The Breakfast Club, Special Edition

An Affiliate of the Arizona Pilots Assn.

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Buses, and Shoe leather



Breakfast Club Overnights at Grand Canyon/El Tovar Lodge


24 Sept 04
by Warren McIlvoy

It was exactly one year ago to this weekend, that the Breakfast Club traveled to the Grand Canyon, North Rim, for a stay at the North Rim Lodge. This year, the Breakfast Club did the Grand Canyon, Part Deux, with a visit to the South Rim and the El Tovar Hotel. This event could be aptly named, "Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Buses, and, Shoe leather".


The weekend got off to a roaring start with an early Friday morning departure from Scottsdale and headed to the northwest to Williams, Arizona. Three or four years ago, the City of Williams, with some contributions from the FAA and the State Aviation Trust Fund, lengthened and enhanced the runway to make it more user friendly for their 6700' altitude. Within the past two years, Williams has also constructed a new terminal building that, as yet, does not have any tenants other than the airport office. The Williams Airport is surrounded by small hills that make it somewhat difficult to spot until you are no more than 3 to 4 miles away. Although it is not yet published, Williams does have an AWOS and with the winds being calm, we entered a left downwind for runway 19. After turning-off the runway, I taxied over to the self serve fuel island to top-off with fuel priced at $2.65 a gallon, not cheap by many standards but .40 a gallon cheaper than at Scottsdale. After finishing my "line" duties, I taxied over to the ramp and shut-down just to the south of the terminal building. We were met there by the airport manager George Barendse who assisted in the tie-down chores. George said that we could use one of the "airport limos" for the duration of our stay. I informed George that we would not be back until Sunday morning and he said to just leave the keys over the sun visor and if they needed the car, he would know where to find it. If you are planning on flying into Williams and need transportation, give George a call at 928-635-1280 and he will take good care of you.


The "airport limo" turned-out to be almost that, it was a late model Infinity. I must admit that I was not quite ready for that and I can not recall ever actually sitting in one, but it sure was fitting for such a "high roller" like myself. It was about a 6 mile drive into town and George gave us instructions on how to find the Grand Canyon Railroad station. Following George's instructions made finding the train station a snap as we drove into the cul-da-sac to unload our bags and then park the car in the parking lot across the street. I had to fight the urge to lock the car and leave the key in it even if they were out of sight. It was about 0845.


Check-in time for the train was 0900 and as you would imagine, things were quite busy in the station. When it was my turn at the window, the clerk gave me all of our tickets for the train, bus tour, restaurant meal tickets and boarding times. Since we were staying the night at the
El Tovar Hotel, the clerk gave me two tags to put on our bags and that they would make sure that they would be at the hotel when we checked-in. The train ride is two hours long and since we had not yet had breakfast, we opted to try out Max & Thelmas, the railroad restaurant that is right next door. The clerk told us that there was a "wild west show" at the far west end of the depot complex that starts at 0915. The show features a street "shoot-out" between Grand Canyon Railway Marshal, John B. Goodmore (the B stands for "b good or b gone), and the Cataract Creek Gang. All of the action takes place against a back-drop of an 1880's western town.  After the show, it was time to board our "first class" coach to begin our ride to the Grand Canyon.

At this point, I would like to insert some history about the Grand Canyon Railroad that I borrowed from their web site.



"Grand Canyon Railway made its first journey to the Grand Canyon on September 17, 1901. Notable passengers to ride the Grand Canyon Railway include Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, William Howard Taft, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clark Gable, Jimmy Durante, Doris Day, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates.

The Railroad was originally built to transport ore in the Wild West from the Anita mines, 45 miles north of Williams in the late 1800s. Prospectors flocked to Grand
Country with dreams of riches. However, the area didn't supply enough ore to fulfill those dreams, and the railroad ran into financial trouble in 1899.

The Santa Fe Railway took over and completed the track to Grand Canyon in 1901.  The company could make a return on its investment through tourism. The $3.95 train ride would replace the $15.00 eight-hour stagecoach ride from Flagstaff, allowing visitors to gaze upon what Teddy Roosevelt said "every American should see." The 65 miles of track the iron horse traveled became the lifeline to Grand Canyon.

Over the years, the Santa Fe built many of the structures that now grace the South Rim, including the historic El Tovar Hotel in 1905. All supplies used in the
construction of Grand Canyon Village came to Northern Arizona aboard the train. The train also brought all water to the Grand Canyon until 1926.

Supplies were not the only things carried in trains. Ranching and lumber were the primary industries of the early 1900s. Ranchers and lumberjacks contracted with the
Grand Canyon Railway to transport their stock. The Railway shared the countryside with its neighbors forming a unique bond. Cowboys, lumberjacks and shepherds alike felt a little better and closer to civilization just being able to hear the train or see its lights off in the distance.

Grand Canyon Railway stopped service to Grand Canyon in 1968 after ridership declined due to the rise in popularity of automobile travel. The train had been a source of regional pride, a symbol of man's spirit of conquest and a sense of harmony with nature. Interstate highways were built paralleling the railroad, and silently replaced virgin landscapes privileged only to the train with billboards and gas stations.

The Railway was reopened for passenger service on September 17, 1989 by owners Max and Thelma Biegert, eighty-eight years to the day of the first passenger train to the Grand Canyon. “Bringing the Grand Canyon line back to life really came down to the eleventh hour, " explained then Williams Marshal John Moore." As Grand Canyon Railway was working on getting the final paper-work complete, a corporation which made a failed attempt to restore the Grand Canyon line, had begun tearing it up for salvage materials. If it hadn't been for Grand Canyon Railway, train service to the Grand Canyon would have been permanently lost. "

In 1989, Grand Canyon Railway put a stop to the salvage work and began a detailed restoration process. The decaying tracks were rebuilt, the historic depots at both ends of the line were restored, and after 21 years passenger service once again returned to Grand Canyon National Park.

"Grand Canyon Railway owners Max Biegert and his wife Thelma brought an important piece of Arizona history back to life. We have them to thank for the
opportunity to travel just as those first passengers did in 1901 to the canyon so appropriately named Grand, " said Railroad Historian Al Richmond.

Today, Grand Canyon Railway provides a historic and fun journey to the canyon with the help of authentic western characters who bring the Old West to life. Moreover, the train whose fate seemed sealed when it was shut down due to the popularity of automobiles, is now responsible for keeping approximately 50,000 cars outside of the national treasure.

"By traveling aboard Grand Canyon Railway you are not only experiencing an entertaining and historic journey, you are also doing your part to help preserve the
pristine beauty of the Grand Canyon," explains W. David Chambers, Grand Canyon Railway President"



Now that you know something about the history of the Grand Canyon Railroad, let me tell you about our experience in the 21st Century. Firstly, you will notice that the floor of the coach as well as the side walls, are all carpeted. Not only does this add to the ambiance, but it also helps to keep the coach very quiet. The seats have a remarkable resemblance to those of an airliner except that they are wider (I needed that). There is also considerably more leg room to accommodate even the tallest of passengers. The seats also recline to add a modicum of comfort for those long cross country trips. The back of the seat in front of you has a fold-down tray as well as a foot rest. Each of the coaches has a PSA (passenger service attendant) that is equivalent to a flight attendant. Amber Rose was our PSA for the outbound leg of our journey and Amber had a buoyant personality that contributed to a very pleasant ride. One of the things that I had forgotten about when I had made the reservations, was that the Railroad served a Continental Breakfast during the morning train ride. There was a large bowl of mixed fruit, muffins, assorted Danish, juices, and soft drinks. I'll remember that next time.

The entertainment part of the mornings activities was supplied by Colonel Jim Garvey who sang an assortment of traditional western songs. These were all available on a CD that could be purchased in the Club Car for a mere $10.00. As the train was nearing the Grand Canyon Station, Amber briefed the passengers about what to expect if: you were just staying for the day and returning on the afternoon train, staying for the day and taking the bus tour and returning on the afternoon train, and lastly, if you were staying the night and returning on another train. In our case, it was the later.


Unlike the train seats, the seats on the bus were considerably smaller and leg room was minimal at best. The truly good thing about the bus was that the time between stops was relatively short. Our first stop was at the Maswik Lodge for our buffet lunch. The buffet was arranged so that they could accommodate 4 lines that made quick work of the long lines. Promptly at 1330, the bus was loaded and we were off to explore the south rim as it stretched west from the village. It has been somewhere around 30 years since I have driven to the south rim and as I recall, you could drive west on the Hermits Rest Route but not any longer. Besides the tour buses, the shuttles are the only other the way to get to Hermits Rest.

The tour bus stopped at two of the overlooks, Trailview Overlook and Powell Point. At each of the stops, the bus driver would point out interesting sites in the Canyon and answer questions from the group. He offered a little bit of history about the people that inhabited the area dating back to the 11th Century as well as some information the geologic activities that formed the canyon that we call Grand. At this point the tour bus returned to the railroad station to off load the folks that would be returning to Williams on the afternoon train. It was here that we ascended the 44 steps to the
El Tovar Hotel.

El Tovar Hotel

Described as the architectural crown jewel of the Grand Canyon, this enchanting hotel, built by the Fred Harvey Company in 1904, is made of native stone and Oregon pine and fashioned after hunting lodges in Europe. Fred Harvey Company architect Charles Whittlesey strove to create a hotel that would complement and not challenge the geologic wonder of the Canyon, and in so doing he created the first example of rustic architecture in a national park. Named for the Spanish explorer Don Pedro de Tovar, who reported the existence of the Grand Canyon to fellow explorers, El Tovar commands the South Rim, affording almost dizzying views of the Canyon.

It is said that El Tovar assumed an air of venerable dignity on the day it opened. Indeed, it still welcomes visitors to a warm hearth and stately appointments, offering the Canyon's most deluxe accommodations. A recent refurbishing has allowed El Tovar to offer an even higher standard of service to its guests, while still retaining its turn-of-the-century ambience.

The hotel has long enjoyed a reputation for genteel hospitality. Years ago, the celebrated Harvey Girls, outfitted in prim, black dresses with white aprons and collars, set the standard for courteous and attentive service. All rooms have a full bath/shower, color television, and telephones. Some suites offer magnificent views of the Canyon. No pets. Call (303) 29PARKS.

The famous El Tovar Dining Room delights the palate with fine regional cuisine. The intimate El Tovar Lounge enchants guests after sunset, and El Tovar Gift Shop is one of the finest in the park, offering mementos and gifts.

Our room 6454, was on the second floor but did not have a view of any part of the Canyon (by the way, all of the rooms started with the prefix of 64). Our outside view was that of a behind-the-scenes service area where vehicles would park. So much for a Canyon view. But remember, you're at the Grand Canyon; you are not supposed to stay in your room. You are supposed to get out and explore and mingle with the international guests. The room was moderate in size and had been updated with new furnishings and was very neat and clean. The bathroom was roomy and also modernized.

After getting settled in our room, we changed clothes for our 5:30 dinner reservation but it was a bit early so we chose to meet with Paul Fortune and to sit on the north veranda and enjoy the changing moods of the Canyon as the sun began to set in the west. The photos that one would take during the periods of the high sun are great but those that you see in the magazines are usually taken as the sun sets. The deep shadows and muted sun light gives the Canyon an entirely different kaleidoscope of colors and tones. I guess that I have viewed the Canyon on more than two dozen occasions in my life time, both from above and at rim level, and I am still awed by the panoramic vista that is being played-out before our very eyes as the sun performs it's daily ritual on the formations below us.

As we entered the dinning room, we were seated in an adjacent room that featured a sweeping view of the Canyon as the last rays of the sun danced on the crowns of the spires and mesas. The ambiance is just what you would expect of the El Tovar. The tables were set with care and displayed and array of dinning wear and linen napkins. The service was very good as were the entrees that were prepared and presented with attention to detail. After dinner, it was back out to the veranda to sit on the swing and enjoy the cool air. The evening’s entertainment was supplied by several bats that flew large circles around the hanging ceiling lamp that illuminated the north entryway. After allowing our dinner to settle, we walked along the rim trail and noticed the eerie scene as the half moon cast a faint glow on the near by formations. This was a vista that you will never see in any magazine. What a way to end a perfect day. It was nearly time to turn-in and get a good rest because Saturday morning, Paul and I were going to get up close and personal with the Canyon's hiking trails. While returning to our respective rooms, we stopped at the front desk to inquire about why all of the rooms started with the "64" prefix. Veronica and Nadia were the evening desk attendants but they did not know why the hotel had assigned that particular prefix. Veronica was from Romania and Nadia was from Poland ( I thought that all ":Nadias" were from Romania). If you have not figured out the reason for the "64" prefix, I will explain at the bottom of the story.

My wife and I met Paul in the same dinning room for breakfast and we were seated in the same area only this time, right in front of the window. And like the evening meal, the breakfast entrees were handled with the same level of care as was the previous evening's selections. The panoramic windows provided a ring side, or more aptly in this case, a rim side seat to view the new morning's rays as the Canyon took on yet a different mood. After a good breakfast, it was back up to our room to change into our hiking gear.

Shoe Leather.

The Bright Angel Trail begins about 200-yards west of the El Tovar Hotel. The Kolb Brothers Studio marks the actual point where the trail begins it's meandering down the face of the South Rim of the Canyon. At several points there are signs warning the novice hiker that the need for water is a must and that one needs to keep in mind that "what ever goes down, must come up". The trail for the most part, is wide enough to easily accommodate the multitude of hikers that pass each other as some are just beginning their downward trek as others are nearing the end of a strenuous journey. In many places, the trail has a "stair-step" appearance as the Park Service has constructed these "steps" to help prevent erosion. In other places, the center of the trail is depressed as it apparently shows the effects of nearly 100-years of hikers and mule train wear.

At a point a little more than a quarter of a mile down the trail, we come upon the first of two tunnels that were cut into the vertical rock slabs that would have halted the trail's descent. It was at about the 1-mile mark that we took our first rest and picked-out the most comfortable rock that we could sit on. Traffic on the trail was fairly heavy in both directions and we would greet the hikers with a pleasant "good morning". It took maybe another 20 minutes to reach the second tunnel where, after some serious consideration (about 5-seconds worth), we felt that this was far enough as we had to be back at the El Tovar by 1100 in order to check-out. We did make arrangements with the front desk to get a 1200 check-out time but we wanted to get back with time to allow for some "personal regeneration".

As we began the ascent up the Bright Angel Trail, it became apparent very early on that rest periods would come in much shorter spacings than we used on the way down. Five to eight minute segments of climbing were spaced by 3 to 5-minute rest periods to allow my heart rate to drop back down to something less than a rivet-gun pace. The water bottle that I had carried down proved it's worth during the exhausting hike back to the rim level. The "rule of thumb" for the trail hikes is to allow twice as much time for the hike up as you used for the trip down. When Paul and I arrived at the Kolb Studio, the elapsed time for the ascent was equal to the time used for the descent. Not to bad for an old, out of shape, old fart. However, my legs hurt for two days following that experience.

Speaking of the Kolb Studio, as long as we were here, we decided to investigate this attraction that is now a museum. The lumber frame building is almost three stories high and is rather amazing as it is constructed on the down slope of the South Rim. As I recall, the studio is almost a hundred years old and was the home of the Kolb brothers as they lead hikers and rafters on tours of the Grand Canyon. They would take pictures of the various groups and then sell their photos to them at the completion of their hike or raft trip. When the Canyon became a National Park, the brothers were allowed to reside in the house/studio, as long as they lived. When you see the building from a short distance down the trail, I often wonder about the engineering that went into the construction of the house and the often harsh conditions that the brothers endured in the early days.

After leaving the Kolb Studio, we strode along the rim trail back to the El Tovar to finish our packing, change clothes, and anything else involved in checking-out by 1200. We left our two bags with the hotel bell folks who, in turn, would make sure that they would be shuttled to the train station. After actually checking-out, the three of us decided to retire to the swing on the north side veranda of the hotel and to absorb the Canyon views. By 1230, Paul was ready to call the shuttle to get him to the Grand Canyon Airport for his flight home. We walked around to the east side main entry to the hotel just as the van arrived. We bade Paul a farewell as my wife and I decided to walk the rim trail to the east, or actually I did because she noticed a gift shop that had not yet been inspected by her. I continued on the trail for about 2/3's of a mile and took some additional photos. As I passed Verkamps on my return trip, my wife was sitting on the north porch of the gift shop and upon noticing that I had returned, she soon joined me in sitting on one of the many benched that line the rim overlooks. The view of the Canyon is, in itself, awesome but it is also quite interesting to watch the tourists, both foreign and domestic, as they would stop along the rail and try to ingest the panoramic vista as it unfolded in front of their eyes. Cameras of every variety were working overtime to get as many shots of the Canyon as possible. I would often wonder just how much money has the Grand Canyon put into the coffers of Eastman Kodak and the like?

Trains, Again

At 1515, it was time to return to the train station for the afternoon train back to Williams. We boarded the same car and settled into the same seat that we had on Friday morning. There were some differences on the return ride in that we had a different passenger service attendant and the mixed drinks were of a new variety. There was also a tray of assorted cheeses and crackers along with a veggie plate. As we neared Williams, the train stopped to pick-up the "villainess train robbers". They made their way through the train cars picking-up their booty (actually tips from the passengers) but in the end, they were "captured" by the heroic Marshall John B. Goodmore. A bit further down the tracks and it was time to break-out the free Champaign and toast the end of another successful trip of the Grand Canyon Railroad as it pulled into the Williams station.

After exiting the train, we gathered our bags from the rack on the platform and headed across the street to the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. As you might have expected, the lobby was crowded with arriving train passengers who had the same plans that we had. Our spacious room was on the second floor and in reality, was much nicer that at the El Tovar but it lacked the history and charm of the grand ole rim hotel. After changing clothes, we walked down the stairs and across the street to Max & Thelmas for our evening buffet meal that was part of the train package. The evening buffet had a separate salad bar with a wide assortment of offerings as did the entree table. Following our dinner, we strode back to the hotel and headed to our room. We were dog tired after a strenuous day of hiking and sightseeing and upon entering our room, we just pulled down the bed covers and got comfy to watch the boob tube.

On Sunday morning, we again walked over the Max & Thelmas for breakfast that was also included in the package. This time we selected the buffet which offered the usual assortment of entrees with Danish pastries and a variety of fresh fruits. After breakfast, it was back to the hotel to finish packing and to check out. I went down to the parking lot to reposition the car so that I would not have to carry our bags for such a long distance but the car was not there. Apparently George needed it for some other transient airport traffic. I called him on my cell phone and he said that he would be there in about 30 minutes. We moved our gear out to the curb in the cul-de-sac that is between the hotel and the train station and shortly, George pull-up in his personal car as all of the loaners were in use. At the airport, George stopped in front of our aircraft so that we could off-load our gear and then perform the pre-flight duties. We then walked over to the terminal building to make one last "pit stop" and to pay for the tie-down but George said that it was not necessary. We thanked George for all of his hospitality and assistance.

I departed on runway 35 as there was just a slight breeze out of the north and there fewer hills to dodge after take-off. Our ride home was only 50 minutes and smooth as glass and all to soon, our weekend was over.

Some observations about this event

I believe that the Grand Canyon Railroad did an outstanding job and the package deals just add to the overall experience. The first-class coach is truly enjoyable and you will not have to get breakfast before departing Williams. The bus tour and lunch was OK as we had not toured the south rim for many years but most likely would not repeat it because we have now seen the Canyon. You can take the free shuttle from the rim village to points further west than where the bus tour goes. The El Tovar is..........well, the El Tovar. It is a 100 year old hotel with all of the accompanying charm and history. The ambiance is worth the visit and the restaurant service and food was very enjoyable. The Grand Canyon the El Tovar, the Grand Canyon. No amount of words can fully describe the "Canyon Experience". The panoramic views can only be described as overwhelming to the human eye. George Barendse at the Williams Airport is an outstanding host and if you have any plans on visiting Williams or the local area, drop by and say hello, I am sure that he would happy to help you out. Would we repeat the experience again, you bet. I would like to see a little more of Williams or maybe experience another of the rim hotels. Who knows, there could by some more stories to share.

BTW, for those who have not figured-out the reason for the "64" prefix to all of the rooms at the El Tovar, I will now enlighten you. It seems that all of the buildings in the rim village had numbers assigned to them. The El Tovar is #64. Therefore, if your room number is 6425, that signifies that you are in building #64 and room 25. See how easy that was.

Click on the Grand Canyon/El Tovar link to view photos of this fly-in event.