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Artificial thrills Artificial thrills
by Asa Butcher
2007-03-22 10:16:26
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In December 1999, on the eve of the millennium, I found myself in a helicopter heading towards the rim of one of the greatest holes on earth, the Grand Canyon. Moments after Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ filled our headsets, our pilot delicately lifted us up and dropped us into the overwhelming sight of nature’s patient handiwork. Below us snaked the awesome Colorado River and around us were sandstone walls gradually eroded over countless millennia.

Thanks to the technology of helicopter flight I was able to experience the Grand Canyon in such a unique way and it presented me with a memory that will burn until I begin to erode away. However, before undertaking the flight, my family had enjoyed a coach trip that allowed us to stand on the ridge and take photos and look down into the canyon. When I first caught sight of the canyon I was - what is the best adjective… impressed… overwhelmed… surprised…. hmmm, there was something else.

Trying to recall that moment seven years ago is not easy, but I do remember thinking that it looked exactly like I expected. Twenty-one years of seeing it in movies, in documentaries, in adverts, on posters, on postage stamps and in books had stolen some of the awe connected with physically visiting for the first time. In my mind’s eye I had imagined the sight countless times, so part of me wanted more from the experience.

Perhaps the human mind struggles to truly comprehend scale and majesty unless it is fully immersed in the moment. For example, at Stonehenge the closest visitors can get to the stones is approximately 10 metres, so how does that allow you to comprehend their size? When the helicopter’s shadow was a speck on the canyon floor and we landed beside the Colorado, then I felt insignificant in its presence and understood its enormity.

The construction of the Skywalk, which rises 4,000ft (1,220m) from the canyon's floor and 70ft (20m) beyond its rim, will offer an injection of awe into a passive experience. It is not just a walkway because the walls and floor are made from glass four inches (10.2 cm) thick that will result in a feeling of walking on air or inspire panic in closet arophobic. Hopefully the sight will be so inspiring that the suicidal will reconsider any plans to test gravity.

The Grand Canyon isn’t the first natural wonder that provides for tourists seeking extra thrills or a twist on the old holiday daytrip. Look at the popularity of Niagara Falls’ Maid of the Mist that allows the brave to be soaked to the skin by the Falls’ spray – an experience not possible just standing at the top taking the postcard photograph – and it is only a matter of time before engineers install a chairlift at Mount Everest.

Have we become so desensitised to the Earth’s natural wonders? Have they become commonplace leaving us to consider them as tourist destinations rather than something special to protect? Is there a natural wonder that doesn’t offer tourists the chance to go over, under, behind, inside, round, taste, feel or smell its splendour for a supplementary fee? I can just imagine how disappointing trips into space will become in a few years…it was much better in the IMAX Cinema.


    
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Grubby2007-03-22 15:45:54
Couldn't agree more.........you forgot the tunnel behind the falls where tourists don yellow plastic suits and stand, supposedly, in awe behind the falls. These tourists have slightly more brains than the idiots who go over the falls in a mere barrel.


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