Grand Canyon Touring - The Railway, Route 66, Outlaws & Queso
By Ruth Seebeck

A trip to the Grand Canyon is a must for everyone. The absolute magnificence of the canyon gorge is unduplicated anywhere else in the world. There are many ways to visit: day trips from Las Vegas or Flagstaff, helicopter tours, or by car. But the best way is to make reservations aboard the Grand Canyon Railway. It's an Old West experience and a wonderfully historic way to get to the Canyon. GCR offers numerous packages. One is sure to meet your needs and exceed your expectations.

The Old West town of Williams is located just off I-40, two blocks north of historic Route 66. It's 60 miles south of the Grand Canyon. Williams is the railhead for the Grand Canyon Railway. For convenience, check in at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. The accommodations are comfortable, and the public areas are authentic. Rail packages include dinner at Max & Thelma's (check out the railway running around the dining room above the doors). Head back to the hotel for a libation in the 'saloon', aka Spenser's Lounge, with its 19th century hand-carved oak bar.

The next morning, after breakfast (also included), wander to the 'town square' beside the depot for a wonderfully staged 'hold-up' before the train departs. 'Shots' are fired. A few of the 'bad guys' fall to the ground - while avoiding the horse do-do, of course! The Marshall corrals the outlaws and everyone heads for the train.

Book an upgrade to first class service (or better) for the trip to the Grand Canyon. Seating is plush and the amenities are well worth the additional cost. Sample fresh pastries and beverages, compliments of the railway. A singing cowboy entertains in each car on his way through the train.

The Railway started operations in 1901,
when Arizona was still a part of the Territory of New Mexico. You're in good company aboard the GCR. Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Howard Taft and Dwight Eisenhower, movie stars Clark Gable, Jimmy Durante, and Doris Day, and millionaires like Bill Gates have all ridden aboard the Grand Canyon Railway.

GCR tours can include a bus tour along the Canyon rim and lunch before boarding the train for the return trip. Other packages include overnight stays at the Canyon. Or you can take advantage of free shuttle service to explore on your own. Stand on the rim overlooking the canyon floor. Watch donkeys descend the narrow path to the ranch below (if you'd like to do this, schedule well ahead). Perhaps you'll see a canoeist on the distance Colorado River. Feel the winds as they follow the canyon. Explorers, native Americans, miners and settlers had the same experiences.

Enjoy complimentary drinks and snacks (try a Colorado Cooler) on the way back to Williams. Midway through the return trip, an outlaw gang rides across the high desert to hold up the train! While a Marshall chases them through the rail cars, the outlaws divvy up their 'loot' (gold chocolate coins) with all the kids on board!

Back in Williams, wander out to the main street (Route 66), marked only with a stop sign in the center - literally - of the intersection! There's an old bar called Pancho McGillicuddy's - a tribute to the Irish and Mexicans who built the railway. It's the oldest building in Williams. A singing cowboy ... a bucket of iced shrimp, and the BEST (and hottest) Con Queso anywhere! A perfect night after a perfect day.

This two-day mini-vacation is a perfect addition to a Las Vegas trip or the beginning of a week's exploration across northern Arizona. It's a memory waiting to be experienced.