It’s my 55th birthday and I place a self-imposed goal on myself to see the Grand Canyon on this day. I arrive in Williams, AZ, setup camp, then rush the 60 miles north to the main canyon entrance. I stop in the visitors center in Tusayan to buy a parks pass and pick up maps etc. Growing ever impatient, I wait and wait for another guest who keeps asking the attendant the same general question over and over. Dude, the Bright Angel hiking trail is 10 miles long. After the 3rd time you’ve asked, its still 10 miles long. The trail guide is in your hand. Get to hiking. Exasperatedly, I gather a few brochures and leave without getting the park pass I came in for.
Finally arriving at the main gate, I grow impatient as those with prepaid park passes zip right through. I, on the other hand, am stuck in line. After about 10 minutes of sitting and stewing, I finally have pass in hand. Spotting a couple of elk on the roadside lightens the mood just until I get stuck in road construction traffic. They are repaving much of the park. Why this couldn’t have been done before Memorial day irks me. I arrive at Mathers Point and the lack of parking and crowds are about to ruin my mood altogether.
Heading up a short paved trail to an observation point a Junior park ranger stops me and asks if I’d like to participate in the one-minute challenge. Her challenge is to not talk, or get out my phone or even take a picture for one-minute upon arriving at the canyon. Seems simple enough. I come over the rise and see the canyon for the first time. I wouldn’t have had to be asked to take the challenge as I just stop and silently look in awe and wonder.
No Dogs Allowed
With Murphy dog in tow, we hike around the upper southern rim and he even stops and gazes out in a perplexed way. Dogs are precluded from riding any of the shuttles or going down into the canyon itself. So today’s visit is a short one, to explore the canyon further will require another trip. Somewhere in the canyon, my agitation disappears as I’m in a really good mood heading back to camp.
While staying 60 miles south of the Canyon in the city of Williams, I see the Grand Canyon Railway. An early 1900’s restored passenger train and it’s just cool looking. As to not make a repeat of my Indy experience and regretfully do things the cheap way. I splurge an extra $100 and book the luxury car. The luxury cars provide comfortable seating, a buffet of snacks, fruit, yogurt and trail mix, and especially no kids. Also, access to the back platform outside was just too much to pass up.
The two-hour ride to the canyon begins by weaving through the desert before traversing into the ponderosa pines nearer the canyon. The train experience is a throwback to bygone days of luxurious train travel. All of the train’s staff is in period clothing right down to the conductors pocket watch. The atmosphere is light and fun. I feel more at home on the back platform. I am mesmerized by the clackity of the tracks, the squeal of the steel wheels and the ever-changing scenery. Briefly imagining being a politician back in the day making whistle-stop tours, I and wave to a non-existent adoring crowd. The two hours fly by and we disembark right at the southern rim of the canyon.
The more popular hiking trail in the canyon is the 10 mile Bright Angel trail. It is the trail that the mules take passengers to the bottom of the canyon at the Colorado River. Guides estimate to travel the whole trail on foot would take 2 days round trip. I have about 4 hours before I need to board the train back. I opt to take the trail to the 1.5-mile rest house. A 3-mile round trip hike seems very doable.
Bright Angel Trail
It is a little concerning when I start to see the grimaces on the faces of folks younger and seemingly more fit than I as they return back up the trail. Many covered in sweat, dust, panting and generally looking haggard.
It is exciting to see a mule train winding its way up toward me as I proceed down the trail. I am curious where the passengers might be. Turns out the mules are hauling pouches of dirt down the trail to perform some trail maintenance. They pass me up and down a few times.
They say to estimate the return trip to take about twice as long as the trip down. That is a pretty good estimate. It is steep and it is hot. While the canyon is always busy there are actual times when I see no one, and only hear the wind and birds. The canyon feels different on the “inside”. I stop numerous times to take photos, it seems the ones I take standing in the shade look better.
The 3 hour plus hike is plenty for me. Amazingly, I find a shady wall to prop myself on and to just reflect until its time to board the return train.
The Great Train Robbery
The trains run right on time, as expected. I take the last train back to Williams and there are only a few other passengers. They are in high spirits and obvious they didn’t spend the afternoon hiking. They all order the train cocktail special, the Whoo Whoo!! Everyone is joyous and joking and noshing on chocolate covered strawberries and other assorted pastries laid out on the buffet. I laugh with the passengers for a bit and decide the back platform is the place for me.
On my way to the platform, I notice the Marshall. I spoke with him this morning and he introduced himself as Marshall John B Goodmore. I inquired to the B. He is quick to tell me that the B stands for B Good or B Gone. He’s not joking anymore and hardly gives me the time of day. Obviously, something is concerning him.
We are about 20 minutes from town when all of a sudden there is a ruckus and gunshots outside the train. It seems that Two Feathers and his Cataract Creek Gang are coming to settle a score with Marshall Goodmore.
The train screeches to a halt. Being in the back of the train, we aren’t sure whats going on until a few minutes later the gang appears in our car. The uprising is quickly quelled, but not until after the rapscallions raid our chocolate covered strawberries.
Of course, this is all part of the show and the cast of characters are regulars about the town of Williams. They perform in various skits and shows. It is all well done and a ton of simple fun. The Grand Canyon is certainly a spectacular sight in its own right. If I had not combined the visit with the train ride, I would have really sold myself short. Happy Birthday to me!