I took the Southwest Chief train to the Grand Canyon from Chicago. The views of Colorado and New Mexico were excellent. We even had an impromptu guitar concert in the observation car at one point! This was the best train ride so far.
The train stopped in the middle of the night at Williams Junction, Arizona, which is essentially in the middle of the woods. No platform or anything. Luckily there was a shuttle which took the three of us brave enough to get off there into the town of Williams, a.k.a. the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon”. I stayed at the Grand Canyon Hotel, the oldest (and perhaps least expensive) hotel in Arizona.
The next morning I looked at a few of the shops on Route 66 (which is like Main St. in Williams). One of them had a great collection of Southwest artifacts: bull horns, Native American art, old Route 66 signs, an hot sauce collection which took up an entire room, and quite a few other odds and ends. I ended up buying a bottle of “Sioux City Sarsaparilla” root beer. It compared favorably to other root beers I’ve tried but I still think the Harpoon root beer from Boston is the best.
The Grand Canyon Railway was an experience in itself. I was expecting just a peaceful train ride to the Grand Canyon, but they offered quite a bit more than that. It started off with a cowboy show at 9:00 AM. Unfortunately the show had to be ended prematurely because everyone was seeking cover from the snow. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting snow at the Grand Canyon in the middle of May.
On the train, we were entertained by some cowboy-musicians playing harmonica, guitar, and banjo. It was kind of fun but then they started selling miniature harmonicas for $5. I didn’t realize the train to the Grand Canyon would be such a tourist trap!
Eventually we arrived at the Canyon. It was cold, snowing, and windy, but despite all this the view of the Grand Canyon was absolutely breathtaking. I took a brief reprieve from the weather for lunch, but I was back outside in short order.
You have to walk in a particular way along the rim of the Grand Canyon: take 10 steps, take 10 photos, repeat. I took a ridiculous amount of photos at the Canyon; it would take an age to process all of the HDR/panoramic shots I took. I think most photographers will agree that it’s impossible to capture the beauty of the Canyon in a photograph, however.
The Grand Canyon and essentially everything surrounding it is owned and managed by one company, Xanterra. I didn’t think this seemed like such a good thing when I heard about it, but there are some nice benefits. For example, there is a free shuttle system which takes you to several destinations along the South Rim. Also, your luggage will be transported from the train to your hotel room for you. It was like a miniature example of the benefits of centralized governments.
After lunch I walked into the canyon on the Bright Angel trail. I didn’t go far, but enough to get a different vantage point. I certainly plan on coming back to hike rim-to-rim.
Then I walked along the “Trail of Time”, which ran along the Canyon’s edge. Along the way were rocks extracted from different levels of the Canyon, and some signs which explained more about what you were seeing.
I don’t know if it was the altitude, but along the way I got this really profound sense of “everything is beautiful” where I would just stop and gaze at the rocks and trees for several minutes at a time. Having worked as a computer programmer, I often think of the steps it would take to create something like a tree. I find it incredible that a seed will eventually turn into a tree (if certain conditions regarding water and nutrients are met) which eventually produces more seeds, and that water, wind, and erosion can form such a complex landscape as the Grand Canyon. It would be amazing if something was able to design a seed with these properties; it’s even more amazing if a seed like this evolved unguided over billions of years. There’s no doubt that evolution takes place, but it doesn’t provide all the answers. On the other hand, intelligent design is an easy solution, but even if something set the initial parameters (so to speak), there must be something responsible for change. I suppose I’ll cut this digression short; being human I have far more questions than answers.
All in all, the Grand Canyon was wonderful and I hope to return for an expedition into the Canyon.