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Friday, March 15, 2013

Choo-Choo to the Canyon

March 15, 2013 5:15 pm Room 102 Quality Inn Tuba City, Az ( The Navajo Nation )

So, more rested, I will catch you all up on yesterday's busy adventure!  Up at 7:30 and at the Cafe for breakfast by 8 am. Waitress immediately came for our drink order--coffee and OJ for us both--and then we went to the buffet. Extensive as the evening before, but again, since it was the first breakfast in the refurbished cafe there were a couple of glitches--the bacon was overcooked and clumped together, though tasty. That was the only one that had any impact on us. As we left the cafe to go to the depot we heard the Coke man on his cell phone telling someone that they ran out of butter, bacon, OJ and coffee!  Oh, dear, for some other guests. Our breakfast was good and plentiful.

While eating the tables around us filled with KIDS! One table, definitely the nerds, another, little girls very grown up and obviously not impressed by the ruffian boys at the next table,and yet another of the cheerleader types with a mother-type parent chaperone playing best friend. Bill guessed 6th grade, I guessed 7th and when I asked the girls it turns out he was correct but they did say the boys acted like 3rd graders--LOL  I must say there was one boy--looked like Cliff Fahey, acted like Cliff did years ago and I was tempted to give him a call to see if he sent a son out West for Spring break. Those of you who don't know Cliff---he's one of Bill's Ag kids--a good kid but rambunctious to say the least. Grew up to be a great guy --we taught him and all his brothers--the Fabulous Fahey Boys!  Good kids! I did say to Bill that I hoped the pseudo-Cliff wasn't in our car but of course....

At the depot we were greeted by Marshall Tucker--really, he even waited a beat and then said, get it out of your system now--so we laughed. He is retired Navy--20 yrs--lived 30yrs in San Diego. We met a couple while chatting with Tucker--from Northern Ca. The guy born in Germany--around our age--he and Bill talked baseball and hockey. His wife and I just basked in the morning sun. Marshall Tucker urged us to walk down the station to see the Wild West Show and  Shoot-Out. We opted not--besides I've been to the OK Corral--nothing could top that!  LOL

Before long we heard the whistle as our train came across the road from the train yard ready for boarding.  I took several pictures of the logo because I want to duplicate it on the train ride layout in my photo album. Each car has a Personal Service Aide or PSA and ours was Amber Rose--a jolly young blond originally from Las Vegas. Each of them is dressed in black trousers or skirt, white shirt, black vest, black tie and white gloves--very classy.

After boarding Marshall Tucker passed through the train to welcome us once more and then Amber Rose gave us some info about the train and do's and don't's,  water and rest room location etc. Then the engineer came on the intercom to welcome us and repeat some of the same info. By this time we'd passed out of the depot area and everyone from the Cafe and on the platform waved us off--as we passed through the train yard the workers all stopped what they were doing and waved. We were urged to return the favor for, in Amber Rose's words-it is tough to get professional wavers at minimum  wage.

Amber Rose talked almost incessantly though on occasion an entertainer would arrive. The first was a banjo player who was quite good and had a clear rich baritone voice. Sang railroad songs and played a number of traditional banjo tunes before passing through to the next car. Amber Rose continued with jokes and info about the various activities and areas at the Canyon, where to get lunch, where the buses would be for those of us taking a bus tour etc, etc. With all the activity and a chat with the young couple sitting in front of us about Antelope Canyon near Page, Az, the 65 mile, 2 1/2 hour ride was soon over. But, the enjoyment of the scenery was seriously compromised. And, in addition, pseudo-Cliff and his classmates were in the back of our car, giving Amber Rose palpitations at times and chanting Christian chants at others. Fortunately, I was looking at pictures of Antelope Canyon and so missed the chants. I find things like that so offensive. Pray if you'd like but do it in silence, please. At least in public!

At any rate, we were now at the old Grand Canyon Depot and out bus was waiting. Out we went for 1 1/2 hours. They took us to two locations along the South Rim and we had 25 minutes at each one. Bill walked all around but I opted to stay near the buses and met a lady, Anita, from Cape Breton who did the same. She, apparently, had almost taken a header into a gorge in South Africa and her hand and arm hitting a boulder was all that saved her from falling to the bottom. She was bruised and cut all along her right side. She developed a true respect for canyons ever after. Bill and I chatted with her, her husband Joe, her friend, Peg and her husband, Harry, at each of the stops. We talked Cape Breton music and musicians, Scottsdale where the four of them go each winter and the Grapefruit League, which Bill and I have often said we'd like to explore, and smoking--LOL  Quite the gamut. Nice people and we really enjoyed them.

The Canyon, was, of course, the star. Bill was glad to have seen it but found it too big, too deep( he isn't fond of height either) and too crowded. He said he wouldn't come back and I don't think I would either. It is far too commercialized and crowded. It is Spring break also so there were lots of kids of all ages which can be quite stressful with the broad range of parental and chaperonal attitudes in regard to appropriate child behavior and latitude in acceptable impositions on other members of the public.

The bus returned us to the historic depot--and I cannot believe I didn't take a picture of it--and we then had to climb 48  steps and intervening ramps to the height of the rim.... I took my time but it was warm --77 degrees and the altitude was giving me a bit of a breathing problem--so when we reached the top I was very dry and warm. We found a nice bench on the porch of El Tovar, the original Fred Harvey hotel, got a Gatorade and rested. I was content to sit there for the hour we had remaining. Bill walked over to the visitor center and stamped my National Parks Passport--right next to the one from Oct 17, 2000 when I'd been here with my sister. I went into the El Tovar gift shop and picked up a book about the Harvey Girls with stories from some of them and another book about ALL of the known fatalities at the Canyon. I read Death in Yellowstone and figured since I probably wouldn't return here, that I could read them now. While waiting for Bill to return I started the Harvey Girls and could imagine myself sitting on this wide, cool porch at the turn of the 20th century, fleeing the heat and enjoying a book.

When Bill returned we realized that we were sitting next to the couple we'd met in the early morning--the fellow from Germany. They come to the Canyon several times a year--they've seen it at all times of day and at different seasons and just love it. I suppose, if I lived closer I'd do that, too. It is majestic. I know when I was here in the Fall it was far less crowded.  Soon, it was time to head back down the ramps and steps to the depot below. We bid our California friends adieu and ambled downhill, always a much easier direction. And who should we encounter arriving on a shuttle cart but our Cape Breton friends. Anita said she'd seen me making my way up the hill earlier and Harry said the shuttle was only a call away--apparently there is a phone in the depot and they will take you up --how you get them for down I don't know. While I sort of envied them their observational skills, I was glad I'd used Shank's Mare--there was a sense of satisfaction in that--LOL

Before you know it the call for boarding was heard and we parted ways, we to car C and they to one of the dome cars. The kids from Christian Academy were staying at the Canyon as were several others who'd ridden up with us and though we picked up a couple of returnees from the night before's stay the car was half empty. So Bill and I moved to the back of the car, where it was a bit quieter and took seats with large viewing windows and so had a more peaceful return trip and one during which we could look out the window more.

Eventually, Ramblin' Rose, with incredible electric blue eyes, Paul Newman eyes, arrived with her accordion. She had a lovely soprano and serenaded us with You Are My Sunshine, I've Been Workin' on the Railroad, etc and we happily sang along.

Amber Rose was busy chatting away and so missed a long trailer like building without a roof, but when she saw it out of the corner of her eye, she remembered to tell us its history-seems it was an extension of the hotel and was used to house guys working on the track or staff who wanted to stay out in the wilds. When the new people bought the property they decided they didn't need the buildings anymore and so tore them all down because, though not used, they still would be required to pay taxes on them. It wasn't until almost all were destroyed that they were told if they just removed the roof so the building was unusable there would be no tax!  By then, this was the only one of the wooden structures left but there was one of the oldest, made of stone still around so they got rid of the roof and left it.

We then came to Miller's Wash, the site of the only accident on the line. Seems there had been a horrible storm with ice, hail, rain etc and the fireman on the train was worried that the trestle in the wash--the tracks ran right down the middle of it ( brown cinders show the original track bed )---might be a bit weakened. He told the engineer to go down to the lowest possible speed, 25 mph, even so the trestle gave out, the engine and another car folded in on each other, the fireman was between them and was severely scalded by steam. A couple of guys hoofed it the 35 miles into Williams to get help but by the time they returned Fred had died. The tracks were rebuilt five feet higher above the wash but in memory of Fred the trains still go at 25 mph through the wash.

Amber Rose also pointed out the telegraph line running alongside the train--I'd commented to Bill about it on the way up to the Canyon. For the most part the line is intact but in places where the wire and the insulators were easily accessible they have been stolen. Discussion of the loss of the copper wire led to the 5C's of Arizona:Copper, cattle, cotton, citrus and climate. These were considered to be the big economic draws of Arizona when it was applying for Statehood. Cotton? Citrus?  Not what I'd think about in relation to the State--but copper, cattle, climate--yeah, those I can see.  Amber Rose said Cowboy doesn't cut it is you mean horse and hat. More likely pick-up truck or ATV than a horse and a baseball cap rather than a ten gallon. Oh, the romance of the Wild West, shot to hell!  LOL


I had noticed an interesting formation on the way up and now AR pointed out the sleeping Indian, who she felt looked remarkably like Jay Leno. The girl just doesn't show the proper deference for these traditional things. LOL  Around five o'clock, about half an hour out from the station, there appeared to our East several dangerous looking horseman. One of the little girls on the train yelled out:  Cowboys!  And there it was, the last of the entertainment for the trip-- a train robbery. Four desperadoes--once more AR's humor: little girl "Don't stop the train!"  AR: " We have to, honey, these guys aren't paid enough to jump onto a moving one!"

As we started moving once more, one of the robbers was left behind with the horses.  AR--don't worry--he will drive that truck and horse trailer hidden behind that bush over there and probably beat us back to the station!  Anyway,in they came. Bill told them I had all the money--the guy told him to man up and get himself a job. I said I'd hidden the dough and the guy told me:  Good woman! 

Johnny come lately, Marshall Tucker showed up after they had left the train ( hidden out in the closed club car--LOL ).  He said they'd been the Wit Brothers--Half, Dim and Nit. Old joke, brought a chuckle.

So, as the shadows grew long, the official wavers appeared once more to welcome us home, we departed the train, watched Marshall Tucker walk off into the sunset and headed to dinner.  This evening's main meat--roast pork with rum berry sauce. It was very good and there were other things: I took a small spoon of beef stroganoff which was delicious, too. I don't know if I made it clear last night but the buffet is all you can eat. I really made an effort to eat a regular meal of starch, protein and veggies and not to take some of everything. And rather than have seconds I opted for dessert which I don't usually bother with, either out or at home. I'm more likely to have cake and coffee as a snack or treat with guests than to eat it at a meal. The carrot cake, here, was just terrific. Bill wanted a replay of his pumpkin pie but tonight they didn't have it--so he got his first choice from last night, cheese cake.

After that--home to our room. No blog--too tired. But it was also a wonderful CBS night--Big Bang, Person of Interest and Elementary--so it was easy to veg, though I struggled to stay up for the end of Elementary, which was 10 pm. Was out like a light the minute my head hit the pillow, let me tell you.

So, would we do this Grand Canyon Railway package again?  Yes, for the train, although this American need for constant entertainment is not pleasant for us. I find it difficult to understand why kids have to be constantly amused--the train, the scenery and the Canyon should be entertainment enough. The young couple in front of us certainly used only those things to keep their young daughter's interest as did the couple across the aisle. I like quiet and AR's chatter became irritating though she was a terrific girl and took time with each group individually which was nice.

No, for the bus, Walking up to the rim and along the rim at the depot would have been totally sufficient and more enjoyable for viewing the Canyon.

Stay at the Hotel in Williams, definitely. The room was private, large and inviting though the TV reception wasn't the best. The lounge looked very inviting and Bill did have a beer when we got back to the hotel from dinner. The meals in the Cafe were wonderful--plentiful with anything imaginable, the drinks are extra, but we didn't want anything the first evening and last night's beer and wine cost about $10 which included tax--very high in AZ, BTW.

The gift shops are small and varied in merchandise and as souvenirs go--not as souvenir-y as most--quality and not an arm and a leg. I didn't buy much--mostly books, but that was primarily because I don't need jewelry, pottery, sweatshirts, toys or Christmas ornaments--have tons of them already and did buy things when I was here the first time.

Bill was more disturbed by the constant entertainment than I and he really wasn't crazy about the Canyon--glad he saw it--doesn't care to come back. Don't get me wrong--we had a great time and don't regret it--but it is now in the been there, done that column.

Now, to today's fun--next installment coming up. Time for a commercial break!! LOL  KandB

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