Today happened in two parts. Part one, the Grand Canyon.
We checked in to Bright Angel Lodge for our 3 hour mule ride and then walked out the other side for our first view of the canyon. The girl let out an audible gasp. She was more than duly impressed!
I was interested in all the wonderful lodge style buildings, and learned that the architect of Bright Angel, Hopi House, Lookout Studio and more, not only was a woman (Mary Colter), but also designed Union Station in LA, which I’ve always admired.
I think could have easily lived in the era of train travel to the Canyon, check into the lodge hotel, enjoy a cocktail on the porch with the great view, and have a pack mule adventure into the abyss. I could do it on Kilauea too, or in Yosemite. Not real camping, but early 1900s glamping.
We were on the South Rim of the canyon, so our mule ride didn’t go in — just a lovely stroll through the Kaibab National Forest ending at a fantastic canyon overlook.
I asked about the funny hair cuts on the mules. Historically, the US Cavalry used to mark their animals like this. One “bell” meant it was a pack mule. Two bells meant that it could be packed or ridden, and three bells signified the animal’s ability to be used for pack, ride, or pulling. Today, in the Grand Canyon, the bells are a sort of rite of passage. The mules that are ready to be ridden by anyone get the haircut, while the newer ones have plain tails and are for the guides only.
Part two of our day was back in Williams, AZ where we’ve been staying. Williams is a little gem of a town! It has a charming mix of Route 66 and wild west. It is also the terminal for the historic train ride to and from the Grand Canyon (complete with mock train robbery). Every evening a local “thee-A-ter” group stages a gun fight in the middle of the street. It was fun and family friendly and we were happy to have made it back to town in time to see it. And wouldn’t you know it, of all the people in the audience, they grabbed our friend!
Williams has tired little motels left over from the fifties, a couple of town hotels from the late 1800s, and a handful of modern chain hotels. Plenty of options for the tourist off the beaten track. The main drag has a bunch of shops and some tasty restaurants too. It appears to be grooming itself for a resurgence. I am so glad we stopped here, not only to see friends we hadn’t seen in a while, but to have discovered a great little town.