West 2018: Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Railway, Fred Harvey Observation Car
Grand Canyon Railway, Fred Harvey Observation Car

Day 2, Thur. May 10:  I woke several times last night. It seemed like it would never be daylight. Finally I got up at 5 am.  I had been sleeping over 10 hours. I know ‘cause my Fit Bit tells me so.  No coffee in the hotel lobby, so we stopped at Pine Country Restaurant for breakfast on our way to the Grand Canyon Railway station where we were directed to sit in a set of bleachers to enjoy a wild west show in the make-believe old west street below us. Three men fought over a card game that went wrong and one guy was shot. A law man arrived on his horse sporting a shiny badge and white Stetson. He engaged the audience with his banter and exchanged a few corny jokes with the two remaining card players before he pulled his pistol shooting them both.

Show over we boarded the Grand Canyon train. We had seats on the upper level of the Jeff Harvey car, where we had a panoramic view from the domed observation windows. There was a spread of complimentary pastries, trail mix, juice, water, coffee and cokes. We departed Williams around 9:30 am and arrived at the train station at the south rim of the Grand Canyon close to noon. We really enjoyed watching the scenery change as we progressed toward the park. At one point we were entertained by a young man with a guitar who walked down the aisle singing old railroad songs.

Once inside the park, we debarked the train and boarded the Grand Tour bus which took us over to the Maswik Lodge where we had a very nice buffet lunch. While we were eating a large group of children came in and like a gaggle of honking geese descended on the buffet. They were all very nice looking, ranging from 10 – 14 years old, both boys and girls. Joe and I had to get back in line to get our main course since we had started out with just a salad. So we were trailing behind the children, who seemed to be enjoying their selves immensely, but they were not too keen on filling their plates. The whole procession came to a halt as about six kids stood hovering at the food troth, undecided, more interested in laughing and cutting up than filling their plates. Suddenly a young black guy sporting a red baseball cap on his head and what looked like a red and black checked table cloth wrapped around his shoulders, swooped down on the children, admonishing them to get their food and move on. “People are waiting behind you,” he scolded in his Haitian accent. Then with a flip of his table cloth, he returned to the grown up area, where those who were supposedly in control of the situation were congregating. One of these chaperones was a tall good looking surfer type with yellow hair sticking out of his head like a shock of wheat. Around his neck he wore a gauzy scarf, the kind I wear to church to cover my old-lady neck.   Joe looked at me and I at him, as we telepathically sent and received our thoughts and mirth about the whole scene. As we began to move toward the food, wanting to not seem like a grouchy old lady, I started a conversation with the girl in front of me. I asked if they were on a school field trip. She answered that yes, they were and they had been here since Monday.  That’s nice, I replied. Then I asked where they were from. L.A. she said.  This put everything in perspective; the attractive healthy thin tanned children and their adult guides who all looked like they jumped out of a reality show fit perfectly our preconceived stereo type of Californians.  We got our food and finished our lunch so we could be herded back on the bus for our tour around the canyon.

Grand Canyon
the Grand Canyon

The driver/tour guide, in his khaki shorts, hiking boots and safari hat, reminded us of Thane Maynard, Director of the Cincinnati Zoo. He took us to numerous overlooks along the magnificent canyon where we took short walks along the rim on the paved trails. He got out of the bus and interacted with us, taking photos for us with our cameras and cell phones. He pointed out interesting anomalies in the walls of the canyon, that would be easily overlooked if not for his knowledge. He explained how the canyon was carved out of the earth by the flow of the Colorado River millions of years ago and he bent down along one path to show us a fossil of ancient plants embedded in the very rock we were walking on.

He told us he had hiked down into the canyon and back many times. But since none of us are physically able, we did not attempt anything so extra ordinary. We opted to stay on the paths and enjoy the view. The wind was relentless and the sun hot. Thane warned us to let our hats go if they blew off our heads, “Do not reach out to grab  it even if you think you are not too close to the edge,” he told us. “Let it sail.”  And then he added that on average 12 persons fall into the canyon each year.

The Hopi House, Grand Canyon NP
The Hopi House, Grand Canyon NP

I know the photos will not capture the enormity and magnificence of what we experienced, as the greatness and expanse of this land are beyond any words I could write or any image a photo could capture. You can read more about the park and see much better photos of the Grand Canyon National Park by clicking here.  One of the more fascinating things we learned was that a woman was the architect of many of the buildings in the park. Mary Colter used her initials when she started her career in architecture to hide the fact that she was not a man.  We only visited two of the six structures designed by Colter in the park. The Hopi House she designed and shaped like the Native Hopi pueblos in Orabai, Arizona. And she took direct inspiration from the landscape and materials at hand when designing Hermit’s Rest and Bright Angel Lodge.

As on any bus ride, we had a plethora of characters to entertain us. One man came on board driving his red scooter, the kind handicap people drive in Wal-Mart or down the streets of Covington, Kentucky. He had to parallel park it in the spot up front behind the driver designated for wheelchairs. It took him multiple tries, back and forth, in and out, side to side. Very painful to watch. Another lady came in riding a scooter on one knee, her foot in a large velcro enclosed boot. Then we had the old men and women with canes and arthritic knees, those whose girth prevented them from being mobile and us. After we had taken our seats, a tall thin blond woman came down the aisle with her toddler in tow. But we could not keep our eyes off the large bulge extending out of her torso covered tightly by a thin jersey cloth, which did nothing to hide the moving and gyrating going on beneath it. When a tiny arm popped out of the side, Joe whispered out of the side of his mouth, “Looks like she’s going to pop an alien out of there.”  Two other young families boarded and both the fathers carried their baby daughters strapped to their bodies, facing out feet first.  Again Joe had a comment, “Remember the big dude in Mad Max?” Yeah, I did. Just now looked him up. He’s called Master Blaster and he is a giant with a midget on his back running the show. Good analogy.

We soon realized that there were two categories of passengers; 1) Elderly, slow, disabled. 2) Families with babies.  We obviously had no babies, so I guess we fit the first category.

We boarded the train to head back to Williams by 3:30. They served us free champagne from a local vineyard and then we were serenaded by another singing cowboy. As we neared Williams, the train slowed to a crawl so we could watch the three train robbers ride by on their horses, then board the train. They made their way through each car, and we all did as we were instructed, putting dollar bills in our hats and on our glasses and other places so the robbers could steal them.   It was like tipping the male stripper but we didn’t put the bills in our bosoms or tuck the money in the waistband of the bandits’ trousers. But we did have fun, laughing and enjoying the show.

Cruiser’s 66 Cafe, Williams, AZ

We were back in Williams by 6:00.  We stopped at a few of the local shops on our way to the hotel. After we freshened up, we walked down the street to have dinner at the Cruiser’s 66 Cafe – a 50s nostalgia restaurant complete with a red hot rod on the roof.  We had beer and burgers on the patio, with a show. When the guy with the guitar asked for requests and we complied. He sang a Heart of Gold when I asked for some Neil Young and Tom Pettey’s Into the Great Wide Open. When he sang the Eagles Take it Easy he changed the lyrics to “standin on a corner in Williams Arizona…”.  Between songs he asked who had been on the train ride. Many of the audience raised their hands and then he told us that the guy who came and sung to us was his buddy who performed with him on many occasions. We called it a night when the wind got a little too cool for us. I suppose we’re just not used to the drop in temperature with sunset in the desert. Back in the hotel we packed most of our things and loaded the car, ready to head out to California early the next day.

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