By Jean Strauber, Travel Editor
One of the best press trips I had ever taken was a visit to Arizona to tour Williams, Page, the Navajo Nation and Winslow. On this tour we enjoyed a river raft trip down the Colorado River, tours of Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Shay) and Monument Valley, a stroll along the southern rim of the Grand Canyon, a jet ski boat ride through Antelope Canyon and a night on a houseboat on Lake Powell. I flew in to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport where I was met by representatives of AZ Communications. Those of us who had arrived early were given the option of visiting the famed Heard Museum. That evening we enjoyed dinner at a nearby restaurant.
In Phoenix, there is no shortage of restaurants be they elegant or very casual. My accommodations were at the Holiday Inn in Downtown North Phoenix. The room was spacious. However, if you’re touring on your own, you can also opt to select any of the Sheraton Hotel, the outstanding 5-Star Westin Kierland or Venetian Resort, the more economical Sleep Inn, Courtyard Marriott or Hampton Inn. In the many years that I’ve traveled to Arizona, I can personally recommend each and every one as I’ve stayed in them all. The next morning after a full breakfast offered by the Holiday Inn, we departed Phoenix for Williams, driving through the Coconino National Forest and Sycamore Canyon. The Coconino National Forest is a picture of contrasts — desert suddenly giving way to ponderosa pine; flatlands and mesa that coexist with alpine tundra and ancient volcanic peaks.
You’ll look at red rocks, sandstone buttes, crimson cliffs, stone spires and river-sliced gorges, a scene quite overwhelming to the eye. Our guide pointed out the trail used by General George Crook and his troops during the late 1800’s. On route to Williams, you can detour for a self-guided tour of Montezuma’s Castle, one of Arizona’s famed cliff dwellings, or to colorful Sedona for lunch. You can stretch your legs with a stroll along Main Street, admiring the wares in the many boutiques and gift shops. Or consider a lunch stop at the Mexican restaurant in the Tlaquepaque center. In Williams we explored the historic downtown district with a local guide. We visited the Wild West Junction Museum, Saloon, and Shops with its Quilter’s Mercantile, old photo shop and museum.
They even have a movie night. Our dinner that night was at Fred’s Diner, but Williams has a variety of dining establishments with something for all tastes. I had eaten, on a previous visit to Williams, at Rod’s Steak House, where I remember the fine quality of their Bar-B-Qued Ribs; and at Pine Country Restaurant for breakfasts that were impossible to finish. I left my group to visit with my former hairdresser, who had moved to Williams with her late husband, and we enjoyed a cup of coffee and a piece of pie at a nearby Denny’s. Our accommodations that night were at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. After a satisfying breakfast we waited to board the train to the Grand Canyon. Before the train departs, passengers are treated to a Wild West show, complete with gun fight. There’s also a gift shop and a small museum in the 1908 Williams Depot.
And, yes, they still sell AMTRAK train tickets. We boarded the train and were seated in the comfortable seats in our Harriman cars, pulled by a restored steam locomotive. We looked out the windows, tried to spot wildlife and were rewarded by glimpses of a herd of deer. During the two-hour ride we were treated to entertainment and, for the kiddies, there was the usual “robbery” and “gunfight.” We arrived at the Grand Canyon depot and enjoyed lunch at the historic El Tovar Hotel, one of the original Fred Harvey Hotels and Restaurants. As you look out the big picture windows, you can see across the Canyon to the North Rim. The quality of food was as good as I remembered from previous visits. Following our lunch we strolled the rim of the majestic Grand Canyon.
I never get tired of seeing the vast monoliths that arise from the canyon floor. One can easily stroll from the East Rim to the West Rim in an afternoon. Stop at the visitor’s center to get the schedule of different ranger tours and lectures, both day and night. If you’re visiting the Canyon during the August monsoon season, have an umbrella with you for a sudden afternoon shower. There are shuttle buses for visitors, so park your car and leave it there until you’re ready to move on to your next destination. Another way to see the canyon is with a Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour. It’s so exciting to explore the bewitching Dragon Corridor and the majesty of the Central Canyon. Why not take a burro ride down to Plateau Point or even book an overnight stay on the floor of Canyon? Other accommodations at the Canyon are at Bright Angel Lodge on the Rim or hotels in Grand Canyon Village. That afternoon we made a stop at the West Rim and visited the Tower with its magnificent view of the Colorado River making its way through the floor of the Canyon. Our next destination was Lake Powell and the Antelope Point Marina, which I’ll tell you about next week…….