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  • Writer's pictureSandra

Arizona - Home of the Grand Canyon

We just cruised over the Hoover Dam in Arizona

and suddenly found ourselves on Route 66. Even if the charm of this historic street could only be seen occasionally,

because the road surface, which was in a terrible conditions, sometimes clouded the joy. When I was researching the area, I found the Nature Park "Keepers of the Wild", which, according to the Internet, even included a few tigers from the "Tiger Kings" stock.

If you don't know who the hell "Tiger King" is, you should use Netflix to close this educational gap as soon as possible. 😂 🐯🤴

The park sees itself as a sanctuary for more or less exotic old, sick animals that would have no chance of surviving in the wild. Nevertheless, I found the keeping of the animals in an enclosure that was much too small in my opinion very oppressive, especially since there would be so much more space around it.

After our trip into the "wilderness" came the getaway... A new "Flash Flood" warning popped up on my cell phone in the evening. There was land to gain, literally! We spent the night in County Park Williams - outside the danger zone - undisturbed.

The storm front, which had been breathing down our necks since California, caught up with us the next morning in front of the visitor center of the Grand Canyon National Park. While Sebastian got the park map, I started a new blog post. Due to the weather, we were not in a hurry and therefore drove to the southern entrance of the park around noon.

The breathtaking canyon that the Colorado River has carved out over millions of years was just waiting to be explored. But first a few facts: The canyon is around 450 kilometers long, up to 1,800 meters deep and 26 kilometers wide at its widest point. The North and South Rims of the canyon fall within the territory of the national park. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is one of the most visited areas on earth. From here there are the most spectacular views of the gorge.

When we asked about wheelchair accessibility, we were handed a poster and a code for a barrier at the entrance, which allowed us to drive with the Skoolie to various viewpoints that are otherwise only accessible to the public shuttles. That was a positive surprise, as we had previously reluctantly considered using the shuttle buses. But of course it was much comfortable like this with wheelchair and a dog. We were also pleased with the surprisingly good condition of the roads in the park. It was all flat and very little traffic. Only the weather could have been better. But that's whining on a high level. It was just cloudy and every now and then a few raindrops came down. Nothing that stopped us from targeting the Mather Point lookout, one of the park's hubs. I was quite surprised when we stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon after what felt like a 3-minute walk from the parking lot. This sight was so incredibly surreal!

Unbelievable 34 km can be strolled along the canyon. While we didn't walk/roll the entire way, I would say most of the way is wheelchair accessible; the viewpoints were almost all, though I didn't always get to the ledge where a pedestrian can easily trudge over a few steps or rocks. Nevertheless, I was able to adequately satisfy my need (death-defying) to look into the abyss.

Das Wetter war wie bereits erwähnt nicht sehr beständig, sorgte so aber für großartige apokalyptische Fotos.

At our own pace, we gradually drove to the viewpoints, shot countless photos and videos, took breaks when and where we wanted and admired the canyon from various angles. That day we grazed everything on the western side of the South Rim.

We saved the eastern side for the next day. But the next morning I was going for a helicopter flight over the canyon, which I had been looking forward to for days. I had decided to spend some money and book a long tour (about 50 minutes) with the Eurocopter to the opposite North Rim. On the provider's website, there was even a "wheelchair accessible" sign for all tours offered. I was excited. I had booked the package 2 days before. 24 hours before departure I was supposed to confirm my booking again by phone. During this phone call, I explicitly pointed out that I'm spinal cord injured and that a friend would help me get in and out of the helicopter but was not flying with me. The lady on the phone was friendly and said it was noted and no problem. I was happy that it all seemed so uncomplicated... unfortunately too early as it turned out.

I had set my alarm for this exciting Tuesday morning because I didn't want to oversleep and get into trouble; the flight was scheduled for 9 a.m. and I was supposed to check in half an hour before. For appointments like this, I tend to be a bit early; so I arrived at already at 8 a.m. at the terminal. I had a look on my phone which just showed an e-mail from Papillion (sightseeing flight provider).

I was frustrated and somehow I felt that the "mechanical error" was an excuse. When I got to the counter and showed my e-mail to the listless-looking employee who couldn't open his mouth, another employee came up and took over the conversation.... Not with me, however, but with Sebastian, who was standing next to me and hadn't said a word until then. why? 'Cause I had made the booking, I was the customer. The employee didn't really seem to care and she explained to Sebastian that the booked flight couldn't take place due to "technical problems" AND that I couldn't fly alone (unaccompanied). Aha, we've gotten closer to it. I tried to hijack the conversation, but she obviously wanted to talk to Seb'. That made me really pissed off. I told her I didn't understand the problem as I had phoned the day before and explained the situation, whereupon no comments were made on the safety issues now raised. I spoke, but her reaction was still aimed at Sebastian. She said she was sorry, but I could only fly if someone flies with me and then only the small tour of about 20-30 minutes. With every second that Madame ignored me, I grew angrier and the feeling that half of the reasons were pure pretense only increased. Even when I pointed out to her that she should please talk to ME, since my disability only relates to my lower half of the body and not to my mind, she chose to continue ignoring me. Sebastian had meanwhile added his two cents and understood the actual "problem" just as little as I did. Still, he knew I wanted to fly, so he agreed to come with me. We morosely paid the difference for his flight. But the mood and anticipation was in the bucket. I was seething. We watched the safety video and waited for our flight. But before we even got to the helicopter, I rolled back to the counter and told the lady I'd like to speak to the manager after the flight. She seemed surprised but nodded "ok". Too many times have I silently accepted similar situations, but this time my pride was on a confrontational course.

Still, I was hoping that the launch of the heli (PGG2ECO) would change my mood again, only the middle seat didn't make things any better. A Spanish couple flew with us, who certainly enjoyed a great view from the front seats and Sebastian at the window next to me, too. Nobody was sitting to my right, which means the right window seat was free. But I wasn't allowed to go there. So I sat there in my "cheap" seat trying to enjoy the flight and the "limited" view. But I couldn't. I was totally pissed of!!!

Back at the terminal, I requested an interview with the manager. A friendly looking woman came up to me and asked what it was about. I told her that today was really one of the most disappointing experiences I've ever had. I told the entire story from the booking, the phone call made the day before and the conversation I had with the front desk employee and the way I was treated by them. I told her that it was incomprehensible to me that "wheelchair accessible" was being advertised, but nothing said that accompanying persons were necessary for safety reasons and that it all seemed strange to me. I also didn't leave the financial aspect unmentioned, because after all I had to pay for "my companion" just so that I could fly. She listened patiently, was very empathetic and seemed to understand. She thanked me for being so honest and making my point clear. She asked if I would allow her a few minutes for a phone call so she could see what she could do for me. Of course I did. When she came back a little later, she assured me that they would reimburste the cost of Sebastians flight and only a small fuel charge would be levied on him. I agreed and thanked her, but felt the need to tell her that I'm usually not the one complains about everything, but I felt really mistreated on this occasion and I'm sorry to have to say this. I couldn't resist a few comments that you shouldn't leave unmentioned on your website in relation to wheelchair users, because the seat in the middle, from which I only had a very limited view, is actually a no-go... With each one of mine Words tightened the lump in my throat... I generally find it difficult to talk about my feelings and when I do, I get emotional quite quickly - that's what happened to me. Before I knew it the tears were running through my face and I wasn't able to stop crying. I tried to explain to her that until a few years ago I was still a pedestrian and that situations like today, where everything is so complicated or I'm treated like that, get me down. I didn't want to squeeze the tear duct, but I couldn't avoid it without choking on it. As a result, she started sobbing too and told me please don't feel bad or apologize for being honest, she totally understands me and is very sorry and only through my honesty can they do better next time... She asked for another few minutes. It felt good to be taken seriously... even if I was embarrassed that I couldn't pull myself together.

I didn't expect her to offer us another flight; but she did. This time with the bell and a window seat for me. 🤩 An hour later, we were back in the air and I was finally able to enjoy the view over this incredibly huge canyon in a way better mood, because I confessed to myself, finally.

Thank you Papillion for turning things around again. (Unfortunately I don't know the name of the manager!) Thank you Sebastian for lifting me in and out of a helicopter twice that day and for flying with me. Thank you Lennox for bravely guarding the bus. Thank you dear reader for reading this far, even if it was way too much text...🤷‍♀️😂...

After the morning came to a good end, we visited the remaining outlooks on the east side of the South Rim. On this day even with more sun 🌞 and a wide view into the distance of the canyon.

In the late afternoon we left the rightly most famous, grandiose and, to my surprise, one of the most wheelchair accessible national parks in the USA.

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