canyon views
My husband and I recently spent five days in Arizona, visiting two places that had been on both our bucket lists.

Our first stop in The Grand Canyon State was too long overdue.  We were finally going to visit the amazing Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It’s also the only place President Teddy Roosevelt advised all Americans to see.

We chose the Best Western Plus in Willliams AZ for our headquarters for two days, and were glad we did.  This deluxe version of the Best Western hotels had great amenities and the location, at intersections of Highway 40 and Historic Route 66, was perfect.

Our first night there we ate next door at a renovated diner.  Recently renamed “Kicks on Route 66” to appeal to tourists (like us), their food was good and service friendly.  My salad was fresh, while my husband’s burger and fries overflowed the plate. The price, under $25 for both, was right too.

The next night we tried our hotel’s steak house, which lived up to its billing as “best in town.” They also featured live music in the lounge, performed by virtuoso guitarist Omar Mondragon de Leon.  He strummed and sang some of our favorites, and soon drew a large crowd of fans to the lounge.train pre-show

We had reserved tickets to take The Train from Williams to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim the next day.   Since 1901 the Grand Canyon Railway has been transporting goods such as ore, and now people, to the canyon.  Shut down in 1968 because automobiles were so popular, The Train was restored to help preserve the beauty of the Grand Canyon National Park by offering people an easier way to get to the canyon.

There are numerous packages on sale now, with discounts for any family of two-four booking both hotel and train reservations through May 27.  Pullman class is the least expensive, and we were quite happy with that option.  Schedules, special offers and info is available at TheTrain.

The old train depot in Williams is a historic museum in its own right, with books, Western wear and souvenirs of Grand Canyon available for purchase.  A pre-show featuring a shootout between the “Sheriff” and a gang of outlaws entertained ticket holders until time to board The Train.

Robbery on #TheTrain to Grand CanyonWhile the return trip was interrupted by a gang of masked robbers, it was still a lot of fun.  They looked a lot like the gang members we had seen earlier, back at the train station.

Passengers in our coach car listened to an informative narrative (and some corny jokes) from train attendant Conya Rae. Soon we were awed to silence by the incredible scenery as we drew close to the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Words can’t really describe the spectacular scenery viewed from the canyon. Truly one of God’s best masterpieces, it left us speechless. The only sound to be heard was that of cameras or smart phones clicking as everyone rushed to try to capture those images.  GC

Once you grew more accustomed to the altitude and the splendor of the view, it was interesting to explore the architecture of the Grand Canyon Village.  The railroad hired Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter to design many of those buildings, such as the Hopi House, Lookout Studio, Bright Angel Lodge, Desert View Watchtower, and Hermit’s Rest.

After walking around the South Rim for a while, we went back to the historic El Tovar Hotel to enjoy Navajo tacos and other local favorites for lunch in the elegant dining room. Tables were spread with white linen and well-trained waiters hovered to take orders. But the best part of dining there was the stunning view of the South Rim on display through the large windows.

BRIGHT ANGEL LODGE

The next day we set off for a trip to Tombstone, Arizona. We enjoyed having a 2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid for the trip, and especially enjoyed being able to make our own schedule.   Traveling by car is much easier than public transportation, since you can pack the car with stuff you wouldn’t dare take on a boat/train/plane or bus. It didn’t take long before the Avalon was fully loaded with souvenirs and other essentials picked up on the trip.

We were spending the next few days at Tombstone Monument Ranch. Horseback riding, hiking, Cowboy breakfast, campfire sing-alongs, and two-steppin’ to a live country music band were all on the menu. So boots/jeans/Stetsons and other Western apparel was obviously needed. Since the desert air cooled after dark, a jeans jacket was added to purchases in nearby Tombstone.Boothill

While visiting the historic town of Tombstone, we saw a re-enactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral. There we learned the gunfight didn’t really happen at the corral, but on a downtown street. We also saw re-enactments of other less famous gunfights that took place in the area. We began to understand that life was a pretty cheap commodity in Tombstone.

A visit to the old Boot Hill cemetery just outside town confirmed this fact. Few of the folks buried there died bootless. We only saw one gravestone that read “died of natural causes.”

One read “hung by accident,” while others said “killed by (insert cause: gunshot, knife, hanging, rattlesnake, etc.”). Quite a few of them were marked “unknown,” which meant their loved ones back home probably never knew what happened to them.Clanton & McLaury graves

Most photographed of all the tombstones were the three graves of the two McLaury brothers (Tom and Frank) and colleague Billy Clanton, killed in the infamous gunfight with the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday. Also nearby was the grave of the Clanton’s patriarch, Ike Clanton, who was killed in an Indian ambush.

BordelloOur room at Tombstone Monument Ranch was in a recreated old West town, with wooden sidewalks and dirt roads. Ours bore the title “Miss Kitty’s Bordello,” while others were “Jail,” “Post Office,” “Saloon” and “Newspaper.”  The décor was in keeping with the Old West motif, but thankfully the plumbing was indoors and quite modern!  The bed was also extremely comfortable for a bordello.

One of my favorite events at the ranch was breakfast with Arizona Bill, whose stories about prospecting in the desert and the treasures he’d found over the years were fascinating. His Cowboy Breakfast, cooked over a campfire, was really good.

Bill served thick slabs of bacon, sausage, cheesy and spicy scrambled eggs, hash browns, biscuits and sausage gravy with some strong coffee.  arizona bill

Bill also told us about Tombstone’s founder Frank Schieffelin, whose impressive cone-shaped monument and grave could be seen down the road from the ranch. The story goes that while Frank was serving with the army during the Indian wars he started going into the desert, searching for “rocks.”

His fellow soldiers scoffed at him, saying the “only rock you’ll find out there is your own tombstone.” But finding a huge silver mine, Frank had the best revenge of all by becoming quite wealthy, naming his mine “Tombstone.”

Frank Schieffelin monumentHe named the town he founded in 1879 “Tombstone” too.  At the peak of silver fever started by his mine, the town had a population of 7,500.  It was probably much larger since only white males over the age of 21 were counted in the census.

Tombstone earned the title The Town Too Tough To Die, and is now home to 1,500 residents.  It’s also the site of numerous events throughout the year, including Wyatt Earp Days in May.

When Frank died, he asked to be buried under the huge rock monument he designed just outside town.  Trail rides from Tombstone Monument Ranch visit the monument each day.  The Monument Ranch is located in Cochise County, with a great view of the Dragoon Mountains.  Various packages and activities are available for couples or groups who are interested in going back in time to revisit the days of the Old West.

After several sunny, relaxing days at the ranch, we loaded up the Toyota with a few more souvenirs from Tombstone. It was time to turn our trusty Toyota back towards Texas.  After a road trip of 2,300 miles, we were all in need of refueling.

Far from being able to cross the Grand Canyon or Tombstone off our list of places to explore, we are now talking about going back…soon!