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A Train Trip to the Wild West Towns of Flagstaff, Clarksdale, Cottonwood, Jerome and Williams, Arizona, and not a shot was fired.

An Adventure by Train to Wild West Towns

  including Flagstaff, Clarksdale, Cottonwood, Jerome and Williams, Arizona, and not a shot was fired (except with a camera).

I did wear my black cowboy boots and hat, but the coaches I rode in were not stage coaches.

September 14 - 20, 2014

I could have made this trip as long ago as 1926, or rather my father could have.  At that time the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway main line ran from Los Angeles to Chicago with a stop at Williams, Arizona.  The branch line from Williams to the Grand Canyon was opened in the late 1800s.  From 1912 to 1988, the Santa Fe Railway operated the tracks now owned by the Verde Canyon Railroad.  Finally, in 1926, what is now the Jerome Grand Hotel was opened as the United Verde Hospital.   This historic trip now has much more comfortable rail accommodations and the former hospital is now a hotel, but this same trip could have been made almost a century ago.  Much of the natural, mostly desert, landscape and wildlife along the tracks and musical instruments and songs in the towns remain the same to this day.

Photos include:  
Grand Canyon Railway, Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Williams and Amtrak Southwest Chief.

Verde Canyon Railroad, Blazin' M Ranch, and Jerome Grand Hotel photos and report are online at

Photos and text by Carl Morrison, except where noted.  Comments welcomed at:

A classic vacation without flying!


We took the Amtrak Southwest Chief from Fullerton, California overnight to Flagstaff (E).  We drove our rental car to the Grand Canyon (B).  The same day, we drove to Williams and back to Flagstaff for our second night in the Monte Vista Hotel.  The following day, we drove down Hwy. 89, through Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona to Jerome (D).  After two nights at the Jerome Grand Hotel, we drove back to Flagstaff (E) and caught the Amtrak Southwest Chief back to California.

Map from   

Table of Contents

1.  Flagstaff, Arizona

Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon Railway, and Williams, Arizona.

5.  How to get there:  Amtrak Southwest Chief

Flagstaff, Arizona


The Flagstaff Amtrak Station is an historic, photogenic station with plenty of BNSF freights passing each day and two Amtak Southwest Chief stops, westbound in the evening, eastbound early morning.


Inside the station is a very nice Visitors Center with well-informed attendants.  We picked up some Grand Canyon maps and learned that taking Hwy. 180 north out of Flagstaff was a more direct and scenic route to get to the South Rim than taking I-40 to Williams first, then north.


East of the Flagstaff station is a nicely restored steam locomotive on display. 

Locomotive #25, a 2-8-0 purchased by the city of Flagstaff, AZ, in 1995, sits on display at the AT&SF Depot in Flagstaff. Built in January, 1911, as Baldwin #35938, it was previously owned by Southwest Lumber Mills, a subsidiary of Southwest Forest Industries, which operated a number of logging railroads around Flagstaff.


Local tow headed kids watch with wonder at passing freights.


Little sister seems to dislike something about the passing freight.


Accommodations in Flagstaff

One thing we like about taking the Southwest Chief to Flagstaff is that the Monte Vista is only one block from the station, without the need of a taxi to get there.  On this trip, even though we arrived about 7 a.m., our Monday room was vacant so we settled in right away.


Rooms are named after movie stars and are pretty basic at $120 a night.


An alternative hotel, also one block from the Amtrak Station is the Hotel Weatherford.  Older than the Monte Vista, the Weatherford has only 11 rooms and those with an in-room bath are more expensive than the Monte Vista.


I like to look for photography galleries in the towns I visit, to look for photographic ideas from the area, and on occasion I find the photographer, in this case Shane Knight, and talk with them.  Shane gave me some good tips for photographs in Jerome where we were headed in two days.


We like to had a few meals at the Downtown Diner, a 1/2 block west on Aspen from the Monte Vista Hotel.


A popular restaurant with the locals.



Don remembered that I had Trout and Eggs on our last trip, so I odered it for the first morning's breakfast.  That is hash browns and eggs on the plate with it.  I found Trout and Eggs on the menu at other places in town as well.


Don likes the TV show "Diners Drive-Ins and Dives" so we went to Brandy's for breakfast the second day.



My Rail-Buddy, Preacher Roe, enjoying Brandy's coffee in Flagstaff before we drove to the Grand Canyon.


Most hotels in Flagstaff are one block from old Route 66.  Therefore, there are very high neon signs above the hotels to lure drivers off Route 66 in the days before I-40.  The Monte Vista Hotel's sign still shines brightly giving the intersection below a red glow at night with the other red neon on the same corner.


The same intersection from our room.


Shortly after leaving Flagstaff on Hwy. 180
on the way to the Grand Canyon, we passed this restored locomotive at the Pioneer Museum.

#12 is a 2-6-6-2 compound Mallet.  The locomotive was one of two built by Baldwin for Hammond Lumber Company in Mill City, OR, in 1929 (#5 & #6). Both were built as split saddle tanks (i.e. with two water tanks, one on either side of the boiler). You can see another saddle tank 2-6-6-2 built by Baldwin on the Black Hills Central Railroad page of this website.

Originally number #6, in 1931, the company renumbered the locomotive #12 when it moved to a mill in Samoa, CA. After twenty-two years with the company, #12 was then sold in 1951 to the Arcata & Mad River Railroad in Blue Lake, CA. In 1956, it moved to Southwest Lumber Mills in Flagstaff. For a time, Southwest ran #12 with a large tank car as an auxiliary tender. After adding a normal rectangular tender, the original fuel bunker was removed but the tanks retained. In 1959, when Southwest Lumber Mills became Southwest Forest Industries, #12's two saddle tanks were removed.  Southwest Forest Industries donated #12 to Coconino County in 1960 and it initially went on display in Coconino County Park in Flagstaff. In 1994, it was moved to its current location at the Pioneer Museum.


Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon Railway, and Williams, Arizona.

The drive from Flagstaff northwest to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is only about an hour.  Hwy. 180 is a smooth two-lane highway that joins Hwy. 64 to head directly north to the South Rim.  You pass alternating patches of pine trees and high plains.  After joining Hwy. 64, we were welcomed by Smokey Bear and took time for a photo with him.  At the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park, I used my Golden Age Passport for free admission.  I obtained the pass to all federal entrance fee areas after I turned 62, and I believe it was only $10.  Wikipedia says:  It has been replaced with the Senior Pass of the new pass series now called America the Beautiful - National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, created by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and authorized by Congress in December 2004.  The Senior Pass is a lifetime entrance pass to United States national parks for those 62 years and older. To obtain this a senior citizen need only go to any National Park Service facility that charges an entrance fee with the following:  Proof of age (must be 62 years or older).  Proof of citizenship (must be citizen or permanent resident of the United States)  Ten Dollars cash (the one-time processing fee as of January 1, 2008). Twenty Dollars by mail from the US Geological Survey (extra $10 is for postage and handling)



El Tovar Hotel and its National Historic Landmark marker.


El Tovar Hotel, steps from the rim of the Grand Canyon.


El Tovar hotel lobby and entrance to souvenir shops and restaurant.


Canyon view from the north porch of the El Tovar.


Bright Angel Trail far below the rim.


I spotted a California Condor high above the canyon, but it was too high to photograph.


All these photos were taken from the Rim Trail near the El Tovar Hotel


Lookout Studio was built in 1914 out of native stone. The studio was meant to blend in with the canyon and imitate regional dwellings, much like the Hopi House. Lookout Studio offers spectacular views.


I could spend some time in this chair adjacent to the trail. It is in front of the Buckey O'Neill and Red Horse cabins in which you can stay.

Buckey O’Neill Cabin

The Buckey O’Neill Cabin was built in the 1890s by William “Buckey” O’Neill on the South Rim of Grand Canyon. O’Neill was a member of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and was also an author and a judge in his native Arizona. Prior to being killed in action in Cuba in 1898, he was instrumental in establishing what would eventually become the Grand Canyon Railway. The abandoned cabin was incorporated into the Bright Angel Lodge as a guest accommodation by architect Mary Jane Colter. Today, it is a cozy suite, with canyon views right out the front door.

The Buckey O’Neill Cabin is available for a reservation rate of $404.25 per night. The accommodation cannot be reserved online. To make a reservation, please contact us toll-free at 888-29-PARKS (297-2757).

Red Horse Cabin

Rehabilitated and restored in 2012, the two-room Red Horse Cabin now features a sitting area and one bedroom. Built in 1890, the cabin was moved from the Red Horse Ranch in 1902 to the head of the Bright Angel Trail to be used for guest accommodations.

From 1910 to 1935, it served as the Post Office for Grand Canyon Village. When the cabin was slated for demolition, architect Mary Jane Colter intervened and convinced building owner Santa Fe Railway and concessioner Fred Harvey to remodel and restore the cabin for guest use. For many years, it was a storage facility but Xanterra Parks & Resorts updated the cabin to today’s standards of building and comfort, while maintaining historical integrity.

The Red Horse Cabin is available for reservations at a rate of $404.25 per night. The accommodation cannot be reserved online. To make a reservation, please contact us toll-free at 888-29-PARKS (297-2757)


Kolb Studio. Brothers Ellsworth and Emery Kolb opened a photography studio in the early 1900s overlooking the Bright Angel Trail. As the mule riders passed the Kolb’s studio and living quarters, one of the brothers took photographs of the mule riders as they descended the trail. Then, Emery would run the film down the trail (often passing the mule riders) to Indian Garden springs 3,000 feet below the canyon’s rim where clear water made for better processing. Before the mule riders began their long journey up the canyon’s walls, Emery would quickly ascend the trail and be there waiting at the top to sell them their photographs as souvenirs of their long day in the saddle.   Other interesting facts at



National Geographic's ancient photography suggestion is to use a size indicator, preferably in red.  I got it!


Bright Angel Trail can be seen beyond a switchback below and on the fall wall.


Interesting tunnels on the Bright Angel Trail.


El Tovar from down the rim trail west.


Bright Angel Trail and green Garden Creek far below.




Hopi House. Designed by famed architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, the Hopi House, built as a market for Native American crafts, made by Hopi artisans on the site, is located next to El Tovar. Designed as a showplace for Native American handicrafts, a purpose which it still embraces. Inside the dramatic building is a wide array of handmade goods, including rugs, pottery, jewelry, kachina dolls, sand paintings, etc. The high quality is reflected in the prices, and the second floor offers visitors the opportunity to browse through even more spectacular objects.


Grand Canyon Railway excursion train at the Grand Canyon Station with El Tovar in the background.

Trains began traveling to the Grand Canyon Sept. 17, 1901 on a spur built and operated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company. The Grand Canyon Railway continued to operate until 1968 when the spur was closed. In the mid-1980s businessman Max Biegert purchased the tracks and brought the Grand Canyon Railway back to life with the first train running Sept. 17, 1989, 88 years to the day after its maiden run.



The train does not leave the South Rim for the Williams return trip until 3:30 pm, providing a few hours for photographs of the train while passengers are looking at the canyon.


The last time I was in this area, No. 29 was at the Williams Station.

Steam is back at Grand Canyon Railway. Fueled by waste vegetable oil (WVO).  Locomotive No. 29 was restored in 2004 at a cost of more than $1 million and 26,000 man-hours of labor. An SC-3 class locomotive, Locomotive No. 29 was built in 1906 by ALCO in Pittsburgh and weighs 185 tons. No. 29 currently enjoys semi-retirement as a prominent fixture in front of the Grand Canyon Depot in the Historic District at the South Rim.



Grand Canyon Railway acquired three F-40PH locomotives in February 2003. General Motors Electro Motive Division built Nos. 237 and 239 in 1977 and No. 295 in 1979. Amtrak used the engines through the late 1990s.


I saw another photographer focused on these outcroppings.  Do you see what he was photographing?


A hawk had a grand view from its perch.


After the train left to return to Williams, we drove to Williams as well.  Even though we stopped for refreshments, we still got back to the Williams Depot and had time to photograph the surroundings, and shop in the Gift Shop before the train returned.


Meeting the Grand Canyon Railway as it returns to Williams is this carriage service which gives 15 and 30 minute tours of Williams.



The Grand Canyon Railway has a caboose for private parties they attach behind the excursion train to the Grand Canyon.

They offer six classes of service on the round trip to the rim:

Pullman Class - Adults: $62.00 | Children $29.00

Ride in an original 1923 Harriman style coach car at a great low rate, fully refurbished by the Grand Canyon Railway. These classic cars, built by the Pullman Company, feature seats that flip so families can face each other, and windows that open to let in that good ol’ country air. A Passenger Service Attendant is available to share the train’s history with passengers, and help plan a fantastic Grand Canyon stay. Western entertainers are also on board to serenade passengers along the way to and from the canyon.

Available for a limited time for travel March through October, 2014

Coach Class - Adults: $75.00 | Children: $45.00

Take a journey to the canyon and back with style and grace aboard our streamliner-era coaches. Enjoy comfortable bench-style seating in these classic air-conditioned 1950s-era passenger cars while strolling musicians roam the cars playing the tunes of yesteryear, or explore the train and visit the Café Car. Your passenger service attendant will be there to add insight and answer questions, and snacks and soft drinks are also available for purchase. New in 2014: We've set aside Coach Cars for folks vacationing without children under 16, call our reservations specialists for details.

*Coach Class and First Class cars are handicapped accessible, with ADA-compliant rest rooms, and power lifts available at both depots. There is also space on the train to store most wheelchairs, power chairs, and scooters. Please notify your reservations specialist of your specific needs, so that we may have the appropriate accommodations available on your day of travel.

First Class - Adults: $145.00 | Children: $112.00

Ride in first-class style, with oversized, reclining seats, plenty of leg room, and grand picture windows that enhance the scenic journey. Comfort abounds as fresh fruit, pastries, coffee and juice are provided during the morning, while snacks and soft drinks are provided on the return trip in these air-conditioned streamliner cars. Beer, wine, and mixed drinks are also available for purchase at the bar inside each car. New in 2014: We've set aside First Class seating for folks vacationing without children under 16, call our reservations specialists for details.

*Please note, we have a variety of First Class cars and each is unique. Not all cars have seats that flip to allow parties of four to face each other. Coach Class and First Class cars are handicapped accessible, with ADA-compliant rest rooms, and power lifts available at both depots. There is also space on the train to store most wheelchairs, power chairs, and scooters.

Observation Dome - Adults: $170.00 | Children $140.00

A room with a view…and what a view! The Observation Dome is an unforgettable experience, thanks to a glass-enclosed streamliner that offers panoramic views of the surrounding scenery. Glide through the changing landscape in the comfort of padded high-back chairs from high above the train. Fresh fruit, pastries, coffee and juice are provided during the morning, while snacks are available on the way back with a sparkling white wine toast, included in the ticket price. Beer, wine and mixed drinks are also available for purchase at the bar inside each car. Children ages 2 and under are not permitted.

Luxury Dome Class - Adults: $209.00

Embark on a new era of luxury rail travel with our fifth class of service, combining the breathtaking views of the Observation Dome with the opulence of our Parlor cars. Don't miss a minute of the surrounding scenery upstairs in the full-length dome with its extra-large windows. Downstairs, you can plan your day at the Grand Canyon with friends new and old, and enjoy a drink or some refreshments in the elegantly appointed lounge, which features a full bar, entertainment center, and plush furniture. Exclusive service provides fresh fruit, pastries, coffee and juice during the morning, while snacks are available on the return trip along with a sparkling white wine toast, included in the ticket price. For the discerning traveler looking to experience the best of both Dome and Parlor classes, look no further. Children 15 and under not permitted.

Luxury Parlor Class - Adults: $209.00

The most exclusive seat on the train! Inside our Luxury Parlor Car is a grand tradition of elegance and extraordinary comforts. An elegant rail baron experience preserved for those who enjoy the finer things, thanks to lounge-style comforts including a private bar and access to the open-air rear platform. Exclusive service provides fresh fruit, pastries, coffee and juice during the morning, while snacks are available on the return trip along with a sparkling white wine toast, included in the ticket price. Beer, wine, and mixed drinks are also available for purchase from the full bar. Children 15 and under not permitted.

To see a nice video from the Grand Canyon Railway, see


The Grand Canyon Railway's excursion train returning from its trip to the Grand Canyon's South Rim.

Barely visible on the left is Locomotive No. 4960 was built in 1923 by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. It operated a freight and coal hauling service for the Midwestern Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q) railroad until the late 1950s and made its first official run on the Grand Canyon line in 1996.


A couple of the dome cars on the train.


There is an original Harvey House at the Williams Depot.  The mainline does not use the same tracks as the Grand Canyon Railway.

Be prepared to smile for the photographer on the Grand Canyon Railway.


A few blocks from the Grand Canyon Railway Depot is downtown Williams with a section of the original Route 66 running down main street.  The most interesting thing I saw in Williams was this 1954 Oldsmobile 88 Holiday at 124 W. Route 66.


Nearly every store has red neon advertising souvenirs.



Time to head back to Flagstaff for another night's rest at the Monte Vista Hotel.

How we got to Flagstaff from Southern California - Amtrak Southwest Chief


Don and I left Fullerton, California on the Amtrak Southwest Chief.  When we arrived at the station for the 6:50 p.m. departure, there were two eastbound BNSF freights on tracks 1 and 2. 


Eventually the freight on Track 1 pulled out eastbound and the Southwest Chief pulled in and we boarded.

Because it is an overnight trip to Flagstaff, we reserved a Roomette.  We could have gone via coach seats, but decided we'd like to have a bed instead.  Our car attendant gave us our dinner reservations in the diner for about 8:30 pm.  Meals are included in the cost of the ticket when you reserve accommodations, but this trip only has one meal which is dinner after you board.


Because Don breaks out a book whenever we have a few free minutes, I include this photo of my traveling partner, Don Roe, reading under a light waiting for the westbound Amtrak Southwest Chief in Flagstaff on our way back to Southern California.


At you can make reservations like the sample above.  You can also print your ticket after purchase.  Don and I are both Seniors, so I entered the information to give you an idea of the cost of this trip from Fullerton, California to Flagstaff, Arizona.  Actually, our trip did not cost as much as the sample because we made the reservation months in advance.  Notice the "Only 1 room at this price" notice above the "Superliner Roomette".  Amtrak raises prices, as do the airlines, when seats and accommodations begin to fill up.  If we would have flown there, we would have had to get a hotel that night.   The cost of the Roomette, which includes two steak dinners, is about the same as the cost of a room and food in Flagstaff, and a taxi from the airport to the Monte Vista Hotel.  An Amtrak Roomette does not cost any more for 2 people than it does for one.

Transportation in Flagstaff. 

We found it very convenient to rent a car in Flagstaff from Budget/Avis.  Their location was within walking distance of both the train station and the Monte Vista Hotel where we stayed. 
We arrived about 7 a.m. Monday morning, so I rented a car from just before closing time Monday afternoon until just before closing time 4 days later.
  Our train was not scheduled to arrive in Flagstaff to take us back to California until about 9 p.m.  We stored our suitcases (even though we did not later check them, but took them to our sleeper car) and returned our car at 5 p.m. We found that the library, with free internet, was open until 7 p.m.  When the library closed, we walked to dinner at the Downtown Diner.  We stayed there until after 8 then walked to the station, retrieved our suitcases, and waited on the platform for the Southwest Chief (see photo above of Don reading at the Amtrak Station).  Make your car rental agreement online then the office in Flagstaff knows the rate to charge you.  Walkins cost more.

Budget Rent-A-Car -  Budget Flagstaff Downtown Car Rentals  175 West Aspen Flagstaff, AZ, 86001, U S A
Phone Number: 928-213-0156 Hours of Operation: Sun 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM Mon - Fri 7:00 AM - 6:00 PM Sat 8:00 AM - 4:00 PM

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