on 12/30/2004.
The Squire Inn was one of the best I’ve been at and the Disabled rooms were awesome with two queen beds and a roll in shower. The concierge was awesome too. I spotted a plane tour of the Grand Canyon by her desk so John and I went to check it out.
I always dreamed of taking a plane ride over the Canyon so I was almost in heaven when I saw the sign. We spoke with Vivian Sykes, the concierge a bit and I was sold. It was too late to book a flight for morning but she said to come down at 7:30 the next morning and she’d book it then.
She visited with us a bit and got a bit concerned when we told her where we were planning to go the following day. She looked up the weather reports and helped us book a room because the next day was 12/31/2004. We even called her the next night just to thank her and to let her know how the drive was going. However, I’m getting ahead of myself, so lets go back to the night of December 30th.
After talking with Vivian it was 6 or 7 so we cruised the town for something to eat – Pizza Hut. After that, back at the Inn, I used the roll in shower for a hour. The next morning we booked the flight and headed to the airport.
The airport is privately owned – you could tell by the looks of it. Picture a big modern log cabin that was kept up great. That was the air terminal. Inside was a gift shop, check in area and a guest book that you could sign.
John and I were early checking in and we had some free time to explore the airport. We found their mascot, Claw, pictured to the left and tried to feed it. I wouldn’t recommend stale bread crumbs it got ticked off when I tried to feed some to him. Meat, Claw likes red meat – or a Chihuahua or two, cat, etc.
The staff Grand Canyon Airlines was awesome. You know how some people speak to your Care Giver and make you feel like a cabbage head? The folks at Grand Canyon Airlines spoke to me not just to John – “how refreshing.” I felt all of the staff had a special consideration for people with disabilities. Not your “poor dear” slop, but simply a general caring. I mean even when I asked them to take a picture with me they came down to my height so my disability wouldn't stand out.
I guess if I had to put it in words it would sound something like “Whatever we need to do to get you aboard so you can see the 7th wonder of the world, we’ll try.”
For example, as I rolled up to board, two of the ground crew, Ronny and Sean, pictured at the top, stepped up to help me board. Boarding was a piece of cake – I’m 125 and about 5’-10” so lifting me – no big deal. John did it without help.
People with severe spinal damage that require special seating and support most likely will not be able to take the tour. However, anyone that can transfer into a car or bus even if you need help, I’d jump at the chance.
The seats were great for people that have problems tipping. Just sit by the window and have someone sit by you. I , myself am not too stable without arm rests but I had no problem sitting by myself. The 19 passenger aircraft wasn’t full so John snagged a window seat in front of me.
While I’m speaking about the aircraft, GCA has a great fleet. They use the history tested Vistaliners and had them custom modified with giant windows. The planes looked spotless inside and out. I was extremely impressed.
The takeoff was great – I was expecting a bit more roughness, which, could be good, or bad – depending on your taste. I like roller coasters; John gets just alittle sick when he flies. He tries hard not to -- he's going to try a motion sickness wrist strap soon.
I saw a guy with a airsick bag. Compassionate me was thinking…..”uhhh” well I’ll be kind and not tell. My New Years resolution is "try to be more Ccmpassionate.." The key word is "try."
The flight was as smooth as silk. They were expecting a weather front to move in but kiddie rides at a park are rougher than this flight was.
After the takeoff, we headed for the Southeast edge of the canyon. You can see the canyon the whole flight long, except as you takeoff and land obviously. About 5 minutes after wheels-up – well, not really, it’s a fixed gear aircraft. Anyway, about 5 minutes into the flight, we get to the rim. Flying off the rim, seeing the ground fall down a mile is indescribable.
Words and pictures can’t do what we saw justice. I’ll put a few examples on the bottom however, in closing I’d encourage anyone who can, to take a trip.
I would like to thank Heather (co-pilot), Ronny, Sean, in the top photo, and the entire GCA staff for their awesome service.
I leave you with – what our mere $1200 camera could capture for you.