Finally, the day had arrived. The centerpiece destination of our week-long anniversary road trip was at hand! Furthermore, it would be a day completely without time in the car. Instead, we took some older transportation from the town of Williams: a train!
The Grand Canyon Railway was originally part of the ATSF rail line. When the first train departed for the canyon in 1901, the 64-mile journey cost $3.95 per person. After over half a century of tourism trips, increased automobile competition caused the railway to cease operations in 1968; only three passengers took that last train. Several attempts to resurrect the tourist rail line failed over the next few decades. Finally, one took hold. In 1989, the Williams Flyer resumed service to the Grand Canyon and continues to this day. The railway itself was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, too!
After an old west show at the Williams Depot, we boarded our car at the back of the train. Since it was our anniversary, I booked us in the 1947 parlor car (named The Chief) which allowed us to walk onto the open air platform on the back. Although the journey took about twice as long as a trip by car would have, it was immeasurably more enjoyable. We sat in our little booth, talked to fellow passengers, and spent plenty of time on the rear platform as the landscape went by. The old telegraph poles still stood next to the tracks, some with the wire still attached. It felt like going back in time.
The depot at the Grand Canyon has no view of the colorful gorge. We walked up a few sets of stairs, admired the architecture of the village (including multiple buildings designed by the same woman that designed La Posada in Winslow) and suddenly…there it was. I’d been to the canyon twice before, but it still takes my breath away to see it in person. All of the money we’d spent, all of the time I logged behind the wheel, and all the planning I’d done built to this moment. It was all worth it to see Samantha’s eyes light up when she saw the glory of the largest canyon on Earth for the first time.
We walked the South Rim around Grand Canyon Village, touring the historic structures in addition to ogling the natural beauty that surrounded us. We sat in the shadow of the El Tovar Hotel and restated our wedding vows to one another. We bought gifts and postcards for friends, eager to share our experience with them. And, of course, I took plenty of photographs. Although we didn’t see MUCH of the canyon (it’s about 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and more than a mile deep) we saw enough to feel we got our money’s worth. Someday we will return and venture INTO the canyon!
When the train departed for Williams, we were satisfied. On the way back, old west bandits from the morning show robbed the train!
It was a lot of fun, as the show has evolved to be quite tongue-in-cheek. As had become tradition, we closed the day with an amazing meal. The Red Raven had been recommended to me by a Route 66 friend and it did not disappoint. We took one more opportunity to walk the streets of Williams, soaking up the atmosphere. It was a great day; tomorrow, it would be time to start driving home. We still had a lot to see; in fact, the next day would take us to the destination I was most anticipating.