Just west of Flagstaff on I-40 is an area often referred to as the Gateway to the Grand Canyon. If you are making your way through it to see the beautiful, breathtaking, giant hole in the ground, I suggest you make a pit stop at a neighboring town that’s part kitsch, part nostalgia and even a little adventurous.
Williams is a small town nestled beneath the towering trees of Arizona’s pine country – a reflection of the Route 66 days paved with soda fountains, neon lights and classic cars.
There are more than six blocks of historic buildings and shops filled with memorabilia and trinkets of a time gone by. The storefronts on Main Street are preserved as a designated National Historic District. And some of those same motor hotels from back in the day have been revitalized with all the comforts expected by modern-day travelers.
Given that Williams is located on a railway line, it seems only fitting that you can spend the night in your very own red caboose. The authentic 1929 Santa Fe Cabooses at the Canyon Motel and RV Park have all the modern comforts of a hotel room yet allow you to pretend to be one of those well-heeled travelers taking time to enjoy the journey traversing the country by rail.
Once you’ve had a good night’s sleep, you can enjoy a high-flying adventure over Grand Canyon Boulevard in downtown Williams. My friend and I buckled in for a ride on the Route 66 Zipline, which was short but worth a few screams.
If you are looking for something a little tamer, I suggest the Grand Canyon Deer Farm.
It is ten acres of an animal wonderland where you can get up close and personal with wallabies, llamas, coatimundi, bison and peacocks. You can also feed deer, pet a goat and even kiss a camel.
If you haven’t experienced enough of the animal kingdom, then head over to Bearizona. Visitors can take a three-mile drive to see free-roaming bears, wolves, bison and sheep. Or, you can take a casual stroll in a more zoo-like setting. Whether on foot or by car, big and little kids alike can enjoy Bearizona against the backdrop of the magnificent Kaibab Forest.
If you are too tired to drive up to the Canyon after all this fun, you can hop aboard the Grand Canyon Railway. The train takes two hours each way, 45 minutes faster than when it made its first trip in 1901, and in between, you’ll have three hours to spend soaking up the splendor of the Grand Canyon.
You can stop by the historic El Tovar for lunch, take pictures from the photogenic South Rim, visit the Hopi House and Kolb Studios, then let someone else handle the ride back. Aside from peering out the window at the scenery, there’s also entertainment on board the train.
Americana, specialty rides, animal kingdoms and one-of-a-kind accommodations: Who needs an amusement park with a mouse when you have Williams?
— Robin Sewell is the host and executive producer of the Emmy Award winning Arizona Highways Television.