Boarding our flight to Las Vegas, I ask my boyfriend, “You didn’t forget to pack it did you?”
“What are you talking about?” he says nonchalantly.
He knows. He absolutely knows what I’m talking about…the engagement ring I picked out last week.
I’ve narrowed down when I think he’ll propose to two choice moments on our family’s Christmas trip to Las Vegas: during dinner at the Top of the World, a restaurant perched 800-feet above The Strip in the Stratosphere Casino, or during our helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. How do I know? Because a momentous milestone like this demands a take-your-breath-away setting. And leveling up in Las Vegas means getting sky-high.
The morning we’re fetched from Flamingo in a black stretch limousine, rockstar service is the name of the game.
We arrive at the landing pad, easily check-in and hang out in the lounge. We’re tired from last night’s multi-course dinner, but our excitement invigorates us more than any oxygen bar pick-me-up ever could. After all, a private helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon is pretty bucket list. Private in the sense that our family of five fills the cabin’s available seats – not private in its exclusivity. Yes, the limo, VIP service and helicopter make us feel like A-list celebrities, but the three-hour excursion is reasonably priced for us middle-class mortals.
We’re led to our chopper – multiple Schwarzenegger impressions ensue – and get strapped in. I affix my headset and slip on my sunglasses. I can’t help but wear a toothy grin because it feels undeniably Top Gun. It only now occurs to me that I’ve never been in a helicopter. I’m equal parts excited and anxious.
The blades whir, disappearing into a humming blur. We gently lift from the ground, hover for ten seconds, spin 360ᵒ and then, like a bee leaving a blossom, we buzz off.
I’m surprised how quickly we ascend. In a few mere moments, we’re high above the Las Vegas skyline.
From here, our pilot, Brian, makes a decisive maneuver; the helicopter reacts immediately and we cruise southeast over Henderson and Boulder City.
I’m still not quite sitting at ease. I look over at my boyfriend; he looks a little nervous too. Hmm…
The chopper vibrates under the flutter of the blades; I didn’t anticipate how loud it would be. I’m grateful for the noise-cancelling headsets that allow our family to easily communicate. We point out interesting landmarks and desert curiosities along the way. Despite the scenic ride, I sense that we’re actually moving quite fast. Then suddenly, via our headsets, comes an irrational sense of total comfort. My tensed muscles relax as Kenny Loggins croons Highway to the Danger Zone into my ear. It’s corny but everyone in the chopper eats it right up.
Soon enough, we’re flying over the Hoover Dam. The Colorado River pushes through the arid landscape like a deep blue vein. My eyes search out cars on the nearby highway so I can grasp the scale of this architectural wonder. Pilot Brian tells us a bit about the dam and as we cruise over Lake Mead, he remarks on the changing desert environment, the lake’s water levels and good fishing opportunities.
Past Lake Mead we reach the lip of the Grand Canyon. What comes next is something I’ll never forget; the big moment.
We start high in the sunlight-flooded daytime sky and then begin to descend into the deep chasm. We bank tight along the cliff walls and, for the first time, I get a sense of just how fast we’re moving. We tilt left, then right, following the cragged cliffs. We slip beneath the lip and glide lower, lower down.
We land gently on the shaded floor of the canyon. Exiting the helicopter, everyone’s jaw is slightly ajar. The Colorado River streams through the canyon and bulbous cacti pepper the landscape. We scramble here and there, down to the river and back again. Are we really standing at the bottom of the Grand Canyon?
There’s a simple palapa that houses two picnic tables where Pilot Brian unpacks a picnic and pops a bottle of champagne.
At this point, you must be thinking “pretty epic place to propose.” (You’re right.)
So – is this the moment when my boyfriend drops to one knee and slips the dazzling ring onto my left hand?
Nope – that private moment happened last night atop the Stratosphere, but this champagne toast tastes just as sweet. It’s also a moment we can enjoy as a family. We’re still buzzing from the high of flying into the Grand Canyon; my brain swims like the champagne bubbles that fizz to the top of the glass I’m holding. It’s a stunning scene, one I drink in with great company.
Whizzing back to Las Vegas, we fly over the Bowl of Fire, a sun-parched landscape painted in rusty red hues. As if on cue, the sun drops behind the desert horizon just as we approach Las Vegas. Below us, lights blink, fountains dance and The Strip buzzes with Christmas hubbub.
From our unique aerial vantage point, the Paris Las Vegas’ Eiffel Tower shrinks to the size of a keychain, and Excalibur has become a toy castle. This perspective is so alien from the pedestrian one below; Las Vegas properties are mammoth, sometimes taking 10, 15 minutes to walk past. Re-imagining Las Vegas in miniature is totally novel.
I squeeze my fiancé’s hand. “Good day?” I ask him.
“Great day” he smiles. My heart flutters.
We sweep past the Stratosphere – where we were engaged less than 24 hours ago – in our helicopter chariot and literally ride into the sunset.