Thursday, February 25, 2016

By Train or By Mule...

I have to admit...I've been pretty busy lately and planning for our cross country road trip has kind of fallen off my radar. Time to get back to it!

One stop I did research a bit is the Grand Canyon. We won't have a lot of time there (just one day), so I really do have to be strategic about itinerary. Otherwise we'll probably spend 10% of our time at scenic overlooks and 90% wandering around gift shops and looking for somewhere to eat lunch.

From what I've read, the South Rim seems like our best bet for limited time. While it will definitely be crowded with summer tourists - we'll fit right in! I actually don't mind the idea of being part of a crowd. We'll need someone to take a family picture of us. And it would be good to have other people around if one of my kids falls in.

The night before, I think we definitely have to stay at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ.

image via Wigwam Motel

This does not require explanation. I have kids...we'll be driving by a motel with rooms shaped like wigwams... DONE. This is a great option for a "cheap" hotel stay at $56/night for one queen bed and $62 for two doubles. But really, you had me at "wigwam."

Then we'll have one full day for the Grand Canyon. If we decide to stay in Williams, AZ (60 miles south of the South Rim), we COULD take a train via the Grand Canyon Railway.

This is pretty pricey...even the cheap seats aren't in the budget for us. But I have to at least dream-plan for it, as Oliver has been obsessed with trains since he was two and decided that Thomas and Friends was no longer terrifying.

If you are inclined to splurge... The cost varies depending on class. The Pullman Car sounds like the best deal to me. It's the lowest price (round trip: $65 for adults and $29 for kids) and you get to ride in a refurbished 1923 Harriman style coach car. The cars "feature seats that flip so families can face each other, and windows that open to let in that good ol’ country air. A Passenger Service Attendant is available to share the train’s history with passengers, and help plan a fantastic Grand Canyon stay. Western entertainers are also on board to serenade passengers along the way to and from the canyon." I couldn't find anything about how many Pullman cars there are. Since you have to purchase tickets for specific days and there is only one departure and return train each day (see below), I would guess that those tickets sell out. The question far in advance? There are six different ticket options, the most expensive is $219 per person (no lower price for kids). Full details are on the Train Rates page.

A one-way ride lasts about two hours and 15 minutes. The train departs Williams at 9:30 a.m. The return train leaves the Grand Canyon at 3:30. So a day trip involving the train would only allow you about four hours to explore. If we were able to take the train, I would consider staying overnight and then coming back the following morning. (Don't you love how I just spent half this post on something we probably can't afford? Time to start checking Groupon...)

And can we talk about how The Grand Canyon Railway's website is THETRAIN.COM? How did they do that?? Must have bought their domain around the time Jenny set up her account.

Moving on... However we get to the Grand Canyon - what SHALL we do there?

As I mentioned, I think we'll stick with the South Rim, tourist invasion notwithstanding. The view is the whole point of the trip, so I'd like to spend as much time as possible on that. In looking up "day hikes", I found a number of websites, all offering similar lists. This is great since I don't want to scroll through hundreds of options - but if you want the longest "short list" of South Rim trails, I suggest this one.

We are definitely looking for an easy one. We don't have a lot of time and we want to do a lot during the few days we're in Arizona. I do not need kids crying about blisters as I drag them through Sedona. We may just stick with "Rim Trail" hiking. It's a paved trail that runs along the South Rim for 13 miles. And there are shuttle stops along it, so we wouldn't have to gauge how far we've walked and when we should turn back.

Not very adventurous...but there will be tons of hiking opportunities in Oregon; and we'll be there for almost a week. This day trip to the Grand Canyon is more of a photo-op jaunt than anything else.

But if we DO decide to add some hoopla... We could do a three-hour Canyon Vistas Mule Ride!

I know - I said there was no way I would be riding mules (actually, I said "donkeys" - after some research and an e-mail from my Dad, I stand corrected)... Now that I'm 100% committed to drinking the American tourist Kool-Aid though, I think that mules sound like a hoot. They also sound expensive (approximately $135 per person), so this may be filed with the train under "That Would Have Been Fun."

If we were to saddle up some mules... It looks Xanterra is the only company that offers mules rides for the the area we plan to visit. And I've done at least two Google searches - so this must be true (clearly, I am kidding - feel free to correct me in a comment). Grand Canyon National Park Lodges (part of Xanterra Parks & Resorts) does a four-mile, three-hour mule ride (two-hours in the saddle) along a new East Rim Trail. Departure is five miles east of Grand Canyon Village, so I assume people who took the train up would have to catch a shuttle bus. The site says that "wranglers will stop six times along the trail to provide interpretive information about the geologic formations, human history, fire ecology and more." The mules depart at 8:00 a.m., making this an option only for tourists staying nearby (or very early risers). Even if we did budget for mule rides, I'm not sure we could swing it time-wise.

Why all of the sudden interest in mules? My Dad sent me this:

"Attached is a photo of your Grandmother (Olive) and her 3 children (including me!) going down the Grand Canyon  to stay overnight at Phantom Ranch on the Colorado River in 1956. As you can see, we rode sure-footed mules (not donkeys). Interestingly, the man who owns the zebras I've had my photos taken on, trains the mules that they now use. (My mother is second from the bottom. I'm in the first pith helmet up the line, Uncle Dick is in the second pith helmet with Uncle Burke just before him.)

Our two and a half month road trip took us to most of the places you have mentioned. My longevity on the planet has taken me to all the others on your list. We, too, did not camp. And at most of the places, we stayed with relatives or college friends of my mother's.

What you are doing this summer and hopefully in the summers to come is a priceless gift for Oliver, George and Eleanor. I know... because I was that 13 year old boy in the pith helmet."

Then I wiped a tear and cried, "I want to ride a donkey-I-mean-mule!"

I don't know if we'll ride a train or mules or neither - but I am pretty excited to repeat family history in some small way. If Grandma Olive drove three kids across the country, so can I!

As always - I would LOVE to hear your personal experiences in travel. Feel free to comment or e-mail me at with tips, links, advice and anything else that you think would be helpful!

No comments:

Post a Comment