A GRAND VACATION DESTINATION
What is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide and 1 mile deep? My ass imprint on the sofa following Thanksgiving dinner. Ha! Seriously, folks, speaking of asses have you ever ridden one to the bottom of the Grand Canyon? As an avid traveler, I am truly stunned at the rugged beauty the Grand Canyon offers and I am lucky enough to have it practically in my backyard as a Vegas resident. When my friends suggested a train trip to the Grand Canyon, I was kind of like, “Meh” and as one of my friends reiterated, “Let’s go see a giant ditch!” But hey, I’m game for any adventure and I hadn’t seen my friends in a long time, so I tossed my luggage into my car and headed to Arizona. Approximately one large Coke, a bag of Cheetos and ½ a tank of gas later, I met my friends at the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel in Williams, AZ.
As part of the package deal, the four of us were treated to an overnight stay at the hotel along with a dinner and breakfast buffet. It’s important to impress at this point that the old phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” comes into play because the hotel, on the outside, is nothing to write home about. However, on the inside, it was decorated for Christmas and had a roaring fire in the lobby, which added some charm and cozy appeal. The outside courtyard, where one must walk in order to get to the restaurant and train depot, was also decorated with Christmas lights and there was music emanating from hidden speakers. Now, if you’re used to Vegas casino buffets, this buffet pales in comparison but nonetheless it had an ample variety with a chocolate cheesecake dessert to die for. Lastly, the hotel accommodations were perfectly adequate for an overnight stay. Bring a bathing suit. The indoor pool is huge and complete with a jacuzzi. Bring a roll of quarters, too. There’s a small arcade including an air hockey table. Multiple fluffy pillows will help you get a good night’s rest before boarding the train to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
“ALL ABOARD!” The train departs promptly, and I do mean promptly, at 8:30 am. For those of you with children or for those of you with an inner child that needs entertaining, there is an OK Corral shoot out at 8:00 am while you wait for the train. The train has a few travel options such as first-class and a luxury dome. Honestly, regardless of where you sit, the seats are comfortable, there’s food and drink service and live entertainment with guitar-playing, country-singing cowboys. On the return trip, you even get to experience a reenactment of a train robbery. (I’m not letting the cat out of the bag because they actually tell you about the train robbery beforehand.) All the train staff from the Conductor to the singing cowboys and servers have playful personalities and do a great job making the three-hour trip enjoyable.
Upon arrival, we chose to take a bus tour that lasted about an hour. (There are several buses, vans and shuttles that take different routes.) The bus took us to various vantage points for spectacular photo opportunities. Awe-inspiring comes to mind as you take in the massive size, the rich shades of red and pink with splashes of green and the Colorado River looking like a tiny thread of blue, forging its’ way through nature. We were fortunate enough to see some female elk and loads of Mule deer. As part of our package, we were provided another free meal, buffet style, at the Maswik Lodge. There are several options in terms of lodging. We chose the El Tovar which, incidentally, is fraught with history. Legendary tales speak of former President Theodore Roosevelt not only having stayed there but being responsible for the moose head and other taxidermized trophies hanging in the lobby. Being there during the off-season enabled me to wake up at sunrise and be alone. Standing on the edge of vastness, I was immersed in tranquil amazement. A perfect opportunity for self-reflection, prayer, meditation or just enjoying the best cup of coffee life has to offer (not because the coffee tastes good, but because of the view).
Spend the rest of the day taking more tours, walking nature trails, shopping, exploring the visitor center – whatever you want! The train departs at 2:30 pm. If you arrive at the train depot at 2:31 pm, you’ll be staying another night or paying for a very expensive taxi ride back to Williams, AZ. This is not for the habitually tardy.
Regardless of your plans for the Grand Canyon, one thing is for certain: It’s an affordable, fun-for-all majestic wonder with a plethora of enjoyment. There’s the North and South rim to choose from, you can view it by helicopter, you can drive there yourself, you can take a train. Camping, hiking and biking trails are available. No worries for the fitness conscious, trust me you will get your 10,000 steps in.
For the less active, there are museums, art galleries, and shops. There are plenty of restaurants and snack bars to choose from. Don’t feed the squirrels. Their reputation for being a little aggressive precedes them. For the nocturnal, you can explore the canyon at night and bask in what I can only imagine to be extraordinary stargazing. And yes, you can ride the burros down to the bottom if you don’t want to hike to the bottom. (Remember, it is a mile deep. On a narrow path. A slow descent for a mile…. on a burro…for a mile. Is your ass ready?)
Words of caution: The disabled might have a tough time. Although there are some groomed pathways, and ‘kneeling’ buses, there are a lot of stairs, hills, uneven walkways and lack of ADA rooms. Additionally, according to one of the train personnel, there are on average seven deaths a month from those who think standing at the edge of a one-mile drop for a selfie is a good idea. Be careful! If you respect one of nature’s most iconic wonders and would like to experience the train ride, you can make reservations on-line at www.thetrain.com or call 1-800-843-8724.
One final note: Although I did not experience it personally, while I was on this trip, they were advertising the Polar Express train ride which is obviously seasonal and includes a great trip for children, mimicking the movie to the extent of everyone wearing pajamas. Pack your bags and enjoy a fall vacation at Grand Canyon National Park. Do it your way!