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The Grand Canyon Railroad

by Chris Guenzler

I always wanted to ride the Grand Canyon Railroad and since Amtrak stopped in Williams Jct with a free shuttle van to the depot I decided it was time to ride their train. I would make it a weekend trip and in February, Marty my night time Amtrak agent in Santa Ana found me a good fare so we booked the trip.

Pacific Surfliner 581 2/8/2001

Late in the afternoon, I boarded the Pacific Surfliner 581 for the trip to Los Angeles. Conductor Ron Houston took my ticket and the train made the quick trip to Los Angeles. I took a few night pictures on the platform at Union Station before I went down into the station to get my boarding pass. I was in the first coach which was empty as it would fill up in Flagstaff an hour after I would detrain.

Southwest Chief 4 2/8/2001

The Southwest Chief boarded and departed Los Angeles after doing the usual Mail and Express car adding to the consist. I enjoyed the bouncing ride in the lounge car to Fullerton where I turned in for the night.

2/9/2001 I slept really well and woke up about twenty minutes out of Williams Jct where I packed up and enjoyed the rest of the predawn ride.

Williams 2/9/2001

I detrained just as the sun was raising on this cold February morning for a few quick pictures of the Southwest Chief before boarding a van for the ride into Williams to the Fray Marcos Hotel. I walked into the lobby and they offered to store my luggage while I made the train trip to the canyon. I walked over to the station to pick up my tickets before heading to Max and Thelma's Restaurant for breakfast. I walked over to the gift shop before photographing the train. To the south of town Bill Williams Mountain looms over the city. In front of the station on display was the Grand Canyon 20, a 2-8-0 steam locomotive along with a Santa Fe wide vision caboose.

Grand Canyon Railroad 2/9/2001

Our train was parked out on the track in front of the building. On the point of our train were the Grand Canyon 6776, 6793, a pair of ex Canadian National then Via Rail FPA-4s, a power car, five ex Southern Pacific Harriman Coaches, a Cafe Car, the Anazari, Coconino {Dome} and the Chief {observation}. I walked through the gift shop before ending up at the west end of the train walking back to photograph the train. As train time neared it became time for the Wild West Show which was very entertaining. After it was over, it was time to board the train for the trip to the Grand Canyon.

I was loaded into the third coach and found a left hand side window seat which I was assigned. I was joined by a gentleman making his first trip to the Grand Canyon; this trip would be my third. Once with my parents in the camper years ago and once to the Havisupai Indian Reservation with the St Peter Lutheran Church youth group with Pastor {PJ} Hale when I was eighteen. The train left on time and left town passing the wye to turn equipment and trains. To the west was the Three Sisters. A few minutes later we passed the Grand Canyon Railroad Shops with various equipment to be seen. We ducked under the double track ex Santa Fe Railroad Mainline of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe which I rode over to get me to Williams. We ran along Cataract Creek with forest to the east before crossing the road to the airport. We made a snaking curve giving a great view of our train as we descended the short grade between the bluffs to Red Valley with a wash of the same name to be crossed at the bottom of the grade. We passed Red Lake with Highway 64 running to the east of us. We ran within sight of the road for a few miles before we turned off to the northwest. There is not too much out here along the line so the passing under the power lines from Black Mesa is an event. We continue our high desert trek through Valle and slowly descended to Spring Valley Wash. We followed it north before we turned away from its path to run to the east of Howard Hill. We crossed Miller Wash several times in a mini canyon before passing the former station location of Willaha. We ran north into the Kaibab National Forest and passed the former location of Anita. We passed the Co Bar Corral before starting up the Apex Grade. We went by Hopi siding before reaching Apex. The train then wound the way through Coconino Canyon which is the most interesting part of the trip.

The train follows the Coconino Wash through the layers of Kaibab Limestone and into the Toroweap formations. The train crossed the wash several times in the canyon before reaching an area called the switchbacks where the tracks made two 180 degree curves. We reached the top of the canyon at Coconino before we entered the Grand Canyon National Park. We pulled into the wye to turn the train and I received my first view of the trip of the Grand Canyon. We backed into the yard and stopped in front of the log station building at the Grand Canyon. I took a few more pictures of the train before finding my tour bus to start my visit to the Grand Canyon.

I paid for a tour so I was taken to the Bright Angel Lodge for lunch which was roast beef before having time to look at the view which was spectacular on the perfectly clear February day. The bus tour then took us west to the overlooks at Hopi Point followed by Mohave Point. Then to Pima Point before heading east back to Power Point with the mine with San Francisco Peak behind it. We then drove to Yayapan Point and I walked to Grandeur Point. All in all it was a very beautiful trip along the rim with me taking scores of pictures.

All too soon it was time to return to the train for the trip back. It was a relaxing return with me now on the east side of the train. On the desert portions I had a great view of San Francisco Peak to the east. There was the usual train robbery done by the cast of the Wild West Show. We arrived back into Williams in the last light of day with the train lit beautifully in front of the depot.

I walked over to Rod Steak House and had a wonderful steak dinner. I then claimed my bags after I learned that the Southwest Chief was running five hours late. The staff at the Fray Marcos gave me a room to use during my wait so I watched a movie, took a hot bath and went to bed.

Southwest Chief 3 2/10/2001

At 1:30 AM I was given a wakeup call to meet the van driver to take me out to Williams Jct to get on the Southwest Chief. We sat out there only about eight minutes when a headlight approached from the east and moments later I boarded the Southwest Chief for Los Angeles. I found two empty seats and after my ticket was taken I fell back asleep. I woke up rested at Kingman and rode in the lounge car all the way into the Los Angeles basin. We arrived in Los Angeles at 10:45 AM.

Surfliner 574 2/10/2001

After a picture of the train, I walked over to Surfliner 574 where Lawrence Dixon greeted me aboard for the trip back to Santa Ana. Lawrence took my ticket then asked me about the trip saying he would like to do it like I did someday. I must admit, taking Amtrak really made going to the Grand Canyon easy. It made for a nice weekend trip.