Day 2: September 30, 2015--Grand Canyon

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This was our first real day on the road--and a grand day it was. (I seem to recall us using that adjective a lot that day.) It included--you guessed it!--the Grand Canyon, and a taste of quaint little Williams, Arizona.

The trajectory of the day can be charted thus:

Williams, Arizona

The Grand Canyon Railway

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon Railway

Williams, Arizona

Yes, it was that GRAND.


It started with our more-or-less-on-time arrival at Williams Junction, Arizona, that time being more-or-less 3:50 AM. This was not the town of Williams proper, which was named for the most likely not-so-proper mountain man and trader William "Old Bill" Williams. No, this was simply a train stop about three miles east of town where there was literally no station. This junction made Petticoat Junction look like a megalopolis.

An old guy in a van met us there and--after turning off the switch to the three pole lights that lit the gravel parking lot--took us to the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. As we drove down a section of old Route 66, Lila observed that the whole town looked like a movie set.

As it turns out, the driver was employed not by Amtrak, but by the tourism company that runs the hotel and the Grand Canyon Railway. Travelers, take note: In January of 2018, this service will be discontinued, and Amtrak passengers bound for the Grand Canyon Railway will take the Amtrak to Flagstaff--a little over 30 miles away--and a shuttle to Williams.

Lila (center) and an angry old lady (left foreground) sleep while I loiter in
the opulent lobby of the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, Williams, AZ

As elegantly described in the linked article, "Passengers [who have shuttled in from the 3:50 AM train] then loiter in the lobby until the train leaves for the Grand Canyon at 9:30 a.m." Loiter. Regarding the cancellation of the shuttle service, Bruce Brossman, director of sales and marketing for Grand Canyon Railway, is quoted as saying, "The conflicts have become too much... We have people sleeping in our lobby, disrupting our guests and making our employees nervous." Way to cast aspersions on your customers, Bruce. What a marketer.

Well, we loitered, we slept, and we were disturbed by a loud, expletive-laden argument between two older ladies in the lobby. Seems one of them thought the other had booked rooms, but she hadn't. To be fair, only one of them was using the expletives. Guess which one created all the fireworks?

Nevertheless, we slept in the cavernous lobby done up in faux Old West, with sweeping oil canvases on the walls of even more sweeping landscapes, huge overstuffed leatherette chairs, antlers and other vestiges of once-local wildlife everywhere, and lots of wood.

It was glorious.

Breakfast and Business

When the sun started coming up, we went out in search of breakfast, and to straighten out a problem with the hotel. We had booked it through, and something happened that led me to believe that we may have been double booked, and maybe double billed. (It's complicated; it had to do with me first booking a room with no bath, then changing my mind, and the website and hotel not confirming the change, and...)

Grand Canyon Hotel, two blocks from the Grand Canyon Railway on Old Route 66,
Arizona's Oldest Hotel and home to the World's Grumpiest Inn Keeper

So anyway, we walk a couple blocks to The Grand Canyon Hotel, "Arizona's Oldest Hotel" they say, and ring the bell for a while, and are "greeted"--if that's the word--by Arizona's (or maybe The World's) Grumpiest Inn Keeper, who proceeds to berate me for a boob, intimating that I didn't know how the world worked, and I guess he's right, 'cause for all the dozens of hotels I stayed in in China and Japan, I never actually booked them with a credit card (I hadn't had one) through, so despite my lack of sleep and being upset and nervous because of the conflict in the lobby of the other hotel where we had waited, I keep my cool, learn the routine for late arrivals, and we go to breakfast.

And it was sublime. The Pine Country Restaurant was one of those typical not-IHOP breakfast places with a genuinely friendly staff and excellent food (despite their looking slightly askance at our whole vegetarian thing, they never lost their smiles). I think Lila was impressed.

Good beards
As train time approached, we moved outside for the Wild West Show, a perfunctory shoot-'em-up with a perfunctory plot played out by perfunctory performers. They had good beards, though.

After that, and entertainment by strolling cowboy minstrels--anything to make the waiting less tedious--we boarded and were off.

Riding the Rails

I was disappointed to discover that the steam locomotives lying plentifully around the place were mainly props. We were pulled to the Canyon and back by a standard diesel.

Along the way, more program: fiddlers and whatnot, and a robbery on the way back. Otherwise, it was a pretty boring (scenic, but boring) ride up and back--except for the staged robbery. I wouldn't do it again unless I could ride behind a steam loco.

The Grand Canyon? Words fail. Though I've seen it numerous times before, it still awes. Pictures don't do it justice--but here's one anyway, by Lila (and a danged good one, too).

Back in Town

So after getting robbed on the way back (see today's Gallery) and finding dinner (for the life of me I can't remember where--maybe at the nearby Circle K?) we head for the hotel.

Which was perfectly pleasant, if a little too froufrou for a manly man like me. Maybe all the bric-a-brac and extraneous teddy bears are what made that guy so grumpy. Anyway, we didn't see him again. If I remember correctly there was a nice lady sitting in a sort of common room in the back who told us where our room was. And we let ourselves out long before it would be humane to do so in order to get back on that same train at 3:50 AM and move along to Albuquerque.

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