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Williams is in the valleys and meadows at the base of
Bill Williams Mountain, in the beautiful Kaibab National Forest
of north-central Arizona. Known as the Gateway to the Grand
Canyon, it offers the shortest route from Interstate 40 to the
splendors of the Canyon.
Founded in 1880 and incorporated in 1901, Williams, the city, and the mountain were named for William S. “Bill” Williams, a
famous master trapper and scout on the Santa Fe Trail.
Williams, at an elevation of 6,780 feet, maintains its attractive
the small-town atmosphere, while large-town conveniences and
entertainment is only 30 minutes away in Flagstaff via I-40.
The Grand Canyon Railroad offers historic steam-engine train
rides between Williams and the Grand Canyon.
Williams’ location, just west of State Highway 64 on I-40, 59
miles south of the Grand Canyon, makes tourist-oriented retail
and service firms a major segment of its economy. Williams’
proximity to ski runs and cross-country skiing, coupled with the
more than five million tourists at the Grand Canyon annually,
create an average traffic flow of more than 15,000 vehicles a
day. The resulting business is reflected in the fact that nearly
53 percent of the city’s total employment is in trade and services.
The Forest Service, cattle and sheep ranching, dry farming,
small industries and rock quarrying also contribute to the overall
Williams economy, although agricultural and mining
Employment is not reflected in city figures. The city is encouraging
diversification for the future.
In addition to the Grand Canyon, attractions in the Williams area
include Bill Williams Mountain, elevation 9,264 feet, and White
Horse Lake and Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area to the south.
Within an hour’s drive are Walnut Canyon and Wupatki National
Monuments, sites of several 12th-century Indian ruins; Sunset
Crater, the remains of a once-active volcano; and the San
Francisco Peaks, the highest elevation in Arizona. Air and ground
scenic tours are available in Williams.
The surrounding Kaibab National Forest provides hunting for
deer, turkey, antelope, elk, lion, and bear in season. Small game
includes rabbit, squirrel, quail, dove, duck, and geese. For the
fishing enthusiast, six well-stocked lakes surround Williams.
Camping is available with 200 National Forest campsites and
300 private sites serving the surrounding region. The Williams
Ski Area provides downhill skiing and sledding during the winter
months and there are cross-country ski trails nearby.
In 1878, Charles T. Rodgers homesteaded the area that is now called Williams. Rodgers was a cattleman, who had the III brand. Then in 1881, he was appointed postmaster. The town continued to grow with the arrival of the lumber industry and the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad.
The town and the mountain rising above are both named after Old Bill Williams. Bill Williams was a famous trapper and guide. He was known as one of the most skillful guides in the West. Stories go that Bill could enter an area that was to be impassable due to Indians and still come out with a pack full of furs. Bill Williams died in 1849 by a war party of Utes. Dr. Ben Kern also perished in the battle.
Two years later, Richard Kern, a brother of Dr. Kern, was on an expedition in the area around Williams. He decided to name the mountain range after Bill. There are several places in Arizona named after this famous mountain man. The river near Alamo Lake after it joins the Santa Maria River, on its way to the Colorado is called the Bill Williams River. The town beneath the Bill Williams Mountain Range was also named in his honor, Williams. Today visitors will see an 8 and a half foot tall and 1,000-pound bronze sculpture of Old Bill. The sculpture was unveiled in 1980 and was created by Bill Pettit, a local Williams’s artist. The massive sculpture sits in Monument Park at the west end of town.
In 1901, the Santa Fe Railroad created a line from Williams to the Grand Canyon. This piece of track began hauling tourists up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It also gave Williams the claim to be the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon.” You can still ride the same tracks today up to the Rim.
Route 66 opened in the 1920’s and gave Williams another boost. Williams became a tourist town. After the closure of Route 66 Williams has slowed down, but its small-town charm continues to grow.
Grand Canyon Railway
If you want to really experience the Old West and see one of the wonders of the world, I have a trip for you. In Williams, Arizona you will find a 1908 railroad depot that is still operating today. Once you begin looking around the Williams Depot, you will discover a free railroad museum, a gift shop and the action of a live Wild West shootout.
These activities will get you in the mood to purchase a ticket aboard the railroad to the Grand Canyon. You have several choices for your trip. The Coach Class seating is in a restored 1923 Harriman coach. The seats face each other, so you can share the experience with other travelers. You will receive a Grand Canyon Railway Coca-Cola bottle as a memento of your trip. The Club Class offers its travelers the features of Coach Class seating. Here alcoholic beverages are served from a gorgeous mahogany bar. The Club Class also has coffee and pastries during the morning trip. First Class seating is very impressive. You will lounge in a comfortable recliner while being attended to by the staff. A continental breakfast is served during the morning passage. In the afternoon, travelers are served appetizers and champagne. The Deluxe Observation Class offers travelers the opportunity to go up on top of the car. This Observation Class gives sweeping views of the land being crossed. You will take the trip to the Canyon in a glass-covered area seeing things in a whole new perspective. The Luxury Parlor Car is the finest place to travel to the Grand Canyon on the railroad. Here you will ride in the rear car with an open air platform for more terrific views. This car hosts a continental breakfast, coffee, tea and juice during the morning trip. In the afternoon, travelers will taste champagne and appetizers. This is a true western luxury.
The trip itself to the Grand Canyon is a beautiful one. You will see spectacular views. The railroad goes through pine forests, plains, and miniature canyons. The path through the Northern Arizona country is 65 miles long and lasts about 2 hours. If the view isn’t enough, the railroad provides musicians and western characters to liven up the place.
Once arriving at the Grand Canyon you will have two choices. You may spend your time sightseeing on a narrated motor-coach tour or walk the area yourself. Make sure you use your three and a half hour stay at the Grand Canyon wisely. I suggest on the trip up to the Canyon to start making your plans.
I will tell you though, you will have a terrific day riding the railway and seeing the Grand Canyon. This experience will be one that you will always remember.
The Williams Depot is located in Williams, Arizona (northern Arizona, near Flagstaff). You can get to Williams by taking Interstate 40 to Exit 163. Then follow Grand Canyon Boulevard a half a mile south to the Depot.
The Williams Depot is open daily, except December 24 and 25. The turn of the century steam engines operates from Memorial Day through September. The vintage diesel locomotives pull the train the remainder of the year. Passengers are to check in at the ticket counter by 8:00 am. The railway departs Williams at 9:30 am and arrives at the Grand Canyon at 11:45 am. The return trip back to Williams leaves the Grand Canyon at 3:15 pm and arrives in Williams at 5:30 pm.
CALL FOR CURRENT RATES AND SCHEDULES
The fares for the Grand Canyon Railway is as follows: Coach Class: adults $49.95, children (16 and under) $24.95, Club Class: upgrade from Coach add $20.00 per person, First Class: upgrade from Coach add $50.00 per person, Deluxe Observation Class: upgrade from Coach add $70.00 per person (No children 10 and under are permitted in this class), Luxury Parlor Car: upgrade from Coach add $70.00 per person. There is tax and a National Park entry fee.
The Grand Canyon Railways does have packages that can be a real deal. Some packages include a night stay at the Fray Marcos Hotel in Williams and/or a night stay at a hotel at the Grand Canyon or meals. Be sure to check in on these packages before making your plans to visit. I will promise you will love your trip to the Grand Canyon!