After a quick breakfast at at the Pine Country Restaurant, our day began at the Williams Depot at 8:30 am with a Wild West Shootout with the Cataract Creek Gang. If the (fake) bullets didn’t kill you the desperadoes’ bad jokes certainly could have. While my husband Paul and I rolled our eyes at the corny comedy, our kids, Nathan and Lucie, enjoyed the gun play immensely and debated if the cowboys were using real bullets or not.
After the show, we found and boarded our first class car on the Grand Canyon Railway and stowed our day packs for a 9:30 am departure. We were well taken care of by our attendant, Bob, who was able to answer any questions about the Grand Canyon or the train. The kids feasted on muffins and juice, while Paul and I enjoyed delicious, spicy Bloody Mary’s.
We were soon joined by Clarence Clearwater, who serenaded us in Navajo, Japanese, English, Spanish, French and Italian. He was wonderful and we told him so when we bumped into him the next day on the rim trail.
I’ve been reading Appetite for America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West–One Meal at a Time about the origins of the train, the hotel in Williams and the Grand Canyon. Except for a break from the late 1960s to mid 1980s, the historic Grand Canyon Railway has been taking tourists to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park – 65 miles away – since 1901. Originally, the Williams to South Rim train was part of the Santa Fe Railroad. Fred Harvey was instrumental in getting the train there (before you had to travel by horse or stagecoach) building the depot hotel in Williams as well as the El Tovar lodge.
The train trip takes two hours and 15 minutes to travel through Ponderosa pine forests and desert landscapes – 45 minutes faster than it took in 1901. Each year, the train shuttles thousands of travelers to and from the Grand Canyon. Many of those travelers are repeat visitors, some who first traveled the train as a child and are sharing the experience with the next generation. Many people take the roundtrip in one day – just enough to have lunch and look over the Grand Canyon. Others, like us, stay over a night or more.
The Grand Canyon Railway train trip takes you through 65 miles of ponderosa pine forest, wide-open plains and winding canyons on its way to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. However, you won’t get to see the Canyon until you disembark and walk to the South Rim. (Prepared to amazed!)
We got to the Grand Canyon Depot at 11:45 am with plenty of time to inquire about our motorcoach tour that afternoon.
On our return trip, we noshed on appetizers and drinks while a cowboy entertained us with old country and western tunes.
Then we were robbed at gunpoint! Yes, the Cataract Creek Gang rode up on horseback, boarded the train, and subjected us to more goofy humor and bad jokes. Luckily the Marshal was on their trail – about 10 minutes behind them – to make sure the passengers didn’t get out of hand. (According to our train car’s attendant, people have called 911 dispatch in Williams thinking they really were being robbed!)
It was all in good fun and the kids had a blast offering the bad guys appetizers instead of money. They were turned down, however, when the robber explained that he was watching his high cholesterol. (Rim shot, please!)
Is taking the Grand Canyon Railway a better deal than driving into the park, paying the $25 National Park fee, and finding parking? Probably not. Then again, what’s an adventure of a lifetime worth to you?
Instead of being cooped up in the car with a couple of bored kids, you’re paying for a trip that is entertaining for the whole family, and a relaxing break from driving for the adults. It’s also a way to experience a part of the Old West and how our country used to be when everyone road the train.
I thought it was well worth the price and I think you will, too!
Disclosure: I was provided with four media passes for me and my family to experience the Grand Canyon Railway.