I’m not going to waste my breath telling you all the things you’ve already heard before about the Grand Canyon, what’s the point? It is every bit and more what everyone says, there is no way to comprehend just how massive this thing is, how awe inspiring, how majestic it is to watch the condors soar above it, or the eagles dart and dive through it. Nothing will ever prepare you for the magnitude of one of natures most inspired creations, a visual reminder of just how small and insignificant humans really are in the grand scheme of things, as our guide explained, we’re just an ant on the floor compared to this, not even a blip on the screen.
What I will tell you more about however is the GCR, or Grand Canyon Railway – the less known and traveled option for getting out to the national park. If you stay in Williams AZ, you can do so at the Grand Canyon Hotel, a resort styled hotel with its own cafe and train depot, which is where the train runs from. An older train, which rattles its way along from Williams to the Canyon itself, on the way your knowledgeable guide will give you some history on the area, the people and of course, the railway. To start the day there’s a ‘Wild West’ show and shoot out, don’t fool yourself, they’re having fun with this, it’s not meant to be serious and these boys know how to laugh at themselves. But it is good fun and sets the tone for the trip to the canyon and back again. I wasn’t sure we’d be okay with the 2hr+ trips, I thought we’d get bored and annoyed. We honestly didn’t have time. Between the information, chatting with Caleb our host, and then the live performance by one of the musicians, the time just flies by!
From the second your feet touch the ground at the canyon it’s go go go! If you’ve signed up for the South RIm tour, one of the bus guides will ‘nab’ you as you walk up the footpath towards the village, from there you’re whisked up the trails to look out over Mohave Point and then Hopi Point. Both only accessible to hikers, the tours and the village shuttle bus. The views of the canyon from both points is incredible, you can even see a sliver of the Colorado River way off away in the canyon. The tour lasts about 1.5hrs between the two major stops, plus the getting to and from and if that’s all you have time for, it’s not a bad way to spend the day before it heads back to the village where you can find some lunch at a variety of outlets before the GCR carries you back to Williams. We were thinking of following the masses and go to Maswik lodge, but at the last minute changed our minds and headed instead to El Tovar, which sits up on a rocky perch over looking the canyon. We’re glad we did! Back in the day it was one of, if not the first hotel built at the Grand Canyon for visitors, the timbers brought in from Oregon whilst the stone foundations and walls are all local. It was built with that new fangled power source ‘electricity’ for the guests convience, and supplied it’s own food production, oh, and it trucked in water from over 120miles away, as there’s no drinking water otherwise! El Tovar also played host to Teddy R at some point, and rightly so, it blew him away. So with this wealth of knowledge we sat down (mostly from fear we were about to be legally robbed at knife and fork point) and browsed the menu. What a surprise. The prices weren’t shocking, the selection wide, and the attentive service was great! Our server, Barry, was a bit full on to start with, and the place does come off as a bit upmarket and stuffy, but if you take the time and get to know them/him, you get the truth. Barry is 250% deadly serious about his job, and he’s bloody amazing at it. We’d chosen the shaved Angus steak with Swiss cheese on Ciabatta and the house salad to share. When it came there were four plates. ‘oh, wait!’ we cry out and say we only ordered one of each, not two! Barry replies with, ‘I know, but I you looked like you were planning on sharing, so I had them split it for you, I hope that’s okay?’ I think he thought we were stupid – because our mouths were hanging open and we couldn’t reply. Upon the first mouthful of both dishes we were blown away, the ‘steak burger’ (which is what it was effectively) was divine, the meat melted in your mouth, there was just the right amount of horseradish and bell peppers to give it that zing, without ripping your head off, and the salad was crisp and clean, the goats cheese just disolved into a creamy nothingness. We were so blown away by the goats cheese we asked Barry to find out about it for us – now we were getting somewhere with the man, now he knew we were foodies, not just hungry tourists! He returned a short while later with the name, and in fact, the product lables for us to check out when we returned home. Towards the end of our plates he returned again, with Mark, the Exec Chef, who was also intrigued about these strange Australians who were so fixated on some goats cheese. 10 minutes later after an indepth discussion of breeds and grazing possibilities they both left and we realised it was time to leg it back to the train and return to the hotel.
On the trip back we were treated to yet more live music from a fiddle player, and eventually we were ‘robbed’ at gun point by the cowboys from the morning’s show. You didn’t have to give them anything if you didn’t want to, but they really did do a good job, which was to entertain you. But we decided to have a little fun with them, J handed over our intended ‘gold and jewels’ where upon I stuffed them in my shoe. If they really want them, they can have them. Personally, I’m not sure I’d go there, these are the same shoes I’ve been wearing all trip, and have just hiked around part of the Grand Canyon in.
So into our carriage these dirty dogs burst, guns blazing (silently, as there were children sleeping and they didn’t want to disturb them) and they worked their way up the aisle, filching and prying the hard earned dollars from these unprotected passengers. When they eventually reached J and I we sat there with smug grins and nothing in our hands. The lead hustle looked at us, and our evil smiles and asked for our gold. I replied with a simple ‘you can have it if you want, but I’m not sure you do’, he stares back at me, smiles and says ‘Oh, I’ll be the judge of that!’, so I smile again, make a show of reaching into my runners and pull out the cash. His face just dropped before breaking out into a face splitting grin, takes the money, holds it out from his body and says ‘oh, oh that’s low!’ pretends to wipe it off on my shirt, winks and heads off down the line. We nearly bust ourselves laughing out loud. Becareful what you wish for mister!