You’ll feel as if you stepped back in time to the heyday of Route 66 when you pull into Williams, Ariz., just 60 miles south of Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim. Explore its vibrant historic downtown where you’ll hear the greatest hits of the 1950s and ’60s playing on seemingly each corner. You’ll discover a ton of Route 66 memorabilia and souvenir shops, as well as restaurants that bring to life the 1950s and 1960s.
Fuel up on lunch at Grand Canyon Coffee and Cafe. Or head to Cruiser’s Route 66 Cafe to see Route 66 memorabilia and eat classic American food. For great wood-fired pizza, dine at Station 66 Italian Bistro (www.thestation66.com), 144 W. Route 66, near the Grand Canyon Railway. It has indoor seating, an outdoor patio upstairs and serves Arizona wines, locally crafted beers and cocktails. For a fancy meal, head to Red Raven Restaurant downtown. Thirsty for a cool brew? Savor a Sunset Amber Ale at the new Grand Canyon Brewing Co. location, 301 N. 7th Street.
At night, stay at the renovated The Lodge at Route 66 (www.thelodgeonroute66.com), which was a longtime hotel along Route 66 but has been renovated with new furnishings, mattresses, linens and more. Then, leave your car behind as you head to the train depot to ride the Grand Canyon Railway for the final 65-mile stretch to the Grand Canyon.
Ride the Train to the Grand Canyon
You’ll learn vegetable oil literally fuels the railway’s Locomotive No. 4960, also known as the French Fry Express. Collected from restaurants in the Grand Canyon, Phoenix and Williams, Ariz., the recycled oil emits 50 percent less carbon emissions than diesel fuel. In addition, passengers who take the train to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim reduce vehicle pollution and traffic by an estimated 70,000 cars per year.
But riding the train is also just plain fun. Back in the day, President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir paid $3.95 to ride on the rails. Today, the Old West lives on with staged train robberies and cowboy sing-alongs.
Visit a Wildlife Park
When you return to historic Williams, take a walk on the wild side on the outskirts of town at Bearizona Wildlife Park in Williams, Ariz., on Route 66 just 60 miles south of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. It may be your one opportunity in your life to see a white buffalo.
“You can see animals up-close that you normally couldn’t,” says Diana Roggenbuck, who worked at Bearizona for years before retiring. “We rescue about 50 percent of our animals and give them homes when they no longer can live in the wild. It’s about education and fun.”
Afterwards, stroll Fort Bearizona Walking Area that includes a raptor program and barnyard petting zoo. In the Canyonlands Restaurant, you’ll find canyon walls, ancient-looking ruins and soaring wood-carved eagles.
“It’s an attraction on its own,” says Roggenbuck who adds there are great views of the jaguar enclosure from the restaurant.
The restaurant serves everything from burgers to salads and sandwiches and features two bars. The best part? Food is served quickly, giving you more time in the park.
“Every time you drive through, you’ll see something different, be it a bear on the road, in a tree or wolves howling,” says Roggenbuck who reminds passengers to stay in their cars with doors and windows closed.
For more information:
Williams Official Visitor Center, 200 W. Railroad Ave.