Day Two, Saturday – The Grand Canyon Railway:
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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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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