Photos by Dianne or Burt Davis
The Grand Canyon Railroad-A fun and stress-free way to visit the Grand Canyon.
Vegas is more than just casinos, shops, and restaurants. It is a great jumping off spot for a visit to the Grand Canyon - one of the greatest outdoor wonders in North America. Some folks opt for an $300 helicopter ride or a five hour drive from Vegas to the Canyon. But, more and more of the visitors to the Grand Canyon now reach there by train. The Grand Canyon train travels the 65 miles from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon South Rim in a pleasant two hours and fifteen minutes. Williams is located about 3½ hours (233 miles) from Las Vegas.
A Little History
Train service to The Canyon began in 1901, was temporarily shut down in 1968, and was restarted in 1989. The railroad was purchased by in 2007 by Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the nation’s largest park-management company. Under Xanterra’s guidance, the trains and the entire train travel experience has been further enhanced. Xanterra manages an environmentally friendly railroad. As example, the locomotive engines have been modified to enable them to utilize recycled vegetable oil.
Enough of the history - Let’s talk about the experience. Most train travelers arrive at Williams, a 3 ½ hour drive from Vegas, the night before the train ride. They have the option of staying at one of Williams numerous motels or at the Grand Canyon.
The Railway Hotel is adjacent to the train station. The hotel is pricier than standard motels, but offers a unique upscale experience. As example, you only have to leave your luggage in the lobby and a porter will place it on the train. The train ride to the Canyon is more than just a train ride.
It begins a half hour hour before the train's departure when train riders are invited to the “corral” to witness a confrontation and shoot out between the local sheriff and some bad guys. It's an old western gunfight.
Of course the sheriff wins, but not until we enjoy some entertaining dialogue and fancy shootin'.
Following the shoot out, we boarded the train promptly at 9:30 a.m. with several friends and settled into our comfortable coach seats. Travelers have an option to upgrade to first class which provides larger more luxurious seating plus wider windows or to an observation dome car which is optimum for photographers. For the ultimate train experience you can opt for Luxury Parlor Class seating in the rear car. This provides you with the comfort of a soft lounge style chair as well as snacks and beverage amenities. You also get access to the rear open air platform which is a great place to take pictures.
The train ride is part of your experience as the tracks take you through the high dessert of Northern Arizona into the great prairie, then climb through the pine filled forest adjacent to the Grand Canyon and close to the 7000 foot canyon rim.
During the trip we were entertained by a story telling guide as well as strolling banjo players.
We even joined together for a little sing along. We didn’t see any elk, but we did see a herd of mule deer along the way.
The train arrives at the Canyon station at 11:45, in time for lunch. We were staying overnight at The Maswick Lodge so we had time for a leisurely lunch at the El Tovar Hotel, which offers a spectacular view of The Canyon.
Since the southbound train leaves at 3:30 p.m., day trippers have to plan their time carefully. Xanterra offers a guided bus tour of the Canyon area for $33.50 which can be combined with a buffet lunch for an additional $12. This is probably the most efficient way to view the Canyon if you are not staying overnight. We opted to stay overnight at the Maswik Lodge, a clean functional spot and hiked the rim trails in the afternoon and the next morning. Reservations for Maswick can be made through Xanterra.
Our train departed the Canyon at 3:30 p.m. to return to Williams.
The trip was interrupted about half way to Williams by a group of bandits on horseback!
The "bandits" boarded the train and harassed the passengers, asking for money and special favors.
Most of the bandits bore a striking resemblance to the bad guys who were killed in the morning shoot out. Hmmmm. Many of the passengers were more than happy to give them a little tip for this special feature of the trip.
We arrived back at Williams relaxed and smiling after the train ride.The train is a great way to avoid the hassle of driving to The Canyon especially during the crowded summer months. It also helps environmentally. So do your good deed for the environment and enjoy a comfortable, pleasant ride. Round trip prices for the ride are $75 for coach to $190 for luxury parlor class. It is an especially great trip for kids.
Special packages are available combining the train trip with tours and hotel stays. For details and reservations contact Xanterra at 1-800-THE-Train or www.thetrain.com