Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write a Travelogue (11/06/14)
TITLE: Riding The Beast To The Canyon
By Leola Ogle
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I felt as giddy as a child. We had left the Valley of the Sun for a day’s festivities. The trip to northern Arizona was pleasant, the miles leaving behind cactus and dust for pines, green trees, and patches of snow in the Kaibab National Forest. My husband welcomed the change. He hates the desert. To him, the terrain looks like a malevolent force sucked out all color and regurgitated dull browns and muted greens. He thinks it’s ugly. I think it’s breathtaking. I see beauty in the God-created vegetation and creatures that can endure the extreme dry heat and harsh elements.
We boarded the Grand Canyon Railway to embark on a sixty-five mile journey to the Grand Canyon, riding the metal behemoth – one of the few remaining operating locomotives in the country. I had never been on a train in my life. The atmosphere was reminiscent of every train scene portrayed in a western movie. Williams, location of the train depot, like many towns in Arizona, reenact scenes from yesteryears’ of cowboys and pioneers.
Once passengers were settled in their seats, the train emitted a screeching whistle and we were off. The railway crew, dressed like Wild West characters, regaled us with folklore and Old West tales. Singing cowboys roamed the aisles, strumming guitars and taking song requests.
Pioneers, cowboys and their women have always fascinated me. I closed my eyes and imagined it was real – this train ride and cowboys. It wasn’t hard because it seemed so realistic. The clickity-clack of metal wheels on metal tracks blended with the cowboys’ serenades.
The train began slowing, and metal on metal grinded to a halt. Bandits with bandana-covered faces boarded the train, guns drawn, demanding money. Up the aisle a small child whimpered. An older child demanded to know, “Are those guns real?”
The friendly bandits assured us that everything was fine while barking, “Give us your money.” People good-naturedly threw coin and currency into their bags. “Weren’t you just in here singing?” I asked them as I handed over a few dollars. They grinned.
We finally arrived at our destination. Some train passengers opted to walk around, visit shops, and view the Grand Canyon on their own. We chose to take a bus tour.
Our first stop was at an observation point. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen the Grand Canyon, but its magnificent beauty always caused awe to swell in my chest. It’s as if God took his mighty hand and scooped out a gigantic recess in the earth’s structure while allowing a paint brush to drip with color. The canyon walls appeared to be layers stacked upon layers. I couldn’t fathom how many eons it took for the Colorado River to carve this magnificent masterpiece.
At our next observation point we saw what appeared to be tiny ants, but in actuality were people, hiking down a path taking them to the floor of the canyon. From that distance, the Colorado River looked like a thin ribbon weaving a trail along the bottom.
Cameras snapped and whirred amidst our guide’s detailed descriptions. Tourists handed cameras to other tourists to take a picture of them standing with the canyon’s splendor in the background. People – villages of people, Native Americans and others – live at the bottom, our guide told us. A hearty, passionate people was my first thought.
“People die here every year,” our guide said, and elaborated on how they die – falling to their deaths, weather exposure, and other accidents. I knew this but still, I shuddered.
Our guide spoke of spectacular erosion, remarkable assemblage of intact rocks in geological sequence, of the various species of plants and animals native to the region. He told us of the vast number of people who hiked and backpacked the various trails every year.
Despite our guide’s enthusiasm, most of us found it hard to drag our eyes away from hypnotic wonder of the Grand Canyon to digest these facts.
After lunch at Bright Angel Restaurant, a tired but happy group boarded the train for the return trip.
** After the movie Polar Express came out, the Grand Canyon Railway offers a Polar Express train ride during the Christmas season where kids can wear their pajamas and scenes from the movie are reenacted.
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