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Mike's Grand Canyon Railway Trip

Thursday, February 22, 1996

My wife (Dorie), her friend (Elsie), and her friend's mother and I departed from LAX at around 9:00AM PST on America West flight to Phoenix which arrived around 11:00AM MST.

Waited a long while for Thrifty car rental shuttle to arrive. Upgraded from mid-size car to a brand new Plymouth Voyager mini-van. (Since we are thinking about getting a mini-van; thought this would be a good way to evaluate one of them. Found the Voyager to be very nice and well thought out. Felt like driving a large car. Very nice mini-van)

We got some lunch and headed out of Phoenix driving north on 17 and then took 179 to Sedona. The red rocks in this area are beautiful. Stopped at Church of the Holy Cross; a Catholic church built in the red rocks. From Sedona headed North via 89A up Oak Creek Canyon. Not much rain has fallen this season, so the creek was barely flowing and the vegetation is still dormant. Stopped at the head of Oak Creek Canyon view point to look at the canyon. Would be more spectacular in the Spring.

Next we entered into Flagstaff. Nice area. For some reason I always pictured Flagstaff like Phoenix; but Flagstaff is in the middle of a forest. We stopped at the Amtrak Flagstaff station which is also a visitor center. It's a *wonderful* station that has been recently remodeled but the outside architecture has been preserved. Shortly after we arrived a short westbound BN Santa Fe freight roared by.

Next we headed west to Williams (following the old highway 66 route). The BNSF double mainline is just north of Williams (and the BNSF Phoenix subdivision runs through town). Our $99 package included our stay at the newly completed Fray Marcos Hotel adjacent to the Grand Canyon Railway depot/museum. A 2-8-0 steam engine and one Harriman coach are outside the depot on display. The hotel is brand new and very nice; however a six hour power outage was was a bit inconvenient. The hotel offered to move us; but since the depot is adjacent we stayed. The hotel brought in the GCR western staff to entertain us in the lobby by a big fireplace and provided free pizza during the power outage.

Around 10:30PM I headed out to try to find a good place to watch the BNSF mainline. Couldn't find the West Williams Junction where the maineline and the Phoenix subdivision meet. Settled for overpass where the mainline crosses the road to the Williams airport. I was hoping to catch the Westbound #3 Amtrak Southwest Chief. I waited near the tracks and saw a westbound trains approaching. The time was right for the SW Chief but it was a BNSF freight. Apparently, I was near the MP 377.6 detector as I could clearly hear it go off after the train passed me. I waited a while but it was very cold and the SW Chief never appeared (it might have passed already); so I headed back to the hotel.

Friday, February 23, 1996

Got up early to watch them prepare the train. When I got outside the train was parked just east of the depot and they were just starting to open the valves to let the steam from the steam generator car flow into the coaches. It was VERY cold so the steam billowed up around the cars. I knew they weren't going to use their steam engines; but I thought they would use their Alco FPA-4. Instead, they using an ex-Santa Fe GP-7 #2134 painted entirely black.

Our package included continental breakfast. At 9:00AM they had a wild west show on the east end of the depot. I wanted to check out the museum on the west end so I skipped the show.

At 9:30AM we departed Williams. The Harriman coaches were very warm from the steam heat. The benches are reversible and covered in a green fabric. The coaches are painted green too. I pulled out my Grand Canyon Railway milepost guide and my scanner and prepared for a wonderful trip to the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, the mile posts are on the east side of the tracks on low posts that I could not see from the west side of the train where we were sitting.

We past the GCR yard where #6773 (Alco FPA-4) and the 2-8-0 steam engines were parked. Also several Harriman coaches in bad need of repair. We crossed under the double Santa-Fe mainline and then entered the Kaibab forest and a 64 mile trip to the canyon rim. The scenery varies quite a bit as you start high, proceed to a valley, and then climb to the rim.

It snowed on Thursday night so there was a light dusting of snow at the higher elevations and around the rim of the Grand Canyon. We were worried about the weather; but it turned out to be a gorgeous day -- not a cloud in the sky.

The trip up was a lot of fun. The staff played music for us. We were given Coke in a souvenir bottle with the GCR logo on it. The crowd was lively and even started singing on their own after the staff proceeded to the next car.

We arrived just past 11:45AM at the Grand Canyon Depot. A magnificent log depot. Only log depot still in operation; but for only a short time longer as they are completing a new depot adjacent to Maswik lodge. You only get one brief view of the canyon from the train; but a short walk from the depot past El Tovar Hotel and you're at the rim of one of the seven wonders of the world.

It was so clear you could see for miles (18 miles across from the South to the North Rim). We walked down to Bright Angel Lodge and signed up for our Hermit's Rest -- West Rim motor coach tour (included in the package) for 1:30PM. We checked out the canyon from several viewpoints along the rim trail. Ate lunch and awaited our tour. The tour was nice and took us up to Hermit's rest and back stopping at several viewpoints.

We checked into our room at Maswik Lodge (GCR delivered our luggage to our rooms!). Later we made our way back to the rim to watch the sunset and then ate at the steak house at Bright Angel Lodge (YUM!). We watched stars for a while after dinner, then walked back to Maswik Lodge to spend the night.

Saturday, February 26, 1996

We woke up early and checked out of Maswik and ate breakfast at the Maswik cafeteria. We then caught our second tour (also included in the package) to Desert View on the East Rim. This was a longer tour as Desert View is pretty far away. At Desert View is a large tower. When we got back, we got out at El Tovar hotel and checked out Hopi house. I then went down to the depot to watch GCR arrive.

GCR arrived right on time (I could hear the dispatcher and engineer on my scanner). I was surpised to see #6773 ex-Canadian Alco FPA-4 elephant style behind #2134. Not sure why they added #6773 but it was a welcome site.

Next we walked down to Bright Angel Lodge and had lunch at the restaurant (very good). My wife and I walked a short distance on Bright Angel hiking trail to take a picture in this tunnel cutout in the ridge. Finally, we walked back to the depot to wait for boarding. At 3:00PM we boarded and headed back to Williams.

The trip back was naturally a lot quieter. Most people slept. This time I could see the mileposts and keep track of where we were. Got to see a herd of antelopes. Near the end of the trip, cowboys ride up and hold up the train. We pulled into Williams right on time (5:30PM). I bought some souvenirs at the gift shop and then we sped toward Phoenix to catch a 10:00PM flight. Turned out we didn't need to rush as our flight was delayed by one hour and forty minutes.

End of trip report.

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