Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Grand Canyon Railway

A Very Civilized Journey Indeed

Somewhere in Arlington National Cemetery rests the remains of Bucky O'Neill.

O'Neill was an Irish immigrant who ventured west becoming a leader in territorial Arizona. He served as Mayor of Prescott, Sheriff of Yavapai County, and one of Teddy Rosevelt's original Rough Riders. He was also an energetic advocate for the development of a rail line to the Grand Canyon.

His death in Cuba in 1898 deprived him from realizing the fulfillment of his railroad dream with the completion in 1901 of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Grand Canyon railroad.

The railway was the key to the mass access of the Grand Canyon, opening some 7 years before the Grand Canyon's designation as a National Monument (now a National Park.)

The rail service served miners, explorers and tourists alike for 67 years smoothly connecting with daily rail service from Chicago to Los Angeles. 

A View From The Dome

In 1968, on its final run, carrying just 3 passengers, the Grand Canyon railway quietly ceased service. 

It lay dormant for two decades, until in 1989 efforts began to re-establish service. And, in 1990, rail service was resumed.

Today the Grand Canyon railway reduces 40,000 auto trips into the park annually.

The rolling stock is all meticulously maintained. Our "Grand View" vista dome car was renovated in 2011 and originally served as part of the legendary California Zephyr.

There are four comfortable classes of service. Coach has big bench seats. First Class has recliners and includes refreshments. The Vista Dome and Parlor cars are limited to Adults.

If you are a member of AAA (and can snake your way through a convoluted website to find the discount) you can save 10% on your fares.

The train departs Williams for a relaxing 2 hours trip to the South Rim. Northbound there are singing cowboys onboard. Southbound there are desperado's who hold up the train.

I have always wanted to enjoy a meal in the El Tovar historic dining room. So at 11:30 AM as soon as the train doors opened at the Grand Canyon Station (which is just below the historic El Tovar hotel), I sprinted up and booked tables.

Lunch, service and atmosphere were perfect.

El Tovar

An El Tovar Dining Room Mural

A Fourth of July 
Chocolate Taco!

After lunch we still had plenty of time to gasp at views of the Canyon itself. I've returned to the Canyon many times, yet nothing prepares me for that view. 

The Seventh Wonder of the World

Everchanging Colors

For those not staying on at the park, the train departs at 3:30 for its return to Williams.

The train does offer its own "hotel" in Williams, but it is overly priced and devoid of any real genuine character.

This rail trip isn't for everyone. It is not the way to visit the Grand Canyon if you are in a hurry or find no particular allure in rail travel.

For me it was a joy.

I vowed to make the trip again in the middle of winter when the ground is frosted and the desert trees are dusted with snow.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

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