"Thataway!"
Day Two, Saturday – The Grand Canyon Railway:

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The Route of Day Two Well, it's nine in the morning, cold, windy, and we're out on the streets of Williams, heading for the depot. Oh, we're not going directly there, Dee Dee wants to check out a small shop she saw the night before. She does – and buys hats.

Now, just why you go on vacation to Williams and the Grand Canyon and buy hats (not gift shop hats – regular "play dress-up" hats), I haven't a clue. But Dee Dee is a fashion-maven and I – being someone to whom clothes are something you wear to keep warm, comfortable, and un-arrested – rarely do have a clue when she does that "shopping" thing.

The Wild, Wild West... Anywho, four hats and a two-minute drive later and we're pulling into the parking lot of the Williams depot, where many, many people are gathering for the day's train to the Grand Canyon.

Before we all got on the train, though, the railway put on a "Wild West Show" (okay, a small, short Wild West Show) around behind the depot. What I could hear of it was pretty funny (which is fortunate – "funny" was what they were trying for) – and that was a pity, because, unfortunately, "what I could hear" wasn't too much, what with the wind whistling around the stands and my head.

All Aboard! Soon they called out "All Aboard" and everyone headed for the train. "Everyone" proved to be a surprisingly large number of people (especially for March!) as there were four to five hundred of them – which pretty much maxs out the train (and they can't add any more cars or it won't fit in the station).

The Train! The Train!... Right on schedule, the big, half-century-old "E-Unit" hooted and slowly the train pulled out. Soon the tracks – and us – curved away to the north, heading for the Grand Canyon.

Leaving Williams You pass through a several different landscapes as you travel. First a forest, then out onto the grasslands, along dry (or nearly so) arroyos, back into the forest and up into a river canyon for the rest of the trip.

Inside the Train In spite of the fact that you're at over five-thousand feet, out on the grasslands it is almost completely flat, with just occasional mountains off in the distance. As you get closer to the canyon, you can see a double line on the horizon – the lower line being the South Rim of the canyon (the one you're heading to), while slightly above it is the North Rim, which actually is higher than the South.

The Prairie Nearing our destination – and by now actually in the Park – the train starts to slowly wind its way up a river canyon. The only signs of man besides the tracks are a narrow – and rather iffy – jeep trail running next to them, probably for maintenance purposes. We saw patches of snow and ice alongside the tracks in shady areas (though not nearly as much as our last trip there...<g>) and a narrow stream followed the train as we went.

Winding up to the Village The canyon opens out into forest and Grand Canyon Village. Soon, the train was slowing down into Grand Canyon Depot and we were able to depart for our visit to the Canyon.

Grand Canyon Depot Since the layover is only a couple of hours – and we were hungry – our first stop was the El Tovar Hotel and its dining room. This wasn't much of a walk, as the depot is right below the Hotel (heck, the Hotel was originally built for the railroad a century ago), so it was up a couple of flights of stairs and right into the lobby, then back to the dining room.

Lunch at the 'El Tovar' We were surprised at how reasonable the prices were – hotel restaurants normally seem to charge fifty to one-hundred percent more than regular restaurants – and even more surprised at just how good everything we had was.

The dining room – like the rest of the hotel – is all in dark woods in a log cabin-style, very nice. We got a table right by the big north windows that look out over the canyon. After scanning through the menu (and resisting the urge to just hand the waiter it and say "yes..."), I ended up having the Black Bean soup for starters – excellent! – followed by the Navajo taco – just as good. Meanwhile Dee Dee started with French Onion soup – her favorite, and she loved theirs – and then picked a dish called "Prickly Pear Grilled Chicken Breast."

And, who-boy! Do we recommend both! Heck! We recommend the whole restaurant whole-heartedly – a cording to Dee Dee, even the coffee was first rate!

Now, if it only wasn't five-hundred miles – and a major Forest Service entry fee – away...

After lunch, we headed out to walk east along the canyon rim – or, at least, as close to the rim as Dee Dee would get. We also wandered through the gift shops – at the Grand Canyon, also fairly impressive – for a while.

The Canyon...The Canyon...
The trail down to the bottom
Then we headed back west and just pass the El Tovar we started seeing people pointing out over the canyon. We looked, and there were a pair of condors soaring...

Condors on the Canyon Walls' ...California Condors!

As part of the Grand Plan to save the California Condors, they've recently begun releasing some of them around the Grand Canyon. Okay, I know this is in Arizona and these are California Condors, but they did once fly there too, last being seen in the 1920's. Still, it seems weird to have to drive (and train) five-hundred miles away from our home in California to see California Condors!

I tried to take a picture of them, but the best I could do of one soaring shows it as a dot. Once they landed on the Canyon wall below us, I got a bit better of a pic, but not much...

Not my picture, darn it all... All too soon we had to head back to the depot for the ride back to Williams. On the trip back I strolled through the gift shop car (but only bought sour bears) and watched as the sun headed towards the horizon as we headed towards Williams. Along the way we actually saw some antelopes out on the grasslands.

Oh No! Banditos! Just outside of Williams the train slowed and stopped as we were "attacked" by "train robbers" (the guys from the show that morning). As they "robbed" each car (followed by the "sheriff" rescuing us), the train once again started out for town.Saved by the Sheriff!'

As the sun was setting, the train slowly pulled into the Williams station and we had to get off. By now, it was getting quite cold (even by my standards) and windy, so after a brief look-see around the Fray Marcos Hotel (a lovely period copy/expansion upon the original Fray Marcos that now is the line's museum) – and a nice long chat with Sandy and Paul at the Route 66 Magazine Gift Shop (hi guys!) – we headed back to our motel room.

the Fray Marcos lobby But the day wasn't over. Just because the weather was rapidly falling below freezing, was no reason we couldn't cross the street and have ice cream at Twisters, a 50's style ice cream fountain. A malt for me and a banana for Dee Dee made a nice end to our day.
Twisters



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