Recently, the grandchildren were visiting for several days, and as many of you are probably aware — being vacation caretakers yourselves — they frequently need interesting things to do other than playing with video games, the neighbor kids and baseball or going to Taylor Pool and the library. Ours are ages 6 and 9 and smart as tacks.
One day they were watching an old western on TV and part of the plot involved a train robbery. They asked if there were any passenger trains operating today, and I responded in the affirmative.
More questions were fielded, and they wanted to know if there was a train they could ride close to where we lived. I thought for a minute and remembered there was a very fine train operating from Williams, Ariz. to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Williams is not far from here. The children said they wanted to ride the train and could we please go as soon as possible.
Well, I phoned the Grand Canyon Railway reservations department and discovered that the rates were quite reasonable and that we could get seats on the next day’s train. The children jumped up and down with anticipation and joy when I gave them the news. We also invited a 12-year-old neighbor to join us on the rail adventure.
The next morning, it was off to Williams for the big event. We arrived about 8:30 a.m., in time to purchase our tickets and get breakfast in the railway’s restaurant, which is part of the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel complex. The young people also had to spend a few minutes in the gift shop purchasing railway mementos.
The train departs the Williams station at 9:30 a.m., but before boarding, there is a wild west show next to the station for all to view and photograph. There is bleacher seating facing a western town set. The cast of characters present a robbery with a shootout. All is in good fun, and the children and adults enjoyed it to the fullest.
At 9:15 a.m. we heard “all aboard,” at which time we found our rail car and climbed aboard. Promptly at 9:30 a.m., the train’s whistle blew and we began moving. The young people were all smiles as the train departed Williams on our way to the Grand Canyon.
Our car attendant, Cindy, began making announcements about what we were going to see on our rail ride, and described the various amenities to be found in our coach and on the train in general. She pointed out the rest rooms, and snack service in our car, which was included in the fare. The children immediately went to the food and helped themselves, along with complimentary beverages. Cindy pointed out the various cattle ranches as we passed by, and told a little about them.
Soon, a western singer came into our car and began singing several western songs we older folks were familiar with. The young people listened intently and applauded with great gusto. From the window we saw the San Francisco Peaks in the distance, and explained to the kids that the top of this mountain was the highest place in the state. Cindy also stopped by where we were seated and explained the various points we were about to experience at the canyon rim, and suggested we might enjoy the Arizona Room at the Bright Angel Lodge for lunch.
Two hours into our journey, we approached the outskirts of Grand Canyon National Park. Soon, the train turned a hard right as we entered the location where the various lodges, hotels and scenic viewing points are located at the south rim. Slowly we approached the train station and, as we passed by the lodges, many of the tourists were waving and photographing the train.
This day’s train consisted of 15 silver-sided, streamlined cars pulled by two large, diesel engines. The train offers coach, first class, dome class and lounge car accommodations. We were enjoying first class.
At 11:45 a.m. we had arrived at the canyon and left the train to walk the short distance to the Arizona Room for lunch. The dining room is located just behind the rim walk and, from our table, we could enjoy the spectacular view of the one and only Grand Canyon. We all found what we wanted on the menu and placed our order, after which the children began asking questions about the canyon in front of them. Their dad and I did the best we could reading from an information paper supplied to us on the train. The children’s eyes widened as they heard how nature had created the canyon and the vastness of this wonder of the world.
They quickly ate their lunch and then it was out the door to explore the sights as we walked along the rim pathway. They found it hard to believe that nature could create such a mind-blowing sight. Jena, the 9-year-old, inquired if there was some way she could go down to the bottom of the canyon. We told her the only way was by mule and that there was not enough time to do so on our one-day visit. Johnny, the 6-year-old, was interested in Indian lore and artifacts he saw. He had a camera and kept taking pictures of the sight before him. Clint, the 12-year-old, was most interested in the facts of the canyon and how it evolved into the greatness that it is. They all enjoyed the Hopi House and the items that are featured there. They even purchased gifts to take home.
We returned to the train station at 3:15 p.m. to re-board for the return to Williams. At 3:30 p.m., the train began slowly moving down the track past all the buildings, lodges and viewing points we had just visited, and headed south across the high country. Soon, Cindy, our car attendant placed afternoon snacks and drinks buffet fashion on a large table and, again, the young people gathered around to select their goodies to take back to their seats.
About an hour into our trip, two western singers entered the car to sing various songs, some of which were requests from passengers. Speaking of passengers, we met a few that were seated around us, most from out of state. A nice couple and their 4-year-old boy were visiting from Denver. Another family was from Ohio, while another couple was from Copenhagen, Denmark.
One of the high points for the children occurred about 45 minutes out of Williams. The train slowly stopped. The car attendant said that this only happens when train robbers board the engine and work their way through the train robbing passengers. The kids got all excited. They asked if this was fake or real. We said we didn’t know. Soon, three men dressed in western clothing wearing masks, with guns in their hands entered our car and demanded money, jewelry, watches and other valuables. The 6-year-old peaked from behind the seat. The 9-year-old gave them two candy bars and the 12-year-old boy just watched in amazement. They all knew it was not real, but were fascinated by the act.
Soon, Williams came into view from the train window and before long, we were coming into the train station. We disembarked our wonderful, comfortable silver train and found our automobile to return home. All three young people had a great time.
There is something for everyone on the Grand Canyon Railway and at the Grand Canyon itself.
As a postscript, I asked the 6- and 9-year-olds’ father to write some of his thoughts. I’ll quote them here.
“Like many Americans my age (50), riding on the train was part of my life. I grew up riding the famous Southern Pacific’s Daylight between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Later, I rode most of the major excursion trains in the U.S. and Europe. So you can imagine how at home I felt when I stepped aboard the impeccably restored and maintained streamliner car named Bright Angel on the Grand Canyon Railway for a leisurely and scenic ride to one of the most amazing places on earth: the Grand Canyon. I enjoyed the fact that my car never entered the park, so I never had to find a parking place! The icing on the cake was bringing my kids. They got a chance to experience rail travel as it was in its heyday.”
If you would like more information, give the Grand Canyon Railway a call at 1-800-The Train. It’s an experience for people of all ages. Try it yourself and be sure to take the kids or grandchildren. It’s an experience none of you will forget.