By Scott Temme
Arizona is an incredibly diverse state--from the beauty of the Sonoran desert to the pine forests of the north, Arizona is full of places to discover. There is perhaps no better example than the Grand Canyon.
Yet, many Arizonans have never actually visited the famed abyss. As Phoenix lopes through another hot summer?what better time to take a trip up north? With temperatures as much as 30 degrees cooler, a getaway to the "other Arizona" is an easy way to leave the heat behind.
It can be easy, affordable and fun to plan a family getaway to the Grand Canyon that you and the kids won't soon forget. About 30 miles west of Flagstaff off Interstate 40, is a town called Williams. From Phoenix, Williams is only a two and a half hour drive. The small mountain town sits at nearly 7,000 feet elevation amidst the largest stand of ponderosa pine forest in the U.S. It's an impressive site, and worth the drive. From here, you can hop on a train and relax the rest of the way.
A journey aboard the Grand Canyon Railway is like a trip back in time. The historic train, which made its first journey to the canyon in 1901, departs daily and offers four distinct classes of service, dating back to the golden age of rail in the 1950s.
Coach features bench-style seating in carefully restored passenger cars. First Class offers plush seating with more leg room and large picture windows, bar service and snacks. The Observation Dome allows guests to sit high above the train in a glass-enclosed dome featuring panoramic views, and Luxury Parlor Class allows you to travel like a rail baron. The cars offer comfortable, lounge-style seating, a private bar and access to a classic, open-air, rear platform.
History surrounds Grand Canyon Railway. On the south end of the rail line is the Williams Depot, built in 1908. It was an oasis for travelers heading to and from California, and was much more than a place to get tickets. It was home to the Harvey House Hotel, which had 43 rooms, a bar, restaurant and café. Currently, the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel accommodates many guests.
Today, the Williams Depot is the oldest poured-concrete structure in the state of Arizona and is where passengers of Grand Canyon Railway pick up their tickets. Travelers will enjoy this historic place and its expansive gift shop full of fun mementos.
Grand Canyon Depot
At the north end is the Grand Canyon Depot, built in 1910, in Grand Canyon National Park. The rustic building is one of approximately 14 log depots known to have been constructed in the United States, and one of only three remaining. It is a National Historic Landmark.
Just beyond the depot is El Tovar Hotel, built in 1905 by the railroad. El Tovar is the signature hotel along the rim, placed conveniently close for rail passengers.
Musicians roam the train playing songs from yesteryear and a friendly crew provides insight about the region, the canyon and the train. Guests travel 65 miles through northern Arizona's Colorado Plateau through ponderosa pine forests, high desert and Coconino Canyon on their way to a destination that is known all around the world.
The trip takes two hours and 15 minutes each way and features authentic western characters that bring the old west to life with a western shootout and train robbery which has fascinated many kids, young and old.
"By traveling aboard Grand Canyon Railway you are not only experiencing an entertaining and historic journey, you are also doing your part to help preserve the pristine beauty of the Grand Canyon," explains Bob Baker, general manager of the Grand Canyon Railway.
The train ride, a popular attraction and adventure for travelers, is responsible for keeping approximately 50,000 cars from entering the Grand Canyon. The train carries tens of thousands of passengers per year into our national treasure, reducing automobile traffic into the park.
One of the highlights of the journey for many passengers--something you could easily miss by driving?is witnessing wild life first hand. Many of the sights to behold, besides the scenic route, include elk, mule deer and antelope. For those with extremely sharp eyes, watch for jack rabbits, coyote, skunks, mountain lions, bobcat, red-tailed hawk, turkey, roadrunners and bald eagles.
Once you arrive at your destination, you will have three hours and 45 minutes to explore the quaint town and revel in the awe-inspiring views of the Grand Canyon's South Rim, before the train makes its return journey.
The historic Grand Canyon Depot is the center of canyon activity as most of the lodges, retail shops and restaurants are located in this area, dubbed Grand Canyon Village. Notable sights include Hopi House, Kolb Studio, Verkamps and Lookout Studio. For those who want to see a variety of South Rim overlooks, the railway offers guide-narrated motor coach rim tours that complement the train's schedule. The tours take guests to popular viewpoints people can't otherwise walk to.
Many travelers decide to stay inside Grand Canyon National Park, just like travelers did at the turn of the 20th century. A variety of packages are available that include meals and tours, both at the canyon and in the Williams area.
In fact, if you prefer a stay-over in Williams before heading up to the canyon, The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, a freshly renovated 3-diamond property, features comfortable lodging, an indoor swimming pool and hot tub. Guests will also enjoy multiple restaurants, playgrounds with basketball and volleyball courts as well as horseshoes.
The Railway recommends Phoenicians drive to Williams in the afternoon, stay the night, then catch the train at 9:30 a.m. The train returns to Williams at 5:45 p.m., making it easy to drive back to Phoenix that evening, or stay another night.
For a limited time, the railway is offering a new "Kids Ride Free" package that is only available to Arizona residents, as a way to give local families a unique summer savings stay-cation. "This is a great opportunity," says Angela Berrigan, vice president of marketing for the Grand Canyon Railway, adding that, "Arizona families can see one of the world's greatest attractions close to home in a fun and memorable way."
This getaway is all about nostalgia; reliving a part of our American history on a piece of authentic machinery that has been completely restored. People say it's truly as if they are going back in time.
Infolink: The Train
Scott Temme is the director of marketing for Grand Canyon Railway.