Friday, 14 July 2017

Williams, Grand Canyon Railway and a MASSIVE hole in the Ground!

Williams was originally another railway town on the Santa Fe system, now part of the BNSF Railroad. It is still a "Company Town", but now the company is Xanterra who run the concessions at the Grand Canyon South Rim, the Grand Canyon Railway, the hotel and RV Park.

The steam engine runs occasionally, but not on the day we took the train. They are *huge* you can see here, using Ann as a measure against the main wheels

The RV park is perfectly fine, but rather characterless being a large tarmac and gravel expanse with power, water and sewer connections. There's adequate space and it is in a perfect location, so the lack of character can be excused. It is also easy walking distance to the railway station and to the town.

It's a great little town, with the main street being part of Route 66, but it is still a community rather than a souvenir shop theme park. Plenty of restaurants, not all themed on getting your kicks!

this was parked in the main street

This former gas station is now a museum, but seems to be closed. Gas was around 24c a gallon

If you visit, this is a great place for a drink and a meal. It's a former garage converted to a bar / restaurant and features live music
Then it's off to the Grand Canyon on the train, after the obligatory shoot-out first. The "Cataract Creek Gang" are the worst group of outlaws you'll ever come across, with most of them getting shot in a bungled stick up before reappearing later in the day when they hold the train up on the return journey.

A conveniently placed pile of horse poo. It's obvious where he is going to end up, isn't it?
We'd booked ourselves into First Class for the trip to the Canyon and were seated in a 1950's "streamliner" style carriage. Very comfortable it was, too, with free breakfast and soft drinks.

With a line speed of just 40mph, we arrived just before lunch and needed to be back for our train that would leave at around 4:30, so we weren't going to get a huge amount of time at the canyon. to get more time, you have to stay actually in the National Park, if you can get reservations (book a year in advance). Time for lunch. Everywhere is going to be busy, so we head to "El Tovar". This is another "Harvey House" and one of the original hotels in the Park, dating from 1905. Here's a link to El Tovar. 

Very enjoyable salad for lunch, now to look at the Grand Canyon and be "blown away"...

In the far distance, you can see the North Rim, around 5 miles away. It's over a mile down to the Colorado River, which can't be seen as it it actually a series of "staircase" canyons. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed that at the South Rim there is no chance of seeing to the bottom from the top. And the famous "Horseshoe" glass walkway isn't here, either. That is at the West Rim. So walked a few miles either way to see the views.

The picture above is looking out over the canyon and the one below from an overlook heading towards Hermit's Rest. There wasn't enough time to either walk all the way or take the bus, which was a little disappointing.

Ann was getting a little agitated about me being close to the edge while taking the picture above. The one below shows why... I was stood close to the edge of the rock that hangs out over the Canyon. It's been there for millions of years and I'm sure it wasn't going to fall while I stood on it. Had I seen what wasn't underneath it, it may have influenced my decision to stand there.

Too soon, the time came to return. This time, we'd booked seats in the observation car. Disappointed with this - cramped and uncomfortable compared with the regular First Class.

So finally some recommendations:

  • Williams as a small town is definitely worth a visit. Of all the Route 66 towns we passed through in Arizona, it is by far the most "real". Both Red Raven and Cafe 66 stand out as places to eat, the buildings are interesting and there's a selection of shops selling quality stuff and not just tourist tat.
  • The canyon needs more than a half-day to do justice to it, but that does mean staying in the Park and that means getting reservations. If you are going to stay in a hotel, blow the budget and stay at El Tovar.
  • Drink *lots* of water. you will be told this time and time again. There are points to fill up water bottles.
  • The Railway is a good way to travel as it saves the hassle of driving to the Park and finding somewhere to leave the car. And you avoid "waiting in line" to pay the fee as the railway takes care of that for you. As they own several of the hotels, they operate packages of hotel in both Williams and at the Grand Canyon and the train ride

Then we were off to "Sin City" for 4 nights. That will be coming up in the next bucket.

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