The Grand Canyon and Grand Canyon Railway

The Grand Canyon Railway is a thriving tourist train in Williams Arizona.  The associated RV park there is one of the nicest in the country.  The railway was built in 1901 by the Atchison Topeka and Sante Fe Railroad.  The train service led to an increase in tourism to the area and the railroad was a leader in building the Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim.  ATandSF designed and built the El Tovar Hotel.  The railroad ended service in 1968 but a couple from Phoenix bought the line and resumed operations in 1989.

AT&SF Depot

Today its still a great way to visit the park. The train depot is close to the South Rim and provides easy access to the park’s shuttle bus system.  We had 3+ hours to hop on and hop off the buses and to many sights in the park while eating our picnic lunch.  We felt great about seeing so much using public transport.

Grand Canyon Railway locomotives

Thru the forest to the canyon

Grand Canyon National Park is still a not-to-be-missed wonder of the world.  At up to 18 miles wide 277 miles long and over a mile deep it is a bit overwhelming.  The rock exposed at the bottom is nearly as old as the earth itself. The park service has an excellent film narrated by Peter Coyote.  Visiting on your own takes some planning.  The park is extremely popular with people coming from all over the world.  Plan to see the most popular areas early or late in the day to avoid the crowds.  We were lucky to find free dispersed camping near the Desert View Watchtower side of the park so we got in early.  The watchtower was designed by Mary Colter.  The human history of the park is a whole other story.  Native Americans have lived here for thousands of years.  One armed Major John Wesley Powell was the first to run the river by boat in 1869 after having his boats shipped from Chicago via the new Transcontinental Railroad.  President Theodore Roosevelt created Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908 shortly after the Antiquities Act was passed.  Mining and land interests keep the canyon from becoming a national park until 1919.  It was the 17th such park.  Amazing it wasn’t #3 or 4.

Native American at the canyon

Desert View Watchtower


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Golden Spike – 150th Anniversary Celebration

Our primary goal traveling in the Spring 0f 2019 was to attend the 150th Anniversary Celebration of the driving of the Golden Spike May 10, 1869 in Promontory Utah.  This one event did more to change the United States than arguably any other single event.  It united the East with the West.  It instantly opened up vast territory to settlement for good or bad.  Books and books have been written of the story of the Transcontinental Railroad including “Nothing Like It In The World” by Stephen Ambrose.  The whole story is fascinating to fans of history or railroads.

Big Boy 4014

Heading to Ogden

Double-heading with 844


We arrived in Ogden to scout the area the day before Big Boy 4014 arrived in town.  Seeing the newly restored Big Boy was a close second in our reasons to travel to Utah.  We had visited the behemoth in static display in Pomona CA the year before Union Pacific took on the enormous job of restoring this colossal locomotive to operating status.  The job was completed in UP’s Cheyenne WY shops in 5 years.  The restoration of a Big Boy is a dream come true for railfans worldwide.  UP sent both the Big Boy 4014 and the “Living Legend” locomotive 844 to Ogden as part of the celebration of the Golden Spike.  Thousands of railfans from all over the world converged on Ogden to see these giant steam locomotives operating together.

4014 and 844 Meet

Symbolic driving of the Golden Spike

844 “The Living Legend”

Little boy – Big Boy

The National Park Service commemoration of the 150th was a long planned event.  Tickets to park near the site were doled out months in advance.  Approximately 25,000 people attended the festivities on the May 10th anniversary.  There was a highly choreographed musical play performed by mostly young people.  There were speeches from 2 Cabinet Secretaries, Utah’s governor, a Congressman, the Union Pacific President, Irish Ambassador and others.  The United States Postal Service issued a new stamp.  The park service changed the name of the place from a “historical site” to a “Historical Park”The event was covered by newsmedia and a film crew.  It was crowded but we were thrilled to witness such an historic event.

Iconic Golden Spike photo

Crowds at the Golden Spike

Performers in
“As One”

Historic pose

The Spike

Driving the Spike

Unveiling the new park sign

Ogden itself had a celebration at Union Station.  Their annual Heritage Fest was expanded from 1 day to 3 days.  Attendance was huge for all days with a big local turnout on Saturday, the final day.  Locals seemed thrilled to see the steam locomotives.  We also attended lectures on the Chinese workers so integral to the completion of the transcontinental railroad.  The contribution of the Chinese was emphasized this year as they were totally ignored on the 100th anniversary in 1969.  Speakers also addressed the Irish, African American and Mormon workers.  As part of the Heritage Fest we saw excellent dance performances from Native American, Irish, Pacific Islander, India and Mexican dancers.

Union Station Water Tower

Locals loved the Big Boy

Ogden town and the Wasatch Mountains

Navajo Shawl Dancer

Our final event over the 150th celebration was a chase of the Big Boy as it headed east back to Cheyenne.  Thousands of people lined the shoulder of I-84 and every side road along the route.  Big Boy 4014 did not disappoint.

4014 and 844 heading East

Last but not least we have a rare (for us) you-tube link to a video Dianne shot of the 2 giant steam locomotives on their way back to Cheyenne WY…

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Verde Valley Arizona

Verde Valley is truly a greener valley in the desert that is Arizona.  Located about midway between Phoenix and Flagstaff it has several year-round rivers providing water to support a thriving population for thousands of years.  It is estimated that up to 30,000 indigenous people once lived in this valley.  There were over 40 communities of these Ancestral Puebloan people and now many sites are accessible thanks to the National Park Service.  We visited Palatki, Honanki, V Bar V Archeological Site, Montezuma Castle NM, Montezuma Well NM and Tuzigoot NM.   Most of the sites were abandoned by around 1400 CE.  There are many theories as to why they left but the nearby Hopi simply say they were on their way to the lands of the present-day Hopi.

On the road to Palatki and Honanki



1000 year old handprint




Tuzigoot NM


V Bar V Ranch archeological site

V Bar V petroglyphs

more V Bar V

Montezuma Well

Montezuma Castle


We stayed at the Thousand Trails RV Park in Cottonwood.  Cottonwood is a nice size community that has become known as Arizona’s wine country.  It is also nearby the former mining/ghost town Jerome and Clarkdale, a planned community founded by copper magnate William Clark.  Sedona is also nearby with its world class hiking and home to billionaires.

Clarkdale model home – updated

Sedona – on the trail

Red Rocks of Sedona

Red Rocks

Devil’s Bridge

Overall Cottonwood checks many of the boxes as a place to settle down after RVing.  Winters are not severe, summers are hot but dry.  Its a nice size community with a good deal of natural diversity.  And they even have a train – the Verde Canyon Railway, booked solid so we could only chase.

Verde Canyon Railway


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Apache Scenic Loop and Kayaking with Saguaros

Saguaros, desert, mountains

Casa Grande gave us a good jumping off point to explore the greater Phoenix area.  The Apache Scenic Loop is a spectacular highway tour of the Superstition Mountains.  Starting in Apache Junction east of metro Phoenix the route took us past Tortilla Flat and 22 miles of dirt road along with 3 reservoirs.  After arriving back on pavement at Roosevelt Lake we were surprised to find Tonto National Monument, an Ancestral Puebloan monument in a beautiful setting. 

Apache Loop view

Apache Lake flowers

Roosevelt Dam

Roosevelt Bridge

Hedgehog cactus blooms

Tonto National Monument

Tonto Lake Roosevelt view

We are always on the lookout for kayaking opportunities so imagine our surprise at finding a kayakable lake on the Apache Scenic Loop highway in the Superstition Mountains.  Canyon Lake was created in 1925 when the Salt River was dammed.  It is one of 4 lakes in the area.  We had a great day paddling the lake and up little canyons where we literally had to back out.  Great day, perfect weather, no crowds during the week.  One of our favorite paddles of all time.

Canyon Lake

We love the Apache Loop area.  Great vistas, great flora.  In March we had great weather.



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A visit to Tucson to see the Presidio began with a fabulous meal at El Charro Resturant.  We learned its a Tucson landmark and claims to have invented the Chimichanga.

El Charro restaurant

While there we heard of a Spring Festival nearby so off we went.  But then on the way we walked right up to the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum.  The nice little museum even marked the spot at the depot where Wyatt Earp shot an outlaw.  This was Southern Pacific country and still a busy Union Pacific mainline.

Eventually we made it the festival and it was huge.  We found modern streetcars serving the downtown area.

We finally did make it to the Presidio (as they were closing) and it is an interesting juxtaposition  of  old and new  in  the  heart  of  downtown.  The Presidio San Augustin del Tucson is a re-creation of the original 18th Spanish fort at what became the city.  This is built on the exact site which wasn’t discovered until 1954.  It opened in 2007.

Our day in Tucson is typical of many of our days.  One thing leads to another to another.  We enjoyed exploring on foot.  It’s an interesting city.  We will be back.

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Benson Arizona

On our way to Escapade we were very excited to return to the Benson Arizona area. Benson is along I-10 in the southeastern part of the state. It’s  along the busy Union Pacific railroad line and Amtrak’s Sunset Limited stops here.   Its a great base to explore Tombstone, Bisbee, Cochise Stronghold, Chiricahau National Monument, Kartchner Caverns and more.

Tombstone is the “town too tough to die” and famous for the “gunfight at the OK corrall”.  Today its mostly a tourist town with re-enactments, stage coach rides, saloons and gift shops.  The old courthouse still stands as a museum complete with the hanging gallows.

Classic Western Tombstone

The Earp Brothers

Tombstone Courthouse

Bisbee is the county seat of Cochise County and once a booming copper town.  We toured the Historical Museum and the Copper Queen Hotel.  There is a thriving arts community and nice collection of shops and restaurants.  The huge Lavender Pit copper mine sits idle at the edge of town.  One of our favorite authors, J.A. Jance, writes many mystery novels centered around Bisbee.  We always enjoy exploring areas where novels are based.

Bisbee – The Copper Town

Lavender Pit
copper mine

Fairbank is an abandoned or ghost town between Bisbee and Benson.  It was once a thriving community with a railline that served Tombstone.  Now just a few buildings remain including a restored schoolhouse.  There is a short hike to the old cemetery.  

Fairbank Arizona
ghost town

Fairbank cemetery

Gleeson and Pierce are two more ghost towns we found in this area.  Oh the stories they could tell.

Throughout this area the landscapes are spectacular.

Southeastern Arizona landscape


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Saguaro National Park

Tucson Arizona has a lot to offer and it was a major goal of our Southwestern trip.  On the outskirts of Tucson is a surprisingly lush and diverse land.  

Giant Saguaro welcome you to the park

Young Saguaro

A rare crested form of Saguaro

Saguaro National Park protects an area of Sonoran Desert that is filled with native plants and animals. Chief among these are the saguaro cactus. The saguaro cactus is the symbol of this desert and of Arizona. They are fascinating in their endless varied shapes and sizes. They live a long 150 or more years.  50 to 70 years before they produce an arm. They swell and contract with the rain or drought. They are home to specialized birds. Their wood has been used by Native Americans for thousands of years.  Their fruit is still used by the native Tohono O’odham people.  The Saguaro usually die of old age but are threatened by loss of habitat and invasive species.

The park offers a one-way loop road and many hikes off that road. We went on a weekday and early as the park gets crowded with limited parking. We found beautiful hiking at Mesa View Trail, Loma Verde Trail and Javelina Rocks.

People of the Hohokam left petroglyphs within the park between 450 and 1450 CE.  Spaniards arrived in the 1500s.  Arizona became a US Territory in 1854 and a state in 1912.  The park was established in 1933 as a national monument.  From 1933 to 1942 the CCC built roads, picnic areas and water control dams in the park.  Then in 1994 Saguaro became a National Park.




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