Monday, October 17, 2011

Railroading into the Grand Canyon

Before there were mules winding their way down Bright Angel Trail, before there was a Bright Angel Trail, before there was even an Arizona, there was the Grand Canyon Railway and there still is.

Like everything else you'll find at America's grandest ditch, the railway was developed to attract and to bring tourists into the Grand Canyon.

The town of Williams grew by supporting the railway and the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel was built by the the innovative Fred Harvey in partnership with the Santa Fe Railway, and its restaurant staffed by his famous "Harvey Girls."

The Santa Fe Railway is gone as are the Harvey Girls, but the train chugs on, the hotel has been handsomely refurbished by Xanterra and the railway station still adjoins it. The beds and linens are comfortable and the rooms are quiet, always welcome when traveling. There's a large indoor swimming pool.

Best of all for Levelers, minimal steps and stairs plus a convenient elevator.

Sure, you can drive to the Grand Canyon, but arriving by train is a lot of fun and adds to the experience. Besides, buy a package and the staff schleps your luggage from the hotel to where you stay in the canyon and back to the hotel.

The GCR hotel has many historic touches along with innovative recycling and energy saving programs. You can get bar chow in the picturesque bar, but most guests eat at the Depot dining room buffet with pasta, carvery, omelet and pancake stations depending on the time of day.

Tip: Walk the few short blocks - flat - and dine with the locals at Pine Country Restaurant, at least for dessert.

They're famous for their pies (47 different varieties), all made in-house. Best sellers are the coconut cream or the Oreo pie, but my fave: same as owner Dee Seehorn's, the cherry-apple-peach combo.
Pine Country Restaurant pie.

Bearizona bear

Another tip, take time to visit nearby Bearizona. Owned by the same family that developed Bear Country U.S.A., the 160-acre preserve gets you up close and almost personal with a fascinating array of critters from the bears of the title to raptors, wolves, Dahl sheep, racoons and a handsome pair of bobcats.

All aboard!
Before you board, you'll be entertained by a pair of singing cowboys and a pseudo shootout, after which you and the kids can visit with the actors and pet their horses.

There are four classes of handsomely refurbished, air-conditioned cars:



observation dome

                                      luxury parlor

Those in the know recommend the observation dome into the canyon, the luxury parlor on the way out.

I found the parlor quite comfy and liked being able to go out on the open-air platform.  

Warning, Levelers, there are steps up to the observation cars. Bars and snacks are available at all levels of service, mostly complimentary at the highest ones.

The ride is a pleasant one and those booted troubadours will be singing here, too.

                                                                                   Marshall Goodmore
On the return trip, weather permitting, you might be on the lookout for bandits. The train is frequently "robbed" although Marshall Goodmore has unblemished record of nabbing desperadoes.

There are more different options, discounts and packages for train alone, train with rooms, etc. than the train itself has cars. You're bound to find one that suits your needs and schedule.

Next post: Inside the Grand Canyon.


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