My apologies for this topic being only marginally related to Amtrak, but it seemed there are enough travelers on this forum that might like to hear something more about the northern Arizona area.
My wife and I just returned from a week in Flagstaff. The trip was to bring her 89 year old father up from Scottsdale for a change of scenery (and escape the 100+ temp in the Valley of the Sun -Flagstaff has 7000' elevation).
Because of his limited mobility, we slowed down quite a bit from our normal travel pace and saw many things that we would have otherwise probably overlooked.
Flagstaff would make a great destination on the Southwest Chief and no car is necessary once you get there. Here is a quick recap:
Transportation-If you want a car, Hertz has a counter in the station. It is staffed during daylight hours and they come back to meet No. 3/4 (the agent rolled her eyes about that aspect of the job). Other major rental companies have a drop box in the station so they must have a pick up service. I saw the Avis office a couple blocks away.
If you'd rather not drive there are some good options. This outfit - http://www.openroadtours.com/ has frequent shuttles to Phoenix airport (2.5 hours), Williams (30 min., to catch the GC RR train), and the Grand Canyon (90Min.). They also offer tours to the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Monument Valley. Seemed like they were on the ball and the station was their operations base in Flagstaff.
If you take the train one way, flying back from Phoenix is a good option. Fares are cheap there thanks to Air Tran, Southwest making the big boys behave. We had a $89 flight on Continental to Charlotte.
Hotel- Although we were in a condo, the best hotel we saw in the downtown area was a new Drury Inn (on the edge of the University's campus). Staying at that chain on a trip last summer we moved them ahead of the moderately priced Marriott's (Fairfield /courtyard in quality. It was about a half mile away, but at night you'd want to take a taxi. A cheap but not so nice looking Rodeway Inn was a block away. No end of hotels several miles away on I-40.
Speaking of taxis, they are plentiful at train time. I counted six from two cab companies waiting on No. 3. I believe the names were All Star and Sun.
Things to do- Open Road offers day trips to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. We took the car on our day trips to these spots and enjoyed it immensely. We plan a return when we can take advantage of staying at GC for sunsets, mule rides etc. Our last visit had been just after high school!
In Flagstaff the Museum of Northern Arizona was great (lots of Native American artifacts). We want to return to the Lowell Observatory on a clear night to use their telescope for a view of the stars. Fascinating spot.
Restaurants: As you might expect with the nearby Northern Arizona University (20K students) in walking distance of town, there are many good restaurants. We liked the Beaver St. Brewery and Kachina both a short walk from the station. Downtown has come back from the dead and is quite active with usual tourist stuff, coffee shops, art galleries etc. The Hotel Monte Vista (1926) has a popular coffee shop and if you're adventuresome, it might be an interesting place to stay.
Grand Canyon Railroad- we did not ride it, but should be a fun ride. Since the NPS concessionaire for the Grand Canyon (and Yellowstone), Xanterra, now operates the railroad, things have changed. The train is now all stainless steel, climate controlled with usually a F40 for power (with HEP car behind). Not nearly as much fun as the steam powered pullman green heavyweight cars that used to run. They still run the open platform observation on the rear, but at $190, I'd have to think about that. But, probably a good business decision and certainly fine for the average tourist. Williams is not much of a town but the hotel would make for an easy morning start for the train ride. The railroad has a nice station in GC and it is a very short walk to the 3 hotels on the rim - Bright Angel Lodge, Thunderbird, and El Tovar.
Amtrak - Those who say Amtrak LD trains have no real transportation purpose have not seen the Chief stop in Flagstaff. I counted about 25 boarding on a mid week night before the real season starts in the high country of the Colorado Plateau. Quite a few students, a few leisure travelers heading for the sleepers, and mostly locals. One rancher I talked with was picking up his wife who had been to KC on a visit. In this scenic spot, many were the healthy looking backpack toting energetic traveler type.
The train had the usual consist: baggage, transition sleeper, 2 sleepers, diner, lounge, 3 coaches. Flagstaff station is a great train watching spot. The station, located right in the middle of town, is also a very nice visitor center for the area. Quite a few benches are on the large platform. BNSF freight trains are non stop on the double track mainline, some with helpers as they ascend the step grade west of town heading for the Arizona divide a few miles away.
My ideal trip without a car would be the SWC to Winslow. Spend the night at the delightful La Posada there, dinner at their fabulous restaurant the next evening then hop on the train for the short trip to Flagstaff. Spend several days in Flagstaff seeing the sights then on to LA. If Amtrak changes the Sunset/Eagle schedule to a daylight trip into Phoenix/Maricopa, a shuttle to Phoenix and then a return on the Sunset would be a nice option.
Posts: 2317 | From: Camden, SC | Registered: Mar 2006
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