Thursday, August 22, 2013
Choo Choo Charlie
After breakfast and walking around Williams, Arizona a little bit I got to do something I've wanted to do for a very long time.
I took the train to the Grand Canyon.
Over 100 years ago the Southern Pacific Railroad built a spur line to the Grand Canyon that revolutionized local tourism. Before the introduction of the train, visiting the Grand Canyon involved a long and expensive Stagecoach trip. Train travel made it possible for the masses to visit. Fortunately, there's still a tourist train that traverses the same tracks every day.
The train leaves Williams at 9:30 in the morning and backs into Grand Canyon Village (after an interesting "Y" maneuver) two hours and 15 minutes later. This leaves four hours and 15 minutes to look at the hole before the train pulls out of the station to return to Williams.
Obviously, I didn't want to miss the train that Thursday morning. I left my hotel in Flagstaff early in the morning and left myself plenty of time for breakfast and a chance to explore Williams.
I parked my car in the free (!) parking lot across the street from the station and noted I was more than an hour before the train was scheduled to leave the station. I was excited to see the train (including an impressive steam locomotive that used to pull a Circus Train) already on the tracks. I was admiring it and taking some photos when, suddenly at 8:30 a.m., the engineer blew the whistle and the train, filled with passengers, pulled out of the station.
I started to panic but what could I do? I wasn't about to run alongside and jump on the train (despite seeing it done many times in the movies). I went inside the station and got some good news -- the train I'd just seen leaving was a special Charter for Train Aficionados and the regular train I was booked on was leaving as scheduled at 9:30. Whew! (Except who do you have to know to get on the Aficionado Train?)
The train offers many different levels of service and cars ranging from an opulent luxury car (the type you expect a President to campaign from) to coach class with no AC but windows that open.
I had considered my options and decided that since it is only a 2 hour trip and the high elevation of the Grand Canyon makes it much cooler than most of Arizona I'd be perfectly fine in the coach car.
I'm glad I made that decision. In addition to being less expensive, it was less crowded than the other cars and the blowing breeze from the open windows felt nice. The particular car I was in did service nearly a century ago on the San Jose to San Francisco commuter line and had been beautifully restored.
The Grand Canyon Railway keeps folks entertained with strolling musicians and each car has a host or hostess. The hostess in my car was both informative (she gave me some good advice on how to use my precious time at the Grand Canyon) and she was funny.
For instance, as the train rolled past some cows in the pasture she pointed out that cows in Arizona are considered to be some of the smartest in the nation. She said we could see for ourselves by looking out the windows that they "are outstanding in their fields."
The Grand Canyon Railway even offers a free Cowboy Show before the train departs. Yes, it's cheesy but in a very nostalgic way. And then on the way back from the Grand Canyon the same cowboys ride up along side the train on horseback, stop the train and rob the passengers (for tips). The kids on the train loved it. So did I.
I'd definitely recommend the train for anyone considering a trip to the Grand Canyon: