We grabbed our tickets and hurried out the hotel door, racing to the station to catch the early morning Wild West show. We tapped our fingers as the actors played their parts, anxious for the train to arrive. Everything felt rushed, even getting to our assigned seats.
I tapped out one more Facebook update, filling every second until the conductor announced we were on our way.
As the Grand Canyon Railway rolled away from the station, we passed the sleepy town of Williams and through what the conductor dubbed the “second longest tunnel in Arizona.” Everyone in the car peered out the windows, ready to marvel at this mighty passage. But at just a few feet long and lasting no more than seconds, the tunnel was no wonder.
But the tunnel had acted as a time machine, leaving the modern world behind as we trundled through the ponderosa pines — no cell service, fast cars or deadlines.
Traveling no faster than 30 mph, we recalibrated.
Since it took the Colorado River maybe 17 million years to cut its current path through the canyon, revealing rock formed 2 billion years ago, I figured I could spare the time.
Today, 4.4 million visitors annually visit this geologic wonder, usually by car. They pull up, snap a few pictures and hurtled through the gift shops. But as the 16-car train ambled toward the canyon, our urgency faded away.
If you go
The Grand Canyon Railway for the observation dome costs $170 for adults and $140 for children. The Pullman class is $59 for adults and $29 for children. A passenger service attendant in each car explains the train’s history. Entertainers include a fiddle, guitar and harmonic player. A café car serves snacks.
From Payson, go north on Highway 87 to Lake Mary Road. Take the road to Flagstaff. Go west on Interstate 40 toward Williams. Take exit 163 and turn left on Grand Canyon Boulevard to the station on the right.
People have occupied the Grand Canyon for more than 12,000 years, mostly getting in and out on foot.
In 1901, a partnership between three railway companies resulted in a 64-mile line between Williams and the South Rim.
Automobiles outpaced the train and the station closed in 1964. Decades later, the line finally reopened.
Today, the Grand Canyon Railway, operated by Xanterra, reportedly keeps 50,000 cars out of the national park each year. “By traveling aboard Grand Canyon Railway you are not only part of history in the making, you are also doing your part to help preserve the pristine, incredible beauty of Grand Canyon National Park,” according to the train’s Web site.
After a two-hour journey, we arrived at the canyon and disembarked near the El Tovar Lodge, just footsteps from the Trail of Times.
The brass markers every three feet along the pavement of the Rim Trail each represent a million years of time. The 2.8-mile journey between the Verkamp’s Visitor Center and Yavapai Geology Museum is just one way to get a visceral appreciation for the magnitude of geologic time.
As we returned to the train for our journey home, I wasn’t even tempted to worry about traffic or posting photos to Instagram.
I could just sit and watch the time go by — wishing it would slow down just a little longer.