St. Paul Pioneer Press

Feb 17 2018

There are many ways to visit and experience the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. However let’s not dismiss how enlightening and exciting the road to the destination can be. I try and make my travels as much about the journey as I do about the destination.

On this trip, the random, unplanned pit stops combined with the car ride conversations with my 85-year-old father, Lee, were definitely memory makers. Seeing the look of sheer astonishment on my father’s face the moment he first saw the canyon may be the only thing to rival those moments.

Seeing the Grand Canyon has been on the top of my pop’s bucket list for as long as I can remember. I decided to put the wheels in motion and get the canyon checked off. Our trip consisted of four nights and five jam-packed days of exploring and sightseeing.

The journey began with a flight to Las Vegas, allowing us to spend a day exploring the city of lights in a rather nontraditional way by going to museums. If you are planning a trip to Vegas be sure to reserve a day for a few museums. I would suggest checking out the Mob Museum (, the new and improved location of the Neon Museum ( and the latest addition to downtown Las Vegas’ Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum (


It was time to begin our big adventure. I rented our car for a mere $15 per day at Las Vegas’ McCarran’s Airport to begin our road trip adventure. We were canyon bound with a planned side trip to visit the Hoover Dam.

The Hoover Dam visit is a nice break in what can be a rather long drive to the canyon. When visiting the dam, consider taking the guided tour to give you a terrific overview and a sense of the history and what went into building this massive structure that changed the water system for the people of the Southwest.

After an afternoon visit, it was time to get back on the road to Williams, Ariz., which is about 60 miles north of the Grand Canyon. After doing a bit of research, I decided to skip the stretch of the infamous Route 66. The reviews were not compelling enough to merit adding the additional time involved to explore this iconic historical highway. To get to the Grand Canyon, I decided to roll back the hands of time and go old school by jumping a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway ( to the south rim of the canyon.

Todd P. Walker and his father at the Grand Canyon. (Courtesy of Todd P. Walker)
Todd P. Walker and his father, Lee, at the Grand Canyon. (Courtesy of Todd P. Walker)

Once we arrived in the small town of Williams, it became clear that the tourism trade for the Grand Canyon Railway and the railway’s hotel are what make up Williams. We checked into the bustling hotel filled with people either returning or preparing to depart for the canyon via the railway.

After a relaxing night of sleep in one of their modest but comfortable rooms, we woke early to catch the rail-town’s historic re-enactment in a field alongside the hotel and the adjoining train-station/restaurant /gift shop. While sitting in bleacher seats, costumed cowboy’s entered the rotunda and told a comic story set with a backdrop of an old-time rail town.

The Grand Canyon Railway turned out to be a perfect way to “leave the driving to someone else.” The railway has four levels of service and accommodations for whatever suits your needs and pocketbook. Once you arrive at the canyon, guests can either choose to spend the night on the south rim at one of the various accommodations and return the following day or take in a bit of the canyon and some lunch and head back three hours later. The ride on the train is splendid and relaxing with costumed singing cowboys occasionally stopping by to share a tale or a familiar old-time tune. In our rail car the three-hour tour was capped off with a champagne toast and macaroons. The train ride concludes with a mock train robbery as a clever and welcome ruse to tip the entertainers.


The Grand Canyon was a moment of unexplainable beauty. John Muir was left at a loss for words by the canyon’s beauty, writing in 1902 that no artist could do justice to its colors: “And if paint is of no effect, what hope lies in pen-work? Only this: Some may be incited by it to go and see for themselves.” In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Grand Canyon as a national monument.

My trip to the canyon was filled with jaw dropping moments of beauty, but there was also a memorable learning moment as well. There are times when accepting the unexpected becomes a gift. Many of us have a bucket list that grows and changes as the years go by. But occasionally a bucket list surprise can occur when what was on one person’s list surprisingly hops off the page to become yours.

For years, my father has dropped hints in sometimes subtle and many times not-so-subtle ways that he has never seen the Grand Canyon. Here is where the plot twist occurs. When we finally made it to the south rim of the canyon, I was determined to get just the right photo of the two of us with the canyon over our shoulder — no shadows, no photo bombers and the sun in just the right position.

After many failed selfie attempts I finally enlisted the skills of a solo tourist taking in the beauty of the Grand Canyon. I asked him politely if he would mind taking a photo on my iPhone of my father and me. After five or six pictures with the iPhone I was certain with enough editing and filters I would have just the right photo for the cover of the picture book I hope to create for my father to memorialize our visit to the Grand Canyon.

I walked up to my new and soon-to-be-photographer friend and said, “Thank you, kind sir, for taking the photo. The Grand Canyon is on my dad’s bucket list and I want to be sure to capture the moment for him.” The mystery man passed me my iPhone and said, “Your dad’s bucket list? Perhaps taking your dad to the Grand Canyon should be on your bucket list.” Then he turned and walked away.

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