Since 1901 the Grand Canyon Railway has enchanted millions of people from around the world. From its yester-years of transporting ore to present-day journeys to the canyon with authentic characters that bring the Old West to life, the story of the railway is almost as dramatic as the spectacular surroundings.
Grand Canyon Railway made its first journey to the Grand Canyon on September 17, 1901. And since that time, notable passengers to ride the Grand Canyon Railway include Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, William Howard Taft, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clark Gable, Jimmy Durante, Doris Day, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates.
As we boarded the Grand Canyon Railway and rolled out of the historic town of Williams, we were traveling across the bottom of what was once a prehistoric sea. We also traveled across the peak of a huge mountain—all at the same time.
The shallow sea that once covered Arizona dried up at the end of the Pre-Cambrian Era billions of years ago, but the soft curves of the seabed are still distinct atop the 1,152-square-mile Kaibab Plateau which is a only a fraction of the 130,000-square-mile Colorado Plateau it rests upon.
To the rhythm of the steady and hypnotizing click-clack of the historic train, the dramatic landscape became a mesmerizing sight. It commanded our attention throughout the 65-mile journey to the Grand Canyon Village where even more spectacular wonders awaited.
But for now, on a trip that lasts just over two hours, we looked outside our window and peeked into the past as we witnessed billions of years of geological evolution caused by erosion, volcanoes, weathering, and tectonic uplifts. The show began as we departed the depot in Williams and traveled across the deposits of dozens of now-extinct volcanic cones that erupted from roughly 15 million to just a few thousand years ago. It is the accumulated ash, cinders, and hardened lava thrown across the ground that created the land on which we traveled.
Not long into the northbound trip, we looked to the right and saw the largest volcano of all in the range of the San Francisco Peaks, outlined on the broad plain roughly 30 miles east of the tracks. Like Washington’s Mount St. Helens, the summit here—estimated to once have exceeded 15,000 feet—was reduced to 12,633 feet after a high-pressure eruption blasted the peak from the top of the now-extinct volcano.
While the scenery is already larger than life, the grandeur of this world is magnified when viewed from the comfort of the Grand Canyon Railway’s parlor cars, observation cars, and historic Pullman coaches. Incredibly, the magnificent drama of the Colorado and Kaibab plateaus heightens when you roll into the station at the Grand Canyon Village. As volcanoes were creating new land, rivers were washing it away to create one of the Natural Wonders of the World.
There’s no better way to make a grand trip grander than on the historic train to the Grand Canyon. Like us, you’ll travel over 120 round-trip miles through beautiful northern Arizona while being entertained by historical cowboy characters and strolling musicians. Spend several nights in Williams next door to the train depot at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Resort.
Estimated to be between 1.7 million and 2 billion years old, the canyon floor is roughly half as old as the planet itself! And, that is something worth contemplating as the train pulls into the Grand Canyon Village.
The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.
—Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons