Williams, Arizona--As gateway to the Grand Canyon it has retained the tradition as an early western frontier town"

By The Editor

Boarding Amtrak at Los Angeles Union Station was a revelation for this Writer. After enduring two hour security checks at airports and cramped three abreast seating on the plane all the space on my rail car, on two levels, was luxury indeed. Such space between each row of two seats, those huge picture windows and not one or two but several rest rooms, all separated in their own part of the car, with no need to pass pained, numb looking passengers stuck on the plane next to those busy places.

Then the freedom to move from car to car, what an observation car with luxurious swing around chairs? And then an actual dining car where one sits at a real table, on real chairs and can order from a well selected menu.

Admittedly this Writer has always been a train buff. We never miss a chance to ride a train: short excursions on the Napa Wine train or the Oakville dinner train, Colorado and New Mexico narrow gauge day trips but also routes in Alaska and the Yukon, and rail journeys in Germany, Great Britain and Switzerland.

Williams, Arizona is a town with its roots in the early days of western settlement and development. It is named for William Williams, a legendary mountain man who roamed the country as a trapper and trader. It is a classic example on how railroads changed the United States.

Its first rise to fame came when the Atlantic and Pacific railroad tracks reached Williams in 1882. With the railroad came development for timber, mining and ranching. And also important is the fact that Williams offers the logical starting point for the trip to experience the wonders of the Grand Canyon.

Recognizing a new market the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad opened a rail route to the South Rim of the Canyon. Then visitors came, four U. S. Presidents, almost every celebrity of the times and thousands and thousands of ordinary folk, all wanting to see the wonders of the Canyon.

In 1859 the Federal Government sent Army Lieutenant Edward F. Beale to select a route and build a wagon road to Southern California. The Lieutenant did such a good job in his route finding that when the railroad was finally built it followed the route of the wagon track. And early in the 20th century with the advent of the automobile the Southern California AAA placed signs on the wagon road naming it the Old Trails Highway. Which later became Route 66, famous in song and film for decades.

Route 66 faded into history when Interstate 40 was completed. In fact Williams was destined to be the last town to be bypassed by the new Interstate. This took place on October 13, 1984.

We found some interesting places to visit in Williams including the Grand Canyon Brewing Company. At the time of our visit the on premise brewery and restaurant had only been open a short time.

It is the project of three brothers, John, Josh and Jeremy Peasley, all in their early twenties. Besides some very tasty brews the decor and ambiance of the place is absolutely unique. Every piece of furniture from bar to stools to tables and chairs is made from natural Ponderosa pine. Using chain saws the brothers created all of this personally. For window frames and some of the paneling they found a 100 year old barn and used its seasoned and stressed woods for a most pleasing effect.

We tasted two of the brews made by Master Brewer Tom Neyrolieky--a raspberry wheat and a pale ale. Here even the tap handles are hand carved. Other brews made on the premises are Williams Wheat, Oatmeal stout and Amber Pale.

One of the most popular restaurants in Town is Pine Country Restaurant. When we ate there we discovered why. Here is downhome American fare prepared and served well. Just as satisfying was the most reasonable prices whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Also a part of the restaurant is the Pine Country Art Galley. Featured are paintings of the Grand Canyon and Arizona by renown artist Fred Lucas. His landscapes are famous worldwide and exhibited both at the White House and the Arizona Governor's office in the capitol.

At the restaurant if not of big appetite you might consider their home made pies considered by many as the best in the area. Address is 107 N. Grand Canyon Blvd., Williams 928 635-9718.

One of the first things you notice in Williams is how friendly the folk are. It is a rare thing to meet a local in Williams who is not ready with a smile and a greeting. If you are from Southern California this friendly acknowledgment takes some getting used too.

Like we said Williams is truly western American where men eat in restaurants with their hats on and a local store's sign reads "Booze, Bows and Bullets". Along Main Street, the original Route 66 route, many stores have brass plaques on the front stating the original date of the building and what it business was. Most of these date back to the first decade of the 20th century and are now listed officially as National Historic Places.

A good place to start is the Williams Visitor Center which also includes an information center for the Kaibab National Forest with Rangers present. They can provide maps and information on the many recreational activities offered in the Forest. Also at the Visitor Center is a museum offering a human history dating back 7,000 years to the earliest Native Americans. This part of Arizona, and indeed much of the southwest, had a complex variety of Native American cultures that changed many times over the centuries.

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Last Update:9/1/08

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