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Travel & Adventure

For Fun, Beauty and History, Take a Ride on the Grand Canyon Railway

Grand Canyon Railway diesel engine No. 295 pulls nine passenger cars from Williams, Ariz., to the Grand Canyon and back. Photo courtesy of Patricia Arrigoni.

Grand Canyon Railway diesel engine No. 295 pulls nine passenger cars from Williams, Ariz., to the Grand Canyon and back. Photo courtesy of Patricia Arrigoni.

By Patricia Arrigoni

The rebirth and growth of the Grand Canyon Railway is an amazing feat that has been celebrated by railroad fans from around the world since the line’s reopening in 1989. A diesel locomotive and a power car pull nine passenger cars up to the Grand Canyon and back to Williams, Ariz., the next day.
The railway was originally a branch of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad built to haul copper ore from mines south of the canyon and passengers to the canyon. It began operation Sept. 17, 1901, and continued for 67 years.
Our first-class air-conditioned car, called the “Coconino,” featured roomy reclining seats with maroon upholstery, large tinted windows and fluorescent lights that ran along the top. Overhead racks provided ample space for coats and luggage. Serving trays came down in front of each seat like those in an airplane.
Each of the cars was staffed by a passenger service attendant. In first-class cars they sold mixed drinks and served fresh fruit, pastries, coffee, tea, juice and soft drinks. Coach class passengers were provided with soft drinks and snacks.
Our day started out in Williams at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel with a Wild West show at 9 a.m. in a specially built corral that had a backdrop of wooden store fronts. Six cowboys belonging to the Cataract Creek Gang staged a fight with guns blazing and everyone ending up dead. The show lasted a half-hour and put everyone in a jolly mood.
We boarded the train at 9:30 a.m. for a ride that would take two hours and 15 minutes over 65 miles of track through classic Old West territory. No billboards and only a few telephone wires marred the beauty of this high desert. It was a journey back in time as we passed through canyons and pinion and juniper woodlands. We were traveling through the world’s largest stand of Ponderosa pines, part of the 1.5 million-acre Kaibad National Forest. Some of these trees were reported to be 300 to 400 years old.
As we traveled we were also entertained. A cowboy singer, Calvin Kristoffersen, who strummed a guitar and played a harmonica, serenaded passengers with such western songs as “Red River Valley,” “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Midnight Special.”
Our altitude at Williams was 6,800 feet. Looking toward the south as we took off, we could see the 9,264-foot Bill Williams Mountain. We crossed Cataract Creek on a 182-foot trestle and then passed Williams city limits. This was followed by some historic ruins of old supply lines and stations, cattle tanks and abandoned copper mines. Later we viewed the magnificent San Francisco Peaks about 30 miles to the east. These are the highest peaks in Arizona at 12,633 feet and 12,356 feet. When we passed Coconino Canyon, we slowed down to cross several bridges and switchbacks. Eventually we entered Grand Canyon National Park and pulled into Grand Canyon Station.
We had purchased a package tour consisting of the train trip, a bus tour and lodging. The 1 1/2-hour bus “Rim Tour” included stops at Hope Point and Mohave Point. Later, after strolling for a while along the rim, my sister and I stopped to browse at Verkamps Curios and the 1905 Hopi House, both large shops carrying museum-quality Indian crafts along with souvenirs. A late lunch followed at the historic Bright Angel Lodge, which was situated right next to the rim. We spent the night in the Maswik Lodge.
When it was time to return to the train for our ride back to Williams, we departed the log-cabin-style Grand Canyon Depot at exactly 3:30 p.m.
Around 5 p.m. the train slowed to a stop and four train robbers jumped on board at the front. It was another half-hour before these bandits made their way back to our car. With grim faces they sternly demanded our money and jewelry.
Ten minutes later, black-clad Grand Canyon Railway Marshal John B. Goodmore (“the B stands for B good or B gone”) entered our car and everyone pointed toward the rear, where the bandits had gone. Ten minutes later the desperados returned, hands in the air as our hero, the brave marshal, had successfully rounded them up. We all cheered.
When the train arrived back in Williams, the sun had already set and the air was crisp as the large crowd headed back to the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel for a hot buffet or into Spenser’s Bar. This relaxing lounge was named for the artist who designed the hand-carved 1887 oak bar for a pub called the Lion’s Den in the small town of Shepard’s Bush, England. It had been a spectacular two days of railroading and an unforgettable way to see one of America’s most famous destinations.


The Grand Canyon Railway runs daily. Package prices run from $225 to $345. Call 1-800 The Train (800-843-8724) or visit

Patricia Arrigoni is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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