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There are many things that inspire me to greet the world with the excitement of a child. The majesty of nature, adventures to be had, exploring our rich history and expanding my understanding of it. Trains.

And that’s why this may be one of my favorite adventures yet, a winter visit to Arizona.

I flew into Phoenix, rented a car and stayed my first night at the Westgate Painted Mountain Resort in Mesa. I was only there that first night long enough for a few hours of sleep, so we’ll come back to the hotel later. Let’s talk first about the car.

I’m a frequent renter, and that occasionally leads to perks. The folks at the Budget rental counter were a blast and incredibly friendly. I liked them even more when I got to my car and discovered it was this:

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Fast and convertible. Perfect for exploring the area during the pleasantly warm Arizona winter. Thank you, ladies!

Before sun-up Saturday morning, I was on my way from Mesa to Williams. It’s about a three hour drive, and I needed to be there by 8:00 a.m. to check in and get my train tickets. Most people think a mustang is a horse. I say it’s a Pegasus, because this thing could fly. Despite that, I got to the train check-in a little behind schedule, but still had plenty of time.

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That was my first meeting with this lady – Joyce. She was a proverbial ray of sunshine: cheerful, helpful, and the kind of person a company wants representing them.  The next day, when I realized I lost my car keys, she was fast on the trail, recruiting other staff and doing everything she could to help me. (Turned out, they were lost in a forgotten pocket of my backpack. Whoops!  Anyway, back to the train…)

I rode the train from Williams to the Grand Canyon. It was a wonderful experience, so much so that I wrote a separate post just on that part of my trip.

Full disclosure: I was given complementary media passes for train tickets and a night at the hotel in Williams. However, I wasn’t paid for my posts, and all the thoughts within are my actual opinions and observations. For details on costs and how to book your own experience, visit TheTrain.com.

The train experience can be spendy, but if you have the room in your budget, I say go for it. It gets you out from behind the steering wheel and lets you become part of the journey. I love that.

Riding the train there and back the same day left a three-hour window for exploring the Grand Canyon. But, to me, three hours seemed to be perfect. I walked around, shot some pictures, visited the Bright Angel Lodge and a couple other buildings, then boarded the train back to Williams. Again, the train experience was amazing. Read the full story here.

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I had wanted to hike the top part of the Bright Angel Train, but did not have proper snow-trekking equipment. And I’m not nearly as tough as this lady seems to be.

 

I was exhausted by the time I arrived back in Williams, so I got some dinner at the hotel restaurant, then headed to bed. The room at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel was very comfortable, and I slept soundly in the bed. They get four stars on my Pillow Evaluation. I hate bad hotel pillows.

Insider tip: There’s no breakfast included at this hotel, so budget in money for that. There is a McDonald’s a block or so away, if that fits better in your plans.

I let Sunday morning be a little more lazy, and took my time getting out of bed. (There was also that whole lost keys issue…) I enjoyed having a looser schedule and time to take in the scenery as it passed. Arizona looks quite different when the sun is up and you’re going a little slower.

Williams is right on the historic Route 66. Added bonus for travel nerds like me.

If you’re driving between Williams and the Phoenix area, you’ll pass the Sunset Point Rest Area. STOP. Just stop and stretch your legs for a minute and take in the views. It’s warmer down here than at the Grand Canyon, and there’s no snow. The views are different, but just as beautiful. I was there around noon. I wonder what it’s like at sunset. This view is facing west, and I imagine it’s beautiful as the sun sinks behind the hills.

 

I enjoyed climbing around a little bit and getting some additional pictures for my Arizona collection.

 

Back in Mesa, I once again stayed at the Painted Mountain Resort. The room was small but comfortable and included a mini kitchen setup. Again, good pillows. The resort offered many amenities that I didn’t have the time or budget to enjoy during this trip, but would make other travelers happy. I enjoyed the resort quite a bit and would like to go back sometime to stay longer.

Months, maybe.

Years, perhaps.

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Insider tip: If you’re in Mesa, stop for breakfast at the Cosy Corner Cafe. It’s a nice local diner with good food and affordable prices.

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