Riding Arizona by plane, train, automobile, raft and rodeo 

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Eventually everyone beholds the Grand Canyon whether it is a through a photograph, movie or visitation. A National Park since 1919, encompassing over 1.2 million acres with the Colorado River chiselling away layers of geological rock a mile deep for over six million years, when I scoured the Internet for family hotels, I discovered that most people book a year in advance. Fortunately the Grand Canyon Railway made it easy. I booked our entire trip only two-and-a-half months before our departure.

An early morning flight arriving in Phoenix gave us plenty of time to drive to historical Williams (290 kilometres). The arms of the saguaro cacti waved us through the Sonoran Desert to the mystical red rock town of Sedona where we ate a leisurely lunch. L'Auberge Restaurant located on the shaded Oak Creek provided the ultimate locale for the boys (10 and 11 years old) to stretch their legs and dip their fingers in the cool refreshing creek that ran next to our wrought iron table.

The historical train depot town, Williams (population 3,000), is the last town on old Route 66 that was bypassed by I-40 — the main route to the South Rim. The Grand Canyon Railway has provided passenger train service since 1901, but it shut down in 1968, when car travel became the rage. Thelma and Max Biegert (honoured by the National Railway Hall of Fame) restored the railway in 1989, and over 230,000 passengers boarded last year.

Williams also offered a playground minutes away from the Railway Hotel, as well as some sweet souvenir shops. We purchased cowboy hats for all — a necessity for the scorching sun. Note that no water is sold at the South Rim, as an insurmountable amount of recyclables would accumulate. Water stations are sprinkled throughout the park. We purchased two reusable containers (and refilled water bottles we brought in) — we were sufficiently outfitted for the summer heat.

The following morning the boys were thoroughly entertained by the Wild West Shootout show prior to boarding the Grand View Dome Car providing us a 360-degree panorama of the Colorado Plateau. Yummy snacks, drinks and good ol' live entertainment were aboard the classic refurbished steam locomotive.

When we arrived at the Grand Canyon Village station, lunch was served at the Maswik Lodge before the "Cany Discovery Experience" bus tour toted us to various viewing spots along Desert View Drive. Grandview Point was our first view of the canyon. John Wesley Powell said, "The glories and the beauties of form, color and sound unite in the Grand Canyon." It is monumental to witness America's natural wonder — an experience of mega chromocytes and awe.

Park Rangers are randomly scattered throughout the park, and we bumped into one at Moran Point. He was on the lookout for the Californian condor. These enormous endangered Cathartidaes nest within canyon caves, and only 74 reside between Arizona and Utah.

Maswik Lodge provided sufficient accommodations, as El Tovar (1905), a landmark constructed of local limestone and Oregon pine, is popular, and was booked. We did dine at El Tovar, and it was worth it for both the ambiance and cuisine. We caught a performance of the Pollen Trail Dancers of the Navajo Nation, steps away, and near the pueblo-like Hopi House (1904) that offers an art gallery and gift shop.

The Smooth Water Raft Tour (Colorado River Discovery), an all day adventure, began at Maswik Lodge. A motor coach drove us north to Page, a town on Lake Powell 16 km from the Utah border, where we were outfitted for our raft experience. We then were shuttled through a three-kilometre tunnel to the "inflatable motorized pontoon" raft docked feet from the Glen Canyon Dam (1963), where we leisurely floated 26 picturesque kilometres of the 1,600-km Colorado. The river was ice cold, but we couldn't resist taking a dip to cool off in the clear pristine water, after a short hike to view petroglyphs.

On our last South Rim day we utilized the complimentary park shuttle to explore the Visitor Center and Yavapai Museum. It was hot, but we managed to hike the interpretive Trail of Time with our final canyon viewing at Verkamp's Visitor Center originally only a tent where John Verkamp, one of the first South Rim developers, sold souvenirs back in 1898. After lunch we railed it back to Williams, ending with some authentic cowboy hoo-ha — a train robbery.

Prescott, our last stop, one of largest cities in Yavapai County and once the capital of Arizona, is 113 km from Williams. We bunked at my sister-in-law's home in the part of town called Mountain Club, and had we needed a hotel we would have booked the "old west" Hotel Vendome. In the morning we explored the shores of Lynx Lake where the ponderosa pines mingle in the Bradshaw Mountains, and by late afternoon we were ready to tear it up at America's Oldest Rodeo (since 1888). With eight performances over the July 4th weekend we timed it right. The boys loved riding the electronic bull, and we satisfied our grumbling bellies with some tasty BBQ ribs and freshly squeezed lemonade. Gizmo the clown, shrine horses, steer wrestling and saddle bronc riding with both cowboy and cowgirl contestants were a few of the events at this epic frontier spectacle, and the grand finale of our Arizona ride.

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