Hogs welcome at Grand Canyon

Helicopter-and-Harley tours add spice to experience of exploring national monument

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

They say you can tell if a motorcyclist is happy when you see the bugs in his teeth.

I’m sure I had a few in my grill when I joined a group of reporters on a picture-perfect day at the Grand Canyon trying out a new helicopter-Harley tour being offered to tourists. It is run by the Papillon Group, an air tour operator based at Boulder City Airport, and EagleRider, a California company that specializes in guided motorcycle tours.

A group of five journalists boarded a plane in Boulder City and flew to Tusayan, just south of Grand Canyon National Park, where it was a crisp 28 degrees. By 9 a.m., flying conditions were perfect for the helicopter portion of our tour.

Our group got a safety briefing, then boarded separate choppers for a 30-minute ride over some of the most magnificent real estate on the planet.

By law, air tours can’t fly below the rim at Grand Canyon National Park, but because the north rim of the canyon is about 1,000 feet higher than the south, our flight path took us right to the lip of the north rim, where the fall colors were just starting to kick in.

As we returned to Tusayan, I noticed a glint below — the sun hitting chrome. The Harleys had arrived.

Peter and Micky Fischer, managers of EagleRider’s Harley operation in Flagstaff, had shuttled the cycles to Tusayan that day. They’ll likely continue to do that through winter. Come spring, the company plans to set up a satellite operation in Tusayan.

The operators equipped us with leather jackets, gloves and helmets. Riders with motorcycle licenses get their own cycles; those without licenses — that was four out of five of us — ride behind a guide.

Our tour group included eight Harleys. We rode the National Park Service rim highway between Grand Canyon Village and Desert View, a 60-mile, 45 mph trip past dozens of canyon overlooks. My ride was a beefy, noisy Electra Glide.

You should have seen the looks on the faces of the people stopped at the overlooks as the Wild Hogs roared through.

Our guides found a nice turnout from which we looked at the canyon, and we dined on boxed lunches they took out of their saddlebags.

The experience costs $653 per passenger.

Maybe it was a little sacrilegious to be piercing the peaceful quiet of the Grand Canyon with the world-renowned roar of Harley engines. But we were miles away from hikers seeking serenity. Those few seconds that we shattered the tranquility were for us.

And even the bugs enjoyed the ride.

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  1. Because Papillon Group is involved, it's way too expensive. Just contact Eagle Rider and do it yourself. You'll save lots and see more on a bike than in the air.