Friday, February 27, 2009

Grand Canyon By Train- The Way It Was

When Teddy Roosevelt made his first trip to the Grand Canyon to see what all the fuss was about, he quickly realized he had visited a place that had to be preserved for all generations to come. He started the process of setting the canyon aside as a National Park, but it was actually Woodrow Wilson that finished the job some years later. I don't think there is anyone who hasn't heard of the Grand Canyon. And I imagine the number of people who haven't at least seen a picture of it are few and far between. We all know it's a big hole in the ground- bigger than any other, and that it's supposed to be beautiful. It is! Why do think they call it "grand?" But you have to see it to believe it...or certainly to fully appreciate it. Statistically it is 270 miles long and can be anywhere from about 5 to 18 miles across. But it averages 10 miles across, and even that is hard to fathom. There are some places on the south rim where you can look to the other side "kitty corner" and realize that you are seeing the rim on the other side some 80 miles away! On average the canyon is 5000 feet deep- one mile or darn close to it at most places. The river that looks like a little stream down in the bottom is the Colorado River and in many places is actually 300 feet across. Most river rapids are Class I through V, but these rapids are so amazingly huge that that scale can't do them justice, so there is 10 scale on this river and the ones you will see if you look closely at these photos are class 10 and class 7. Want a raft trip? The least number days for a trip is three. If you opt out after three days you have an 8 hour hike out of the canyon that the guides will tell you will feel like 8 days. Few can do it. Most just stay for the duration and ride it out. The float can be 200 miles or more, depending on the plan and take 10 days or so. And as if the canyon isn't amazing enough when you first look at it- you will quickly realize that its appearance is constantly changing. The light, the clouds, the shadows, the time of day, the angle of the sun or its being hidden behind a cloud for any period of time change the painting before your very eyes. You could see a hundred, a thousand photos taken from exactly the same place...and no two will ever look the same. Spectacular!

This is an auto nation. A half million tourists or more a year come to see the canyon. For a while they all came by car. The early visitors to the canyon had come by train until the service was discontinued due to lack of interest. Not any more. At peak times of the year, the beautifully restored trains will carry 1500 people a day to the south rim from the town of Williams on old Rt 66. The round trip covers 130 miles and takes about two and a quarter hours each way. Unless of course the train gets robbed, in which case it might take a little longer. And get robbed it does. It's all part of the package. A gun fight in Williams in the morning and a cowboy show to boot (get it? Boot?) Then board the train. Refreshments served along the way. Some live Navajo music by Clarence Clearwater. A buffet lunch upon arrival. Then a couple hours along the rim by bus, with stops for awe inspired gawking and photo ops. Say hello to the mules. Back on the train. Hey, see that herd of elk? Robbery of the train somewhere along the route back to town (what a clever way to make sure the entertainers get tipped- YES, they really DO rob you). Snacks and some Grand Canyon Champagne to ease the pain of the "stick up", then back into Williams by sunset- just in time to get your kicks on Rt 66 before sleepy time.

Now a word to the wise. Neither Williams nor Rt 66 is what it once was. America's Highway is not the hot action, party packing place it was in the olden days. In fact the conductor will tell you that you had best get your kicks between 8 and 8:15 because then the sleepy little town is gonna close right up. Or should I say down? Actually it isn't all that bad. But it is exemplary of the changes that have happened to small towns all across the country.

I forgot to mention the Hopihouse. The Native American Indians operate a store on the rim that sells their crafts, dolls, jewelry, Navajo rugs, etc. Pretty much all high end stuff. And very beautiful. With a price tag to boot. There's that boot joke again! But it was the authentic building that houses the store that really caught our eye. look for it in the slide show.

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