This would be my second all-rail trip to the south rim of the Grand Canyon and Grand Canyon National Park.
It's a pretty simple route: board the Amtrak #3 Southwest Chief in Newton, Kansas for Williams, Arizona. At Williams take the Grand Canyon Railroad all the way north to Grand Canyon Village, which is just steps away from the hotel, on the rim of the canyon.
The downside is that the departure is at the worst possible time, and the arrival in Williams is only a little better. Such is train travel.
Breakfast is an omelet with grits, sausage and a biscuit. I'm sorry I didn't get his name, but this Buddhist monk from Thailand is on his way to Pomona, California, where he has been assigned. You meet all sorts of people on a train.
The train does make occasional short stops to give you a chance to breath the cold fresh air, and to walk around a bit. This is La Junta, Colorado.
Looking west to the Rocky Mountains. Those are the Spanish Peaks (West and East). We're aiming for Raton Pass.
I tried to catch the exact moment when the train entered the Raton Pass tunnel. I succeeded; but, there's not much to tell. We stopped at the small town of Raton for one of our breaks.
There were plenty of open seats, although many of these were filled in Albuquerque.
Much of the Raton Pass route is single-track, and hardly ever used by anything other than the two Amtrak trains each day (#3 westbound and #4 eastbound).
The train stops at Williams Junction, which is where the tracks split south for Phoenix and west for Los Angeles. The problem is that Williams Junction is not quite in Williams (nor does it consist of anything more than a siding and a dirt road). To get to Williams, you need to take this shuttle the next couple of miles.
This is the Grand Canyon Railroad Hotel. It's best to make all arrangements through this hotel, since the same company owns the next hotel at the rim as well as the Grand Canyon Railroad that you'll be on the next morning.
The line does occasionally use vintage steam engines in the summer months, but mostly they're using ex-Amtrak diesel/electric locomotives, such as this one. Each car has a guide who will give you all sorts of necessary information about the park. You'll also be entertained by roving musicians.
Williams is in the trees and so is the south rim. But, in between, the rails drop to this treeless high-desert area. It's about a two hour ride to the canyon from Williams.
And we're here. El Tovar Hotel (opened in 1905) is just up the stairs from the train depot. Bags are checked at the Williams hotel, and they'll be waiting for you in your room. It's an efficient system, and one that's been used for decades.
Wow! The first view. I've been here several times and it's always the same. Wow!
My room won't be ready for a couple of hours (they'll phone me when it is), but I can still check in and have something to eat.
Another view from El Tovar Hotel.
The rim trail is kept in good shape, even considering the amount of snow that's recently fallen. In the photo (below, right) you can just see El Tovar at the rim's edge.
There are three bus loops that run continually--every fifteen minutes, or so. During the winter months, the loop to Hermit's Rest (the Red Line) doesn't run, but the other two do (the Blue Line and the Orange Line).
The sun is going down, and the crowd gathers to see what might happen to the colors of the canyon.
My room and the view out the window (and screen). That walk-out balcony is for the suite that's next door. In the distance is the Hopi House.
A Kaibab Coffee in the evening and a guitar player entertaining the folks in the lobby (who are mostly waiting for a table in the restaurant).
A view of the lobby. There's another lobby--less rustic (but also with its own fireplace)--upstairs for the guests.
The next morning is completely clear and not nearly as cold.
Bright Angel Trail is open, but there are plenty of warnings about icy conditions (along with the usual warnings about the strenuousness of the trail). I didn't go down.
Staying on the Rim Trail (walking west or down-river), this is Trailview Overlook. The trail that we're overlooking is the Bright Angel as it zigs and zags down to the river.
Hopi Point. Of all the view points along the South Rim Trail between Hermits Rest on the west to Yaki Point on the east, I think Hopi Point is my favorite.
The temperature is in the high thirties, but there's very little wind and the sun is bright, so it doesn't feel so cold. However, when the sun goes down, you can expect a sudden twenty degree drop.
Back at El Tovar. This is the bar/lounge. Under all that colorful stuff is some pretty good chili.
Next morning it's poached eggs. I don't believe the menu (nor the plate) has changed much since the 1905 opening. That's the roof support for one of the bus stops. It should hold up.
I am gratified to not see any foot prints in the snow (at least here). People can be pretty foolish at places like this.
South Kaibab Trailhead as seen from Pipe Creek Vista. Look close at the ridge on the left and you'll see the trail making a couple of hair-pin turns. The mules take the Bright Angel Trail to the river, and then this South Kaibab Trail on their return. There's a large barn at both trailheads if you're a mule in need of rest.
Following the Rim Trail. The overlooks have rails, but that's the extent of it. You'd be foolish to walk out on the snow so close to the edge.
Mather Point is the closest point to the visitor center, so naturally, it has the most people. It's also one of the best.
Verkamp's Visitor Center was once a general store, but is now a museum of the area as well as the best place for good information from a ranger (it's better than the full-up visitor center next to the huge parking lot).
The old Santa Fe railroad depot. My train is waiting.
My bag is handled as before: leave it in my room at El Tovar when I check out, and I'll next see it in my room in Williams--very efficient.
It's one more night in Williams and then board the Amtrak train very early in the morning (it's still dark when I board the train).
At the fresh-air stop in Gallup, New Mexico.
The stop in Albuquerque is longer as the locomotives (there are two pulling this train) must be refueled.
Two nights and three days at the rim of the Grand Canyon. It couldn't be any easier.