Saturday, June 15th was the day that we drove our last 200 or so miles and arrived at Williams, AZ, where we were scheduled to stay five nights and four days at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park.
Williams was to be our home base for visiting the Grand Canyon and Sedona, AZ. But before we got there, we had to traverse 200 more miles of desert terrain on Interstate 40, from Gallup, NM across a decent chunk of Arizona, past Flagstaff, and into Williams.
During this trip, we planned on driving through the Petrified Forest National Park, which is part of the “Painted Desert” that lends itself to so much famous desert photography. To the right, you can see the map of the day’s travels, with Petrified Forest National Park highlighted (click it for a larger image).
The Petrified Forest National Park is a great setup for a national park. If you pull off I-40 and enter the park, you can drive a 28-mile stretch that is all Painted Desert, and part Petrified Forest (last 10 miles or so). You can just drive through in about 40 minutes, if you so choose, or you can stop at various lookout points along the way, and make as long a day of it as you wish.
When you’re done, you are dumped out onto a local highway that connects back up to I-40, so you can continue West. In the map to the right (click it), the 28-mile drive through the park is labeled “Petrified Forest Road” (clever name, that) and the link back to I-40 is Highway 180 through Holbrook.
In addition to the amazing scenery of the Painted Desert, there are two points of interest: a lodge called the Painted Desert Inn that was built in the early 1900s, and the ruins of a small Pueblo Indian village from the 1300s.
Below are some pictures of the landscape, the lodge, and the village ruins (click for full-sized versions). There are pictures of the Painted Desert from professional photographers that are much more spectacular than these, and again, pictures don’t do it justice; the vastness of it must be seen in person.
That (and some other stops) ate up a good portion of the day, and then we drove the remainder of the distance across Arizona to Williams (no, we did not stop and “stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona”, Eagles fans).
That last 100 miles or so … wow. Dull. Dull, dull, dull.
As complimentary as I was of the New Mexico scenery, the Arizona “scenery” on that stretch of I-40 is the opposite. Incredibly dull. What made it even worse was the stiffest headwind of the entire trip … and you really feel those headwinds in an RV. The speed limit was 75, but that was a complete joke, as 60-65 was the best I could do, headed downhill and giving it good gas.
As we approached Flagstaff, which is about 30 miles from our destination of Williams, we started climbing from about 5,000 feet to about 7,500 feet, but that wasn’t a big deal, because (1) the headwind stopped; and (2) it was a gradual climb.
Somewhere on that climb, the landscape changed in an instant. It’s one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen. In much the same way that the flat Texas panhandle landscape went from farmland to desert landscape in the space of a few tenths of a mile, the Arizona desert landscape suddenly changed into hilly terrain dotted with forests of pine trees. I felt as if I had been transported from the Southwest United States into the Pacific Northwest, though admittedly, so far I have proven I don’t have the foggiest notion what certain parts of this country look like, just biased, preconceived notions.
I wish I could show you pictures, but one of the pitfalls of doing the driving is that your wife takes all the pictures, and I currently don’t have her SD card plugged into the computer to show you pics of the area around Flagstaff. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was a Northern Exposure moment. (Yes, I know Northern Exposure took place in Alaska; pretend it took place in Oregon for a minute.)
We arrived at our RV park in Williams, Arizona in the late afternoon. Nice park. As for Williams, AZ, it’s in the process of becoming a tourist town, and it bills itself as (1) the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon”, and (2) the last place bypassed by Interstate 40, in October of 1984.
Williams, you see, is one of those famous “Route 66” towns. The legendary Route 66 (“Get your kicks on Route 6-6”) is literally Main Street in Williams. It runs right through the middle of town, and it is dotted with quaint Mom and Pop businesses, the stuff of small town lore. See all those people in the picture? They’re watching a nightly “shootout” that takes place downtown. It’s a scripted, staged shootout between various ruffians dressed as Old West characters, who put on a little show in the street that takes about 20 minutes and ends in a “gunfight.”
It’s cute. It happens at 7:00 PM every night, and they move it a block a night, so the crowd clusters near a different crop of local businesses every night. For about an hour before the show, the “combatants” circulate through town in their Old West costumes, asking visitors if they’re going to the shootout.
Another neat thing in Williams is a zip line they have set up. For $12, you get into a two-seat swing-type car that backs up the zip line, about 100 feet in the air, then drops you back down to the starting point. Sorry, no pics of that, because our kids rode it the first night we were there, and it was too dark to get a picture.
The other thing Williams does is run the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams to the Grand Canyon (it’s about a 60-mile trip) every day. For just one arm and parts of both legs, you can ride a passenger train from Williams to the Grand Canyon, spend about 3.5 hours at the Canyon, then ride back to Williams.
It’s a neat concept, but it’s pricy. For our family, the train ride in coach class would have been about $300, so we passed, and instead rented a car for our excursions to the Canyon (more on the car later).
Here are some pics of Williams, the railway cars, and some of the local business. We spent a lot of time in the shops at Williams, and spent a fair amount of money. Everyone got something they liked, but probably the most remarkable purchase was a pair of pink boots that Anneliese bought in a leather shop.
It was a remarkable day that Saturday (Day 6 of our trip). We drove 200 miles, saw the Petrified Forest National Park in the process, arrived at Williams, and went downtown and saw a street show, shopped, and rode the zip line.
On Sunday, Day 7, we went to church at 8:00 AM (wow, really? That was the only option) and then took it easy, walking around the area and checking out the shops and downtown some more. That completed the first week of our cross-country trek.
Up next: Monday-Wednesday (Days 8-10), are the heart of the trip — two days at the Grand Canyon, sandwiched around a day trip to Sedona, AZ. As I write this, we have just completed those days, and of course, they were amazing. I’ll report back as soon as I can.