Everyone loves a train and even grown men can’t resist riding the rails. After 2 car trips to the Grand Canyon to both the North and South Rims we decided to turn the wheels of time back to the early 1900′s and experience travel to the Grand Canyon in the same way some of the first visitors to this most famous of National Parks might have.

We booked round trip seats on the Grand Canyon Railway for $70 each. That price was minus our park entry fee since we already had an America the Beautiful Pass to get us access to the park. Sure, it was a few dollars more than the $3.95 one way price tag to the Canyon when the Railway made its first trip in 1901, which was a real bargain in those days considering that the former way of traveling to the same route was 8 hours by stagecoach.

The trip, 65 miles from the train station in Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon Village, took approximately 2 1/4 hours each way. That seems like a long time, but the train’s maximum speed is only about 40 miles per hour. The leisurely ride took us through the Arizona wilderness where we were told it is quite likely you might spot any variety of  wildlife including hawks, eagles, deer, elk, mountain lion, antelope and more. In fact our PSA (that stands for Passenger Service Attendant), Kathy with a “K”, told us a story of days long ago when a particular mountain lioness use to sit on a hill overlooking the tracks waiting for the train to pass by anticipating the scraps tossed to her by the train engineers (of course that was a long time before there were rules outlawing the feeding of wildlife in the park).

We knew this adventure would not be like an ordinary train ride when it began with a fun-loving, audience participation, wild west show with authentic cowboys, a Sheriff and live horses. From the moment we boarded the train, our very personable and informative Personal Service Attendant fed us interesting tidbits of folklore, history and facts. For example, did you know that The Grand Canyon is considered one of the 7 natural wonders of the world?

During the 2 1/4 hour ride to and from the Grand Canyon Village we were entertained by a number of different strolling musicians all the while the Sheriff and the conductor made their way through the train cars making sure every thing was in order – after all we had been warned earlier to be on the look out for rowdy bunch of train robbing cowboys. Well with all the wealthy tourists traveling through the area on the train this made us a real target for such outlawish activity.

Oh no, it’s a train robbery!

During the train ride itself, though we were 5 1/2 hours on the train, between the PSA and the entertainers we were never bored and at the same time we had just enough time to enjoy the scenery. We especially enjoyed one particular musician, Tombstone Red, who played the button accordion and harmonica. In fact, he was as good a comedian as he was a musician. Kathy, the PSA for our cab, also kept us occupied with word games, quizzes and riddles.

Tombstone Red Being Funny and Threatening a Passenger (In a nice sort of way)

 As we began to approach our destination, the historic Grand Canyon Village, our PSA also became our personal tour guide consultant. She outlined for us the perfect 3 hour tour of The Village which included hiking a portion of Bright Angel Trail, viewing ancient petroglyphs, sitting a while on the front porch of the famous El Tovar Hotel overlooking the south rim, taking a hike down the Trail of Time to view the various rock and sandstone layers of the canyon, and getting up close and personal with a ponderosa pine. Did you know that the bark of a mature ponderosa pine (look for the ones with the reddish color bark) when warmed by the sun emit a sweet fragrance of vanilla (to some it may smell of caramel, butterscotch or fresh baked cookies)?

Grand Canyon Railway has a number of day tour and vacation packages available. They even have their own railroad hotel in Williams from which you can plan day excursions to the Grand Canyon as well as other notable locales. If you desire, you can take the train to the canyon and spend the night, returning the next day. The train has 4 tiers of seating: coach (our option), first class, observation dome and luxury parlor. Whatever way you want to travel by train, Grand Canyon Railway and Xanterra Parks and Resorts operations has worked hard to make your ride the experience of another era.

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