Free Grand Canyon Plane Tour

Clicking on the picture above will take you on a slideshow tour of the Grand Canyon, shot from the right side of an LAX-bound 757 that departed from Boston. I have no idea what movie was showing at the time; though I do know I refused, as I usually do, to close my windowshade to reduce ambient light on the ancient crappy ceiling-mounted TV screens. The scene outside upstaged the movie in any case, as it has been doing for the last several million years, as the Kaibab Plateau has pushed its dome upward and the Colorado has stayed roughly where it had been since the many millions of years before that, when it wandered lazily across a flat plain.

As ranking canyons go, the Grand Canyon is almost too grand. It’s freaking huge. From the air I find it far more dramatic to peer down into its narrower regions, such as the one above, which is early in the Colorado’s course through the canyon. The series follows the canyon from east to west, from not far below Glen Canyon dam and the Vermillion Cliffs area to Vulcan’s Throne and Lava Falls, where relatively recent flows have slopped their blackness down across the canyon’s iconic layer-cake strata.

What is most amazing to me about this corner of The West is that it was obviously placid through so many time stretches across the last almost two billion years. The West is painted with the colors of long periods of relative quiet, as sands and silts and gravel and cobbles were deposited by braided rivers and transgressing seas.

All of the Grand Canyon’s strata were laid down before the age of dinosaurs. Younger layers such as those comprising the Vermillion Cliffs to the East, the Grand Staircase upstream in the Glenn Canyon area, in Canyonlands, Arches, and most of Utah’s most colorful layer-cake displays — Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, Cedar Breaks, San Rafael Reef and Swell — are comprised of younger rock eroded off the top of the Kaibab Plateau.

Some of the shots were taken with my Canon 30d, and others with my tiny PowerShot 850. which does a better job of shooting straight down through the window. Its smaller lens distorts less through the plane’s multiple layers of bad glass and plastic windows. And the display on the back lets me shoot without looking through an eyepiece. It’s not perfect, but not bad, either.

I still miss my Nikon Coolpix 5700, which took lots of great pictures out plane windows, and was frankly much better at that job than the Canon, mostly because the Coolpix’ objective lens was smaller (again, better for looking at angles through the terrible optics of plane windows), and partly because the camera’s flip-out viewer allowed me to hold the camera to the window at angles I could not put my face, but where I could still see and frame the view.

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14 Responses to Free Grand Canyon Plane Tour

  1. earl says:

    Amazing shots…especially considering how you were shooting them. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Mean Dean says:

    Now why did you have to go and link us up to this?! Now I gotta figure out how to plan and afford my own airborne adventure over the Grand Canyon!

  3. Chip says:

    nice work!

    Forwarded same to associate who just hiked it (only a few years behind us)


  4. Bipper says:

    ‘though I do know I refused, as I usually do, to close my windowshade to reduce ambient light on the ancient crappy ceiling-mounted TV screens’

    Yeah – stick it to the man Doc. Asshat.

  5. Doc Searls says:


    Actually, when there isn’t a spectacle outside, I do close, or mostly close, my window screens. I am not without manners on the matter. It’s a judgement call. Maybe I should have made that clearer.

    For what it’s worth, having window shades open often makes no difference to the screens on the ceiling. It depends, though.

    In any case, does that make me less of an asshat to you? Or does the insult stand?

  6. > I do know I refused, as I usually do, to close my windowshade to reduce ambient light on the ancient crappy ceiling-mounted TV screens

    I know, they do that to me to. I explain to them that I asked for a window seat specifically so I could look out the window.

    I leave my window open. It’s my $1000 seat, I’ll decide whether or not I want to look out the window.

  7. Doc Searls says:

    Factor: the new Boeing 787s have extra big windows to make the view better.

    Fact is, airplanes are flying tour busses, theaters, restaurants, bedrooms and waiting areas. Reconciling all of those functions requires a modicum of manners on all sides.

    What I object to is the assumption, carried by instructions given on a pro forma basis, as if it were in the same class as safety notices, for “those with window seats to close your shades as a courtesy”. That instruction contradicts the practice of offering and providing window seating for those who want it. If planes were just flying theaters, they wouldn’t have windows.

  8. Ed Brenegar says:

    Great pictures! Reminds me of a flight from Atlanta to LA in 2000 where the pilot had to waste some time, so he did two banked loops around the Grand Canyon, one for the right side of the plane, and one for the left. It was fabulous. And we still got in a half hour early.

  9. Chip says:


    “If planes were just flying theaters, they wouldn’t have windows.”


    I suspect that they would be much easier/cheaper to build sans the holes in the walls.

    An objection to designs for blended wings
    ( is lack of windows for passengers.

    And I think that for most, windows are more for a “sense of comfort” and viewed only near take off and landings.

    But that applies to those who just want to get somewhere, maybe be plied with drinks on the way.


  10. J says:


    Two things:

    1) It SCARES me how good of photos you would take if it were through no glass at all… you get unbelievable plane shots shooting through 3 layers of garbage. So glad you posted some info on shooting method and equipment. The pics I’ve taken from planes never turn out anywhere near this good.

    2) The only asshat thing you have done here is respond to a troll on your comments. Screw the movie, its your window shade you should do what you want.

  11. Doc Searls says:

    Thanks, J.

    I took the bait because it reminded me to beef about something that had been on my mind for awhile. I’ll resist next time. 🙂

  12. Like smokers vs non-smokers, perhaps there could be front of plane for ‘cinema priority seats, where blinds are to be closed if light affects screen’ and rear of plane for ‘window priority seats, where blinds must be left open if t least one in three adjacent passengers so desire’.

    I don’t think it matters whether there is an objective argument in favour of the superior view outside the aircraft. If the majority want to watch Alien V in spooky darkness, it’s a matter of balancing liberties, not aesthetics.

    Sic transit gloria mundi.

  13. Dan Cook says:


    And I thank you as well for sharing these wonderful photos of my favorite place. The way I typically see it is from the bottom, hiking to the river and back in a day.

    After a bit of research, I have concluded that the photo above shows Chuar Butte in the lower center of the frame. Chuar Butte is the site of the famous 1956 crash of United Flight 718 and TWA Flight 2. Chuar Butte is also very near the confluence of the Little Colorado and the Colorado.


  14. Benjamin says:

    Really good tour :/

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