Monday, 7 November 2016

To the Grand Canyon by Train

Wednesday 2nd November.
An early start for our 9:30 train from Williams just seven miles south of our campground. M was so excited that she was awake at 5:30. It was very cold overnight and there had been a frost. But what a perfect morning for our adventure! Absolutely clear blue skies with not a cloud in sight.
After a light breakfast, we set off for Williams in order to be in time to pick up our tickets and watch the Wild West show that starts every morning 30 minutes before the train leaves.
While R went to find a parking space for the RV, M went looking for the ticket office. She asked a passing lady where the office was. The Americam lady insisted on showing her the way to the office because she "just wanted to listen to M's lovely English voice as long as possible"!
The Wild West show was great fun, with four rather disreputable characters arguing amongst themselves about how they were going to get any breakfast seeing that they had lost all their money at cards the previous night and their mother was in jail - again (90 days for unspecified crimes - not to be discussed in front of ladies and children).
There were a lot of puns and jokes, but the best impromptu moment was when one of the two horses, waiting patiently on one side, began to emit a stream of pee onto the ground. One of the Cowboys sauntered across to the horse and twisted the pommel of the saddle just as the horse slowed and stopped the flow - just like turning off a tap! Hilarious!
Predictable the arguments ended up with one of Cowboys shot dead, at which point the Marshall appeared to dispense justice - a gunfight ensued and all the Cowboys predictably bit the dust.
The train was not hauled by a steam locomotive but by a pair of diesels. They, and all the coaches, are vintage models from the Sixties and Seventies. The railway was originally built in 1905 to open up the Grand Canyon to visitors but, once the road was built, the train traffic declined until it finally closed in 1968. It was reopened as a private railway in 1989 and has been thriving ever since.
In a siding next to the station was one of their massive restored steam engines that still hauls the trains on special occasions.
We travelled very comfortably in "coach" but, towards the rear of the train were more luxurious carriages with double decker observation cars - where seating was available at a considerable surcharge.
Each carriage had a Passenger Service Assistant, in our case a lady, who gave us maps and information about the Canyon, lots of tips of what to do and what not to do and regaled us with terrible jokes. We were also entertained by a gentleman with a banjo who sang Country and Western songs. It was great fun and very well organised - the two and a half hours passed all too quickly. The views were constantly changing as we gradually climbed to the level of the Canyon rim at 7,000 ft. At one point, the train turned through two 180 degree turns so that we were able to see the carriages at the rear of the train.
When we reached the Canyon, the train turned into a siding and then backed into the station so that it could return facing the right way. Apparently the "triangle" of tracks that they use is a called a "Wye". As we got off the train, we met the Marshall from the morning's shoot-out, who had travelled up on the train with us.
We arrived at the Grand Canyon Station at 11:45, which gave us three and a half hours to explore before the train took us back to Williams.
First things first - The Rim.
We have all seen pictures of the Grand Canyon, but nothing can quite prepare you for that first sight of the Canyon. It's not just the immense scale, the fact that it is 10 miles across and a mile deep, nor the variety of shapes and colours - it is the sheer beauty of nature in the raw and the way that the contrast and colours change as the light changes.
You can't actually see the Colorado River from the Village as it is in a narrow cleft at the bottom of the Canyon. The track running off into the distance is part of the "Bright Angel Trail" that runs from the rim to the Colorado, a distance of nearly ten miles and over 5,000 ft down.
Having gazed at the view in wonder for some time, we realised that we were actually quite hungry. The El Tovar Hotel on the rim was completed in 1905 at a cost of $250,000, soon after the railway arrived. It was, and still is, a luxury hotel, which when it opened was reckoned to be the most luxurious hotel west of the Mississippi. It featured steam heat, hot and cold running water, indoor plumbing, a septic sewage system, a fire suppression system, a barber shop, solarium and art galleries. It even had its own dairy herd to provide fresh milk and a greenhouse for fresh fruits and vegetables. It was run by the Fred Harvey Company and was staffed by "Harvey Girls" - the "Nippies" of their day.
We repaired to their cocktail lounge where we had a chilli dish with nachos and sidewinder cheesey chips followed by cheesecake and coffee. Delicious, excellent service and reasonably priced. Nice views too!
 Along the canyon rim, there is a geology walk. The rocks at the very bottom of the canyon are nearly two billion years old, so the walk starts at 2,000 million years ago, each yard represents a million years and there is a round stud in the ground, every ten yards or ten million years is a marker.
Along the trail, each type of rock found in the canyon is displayed next to the point at which it was created in time. We walked the first 1,000 million years along the trail to the marker representing a billion years ago.
Here a path branched off towards the campground, so we decided to walk across to see if we could book the RV in for Thursday and Friday nights. The campground was about twenty minutes walk away and the staff were very helpful. "Winnie" is now booked in for two nights, so we will drive back up here tomorrow morning.
We walked back through the lovely ponderosa pine forest to the train station as it was already time to board our train home.
We were in a different coach with a delightful host, Denis, who regaled us with equally bad jokes until a quite brilliant guitarist/singer arrived, who played Sixties era songs much to the delight of his audience. 
Half way back to Williams, the train was held up by two masked gunmen, that we recognised as being two of the corpses from this morning! Apparently, they used to ride alongside the train and jump on but now, thanks to 'elf and safety, the train has to stop to let them get on!
We had all been primed to scream and put our hands up when they came in, and  were advised to hand them a dollar, which we did.
As soon as the baddies left for the next carriage, the Marsall arrived, vowing to catch the varmints - but he said that he would have to keep the money as evidence!
The train continued on to Williams mainly through desert scrub. At home, farmers are used to calculating the stocking rate as how many sheep or cows can you safely put on the ground per acre. On the huge ranches between Williams and the Grand Canyon, they calculate the stocking rate as 80 acres per cow!
It was dark by the time we pulled into Williams and walked back to the RV. The town was a blaze of light and full of activity. In the Sixties, the town nearly died with the railway, but since the railway has returned, it has rejuvenated the town. M said it was a really pretty example of small town America.
31,936 miles - just 16 miles today to Williams and back to the campground.

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