After my trek to Kingman and travel home on Old 66 again, chasing and watching trains I got to Williams about 2:00 p.m. It was too early to check in. I drove around Williams a bit--research for a future fiction piece or two. I had not been there in a long time. Also took pictures as there were two steam locos parked on the grounds, one that the GCRR does use on a few special runs and the other decommissioned, a small unit that was used by the Saginaw & Manistee logging company. I can very dimly recall seeing it or a similar one around Flagstaff when there were still big sawmills there processing Ponderosa Pine lumber.
The GCRR complex has three buildings, the hotel, in a big X shape, two story, and the restaurant and the depot, both of which have gift shops. Meals are served buffet style but the food is good and varied with some special diet needs covered. At the evening meal they have a live musician performing, too. My companion and I were up by about seven, had breakfast and were ready to board well before the prescribed hour of 9:00.
I've always loved trains so really looked forward to this. I was not disappointed. Our coach, the Kokopelli, was probably a rehabbed old Santa Fe vista dome car. Each car had a passenger attendant and ours was a jewel. The young lady was a fount of knowledge and pointed out many sights and such as we rolled along. There were refreshments and a cowboy-style entertainer sang with his guitar and told funny tales for awhile.
I've been to the canyon many times over the years, the first before I can really remember, not long after we got to Arizona in 1946 but it never fails to impress. The views are truly breathtaking but if you are acrophobic can be intimidating as the guard rails and such are minimalist! I never was and so though I am more careful now since I know I do fall at times, I get close to the edge in places. Light was variable due to broken clouds but I got a few decent photos.
There we got on a bus and toured several of the main viewpoints with a stop for lunch at the Maswick Lodge, where we would have stayed if we had elected the night stop-over trip, a bit pricier. Our driver and tour guide was also great and she even played a cedar flute at one stop. Not quite R Carlos Nakai or Robert Mirabal but a very nice touch!! I complimented her.
We heard about Mary Coulter, an early 1900s female architect who designed most of the original buildings in Grand Canyon Village and is also responsible for many of the Santa Fe depots and Harvey Houses in the now iconic Spanish Colonial style. She got less credit than she deserved, being a woman! The rustic style she created at the canyon is perfect for the setting.
The trip back was pleasant as the sun sank, clouds finally clearing away somewhat. There had been broken clouds all day which made for a mixture of light at the Canyon for photos. There was a mock train robbery, strictly for the tourists and kids. We found it kind of silly but no biggie.
All the facilities are operated by a firm called Xanterra. They have concessions at a number of national parks now and are very conservation and eco-conscious. The people we dealt with were 99% super and the overall experience top drawer all the way. If one expects five star stuff, you will not be greatly disappointed. I gave them a good review on a couple of sites. I figured that was the least I could do.
I noted there are a lot more mules now at the canyon. It seems they do mild rides along the rim as well as the big one all the way down to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon and I think still also up to the North Rim during the summer season. Facilities there are closed now as it is about 1500 feet higher than the South Rim. I'd seen their ad for wranglers in the two mule magazines I subscribe to and used that as a small trigger for an in-process tale.
This experience was the highlight and real focus of my trip although only took a bit less than a full three days. I thoroughly enjoyed it all and would go back in a flash! I recommend it highly if anyone is passing that way (I-40 through northern Arizona) on a vacation type trip and looking for fun activities. There is something for everyone and it is overall a reasonable cost by today's standards.
Here are a few photos. Click on any one to get a larger version slide show.
|View across Grand Canyon to north|
|Mule trail visible diagonally|
across mesa in center
|Grand Canyon Village-El Tovar|
in center and other Coulter bldgs