Friday Fiction - Steam Train to the Grand Canyon

For Friday Fiction, I am again showing
an excerpt from my NaNo memoir.

(Please remember that this tends to be wordy
and unedited.... the downside of NaNo.)

The Grand Canyon
Even though it cost a bit for gas and food and sleeping places, and we bought some souvenirs at various places on our trip, we still hadn’t spent a lot – not like if we had gone to Disney World or something like that. We decided to splurge and take the steam train to the Grand Canyon. It would cost quite a bit: $70 for Randy and me, Grace, Caleb, and Benjamin. The others would cost $40, even Abel, because he was over 2 years old. Oh well, we hope the train ride is worth it.

We were told that the train leaves at 10 o’clock at the station, so we made sure we were early. I made sure everyone had a hat, Benjamin carried the lunch sack, I had the video camera bag, and Randy had his own camera. As we parked the van, we could hear music playing. As we walked to the station, the music got louder. We could see that it was a group of brightly dressed Mexicans playing trumpets and guitars – a mariachi band! They were pretty good! They even had a couple little kids with them.

There was a temporary fenced pen with a long horned cow in it. Both male and female have horns, and I didn’t really check to see which it was. Some cowboys were putting on an act and pretending to get into a gun fight. The blanks are pretty loud. Abel asked, “Did he really shoot that guy?” It’s pretty realistic, if you didn’t know it was an act. Soon the “dead” cowboys, JJ and Two Feathers, jumped up and walked around the circle of people, shaking hands and reassuring the kids that they were fine.

Randy leaned over. “That one cowboy, Two Feathers, is the one that lassoed the stray horse at the campground.”

Then the little Mexican boys from the mariachi band joined the cowboys in a cheering contest. They divided the crowd into two groups and taught us how to yell cowboy style, “Yee Haw!” At first everyone was hesitant and sounded weak. “Y’all must be from New York City. You can do better than that!” It was all good fun, and soon they herded us onto the hissing steam engine train.

It was exciting! We stepped up into the passenger car, and made our way to a section of empty seats. You could flip the backs of seats so that they were facing each other, if you wished. There were enough seats so that the kids could sit two in each one, without having to crowd together. They enjoyed the fact that they didn’t have to buckle up. It felt freeing and even a bit dangerous. The whistle blew and the conductor yelled, “All aboard!” Clouds of steam billowed around us, and we were off! Anna bounced on the edge of her seat. Stephen could hardly sit in his seat at all. The ones closest to the windows made smudges with their noses. The sun was shining. It was going to be a great day!

The ride itself was two and a half hours. We wound through ponderosa pines and various other shrubbery that I couldn’t identify. There were wild flowers growing in meadows and along the tracks. As we rounded a long curve, we could see the engine a ways ahead of us, chugging away, with white smoke puffing into the blue sky. I could almost imagine myself back a hundred years, crossing the prairie to a western town by locomotive.

A cowboy and cowgirl made their way down the aisle with a cart of cold Coca colas in glass bottles. That was quite a treat for my kids. Right behind the coke cart came two more cowboys playing a fiddle and banjo. Benjamin and Stephen played the “jugs” with their straws in the coke bottles. Everyone else was clapping and tapping their feet. One little girl was dancing in the aisle. It was good music, and a nice way to pass the time.

Before long, we were puffing into the station at the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. You couldn’t see the canyon from the train. We could feel a difference in the air as soon as we stepped out of the train. The air was definitely cooler. We were also told that we were 7,000 miles above sea level and warned to take this into consideration as we hiked around.

We walked through the big station, which also had a restaurant, a book store, and gift shop. There was also a motel for those who planned to stay a few days, and also little cabins for those who worked there. We could have taken a guided tour, but decided to explore on our own until the train returned to take us back. We had three full hours. We didn’t plan to hike far with eight kids, one being only three years old.

I had been to the Grand Canyon before, but I don’t remember it. I was only two years old. My father was a ranger, and my mother was a nurse, and we lived right here for a whole summer. I remember the pictures. My parents hiked to the floor of the canyon and camped overnight. My mother also tamed a blue jay to take seeds from her hand. I’ve seen many, many pictures of the Grand Canyon, but they are nothing like seeing it in person.

As we approached the edge of the canyon, we all just stood there gazing across the eighteen miles to the other side. As we got closer, we could look down about a mile to the floor of the deep gorge. Tiny white lines zig –zagged and seemed to just drop off into the unknown bottom. If you looked carefully, you could see tiny black dots moving along the white paths. They were people walking or riding donkeys to the bottom of the canyon. All of a sudden, I realized that Abel, wanting to see better, was standing on the two foot wall before us – the only barrier between us and the edge of the cliff! I pulled him down and made the rule that he had to be holding someone’s hand at all times.

We strolled along the walk way, mesmerized by the wonder of the colors and rock formations. As cloud floated overhead, the shadows slid up and down the sides of the rocks, changing the colors from yellows and reds to blues and purples. One shadow even looked like a giant Aladdin’s lamp. Closer to us, we could see the layers of rock.

There was a mixture of cultures among the visitors. As we passed each other, we could hear French and Japanese and Spanish and other languages I couldn’t identify. One woman was eating potato chips and sharing them with a couple squirrels on the wall. The squirrels would take the chips right out of her hand.

We walked north first. We saw a wild mountain goat grazing on some shrubs a few hundred feet below us. If hadn’t moved, we probably wouldn’t have seen him. Micah asked, “How did it get down there?”

We found a shaded spot beneath some trees and beside a big boulder to have our lunch. A breeze fluttered the leaves and a humming bird flitted between blossoms. It was very quiet and relaxing. It felt like time had stood still. The others must have felt the same way because Stephen asked, “What day is this?” At that point, it seemed like we could have gone back in time and things around us would have appeared the same.

As we were sitting there, Caleb noticed the texture of the boulder next to us. “Look! There are fossils in this rock!” There were definitely the shapes of seashells in the rock. My kids has seen fossil rocks along the beaches in Maine, but I had to remind them that this was higher than Katahdin Mountain. It put the whole place into a different perspective.

At one point the rock edge jutted out over the edge (now they have a glass floored deck). Here, you could look at maps and read information about the canyon. It made me nervous to have the little kids in that area. There were only metal tube fences around the edge that looked too much like playground equipment. They were not very impressed with the big whole in the ground after the first few minutes anyway and were getting bored. They went and waited for the rest on some rocks that looked like big blocks. To pass the time, Anna sang songs with Micah and Abel to keep them amused.

“Way up high in the apple tree,
Five little apples smiling at me.
I shook that tree as hard as I could.
Down came an apple - Mmmm, was it good!”

We hiked back the visitor center, at Mather Point, where there were bathrooms and more displays of photos and information. From there we hiked a mile toward the east to Yavapai Point, an observation station and geology museum. You could see the Colorado River better from that angle. The canyon looks different from different spots. I would have like to have seen it in the evening. In the heat of the mid – day, the sun bleached out the colors and shadows.

Of course, the idea that the canyon was made by the wear of the Colorado River and changes of climate over millions years was pervading everything we read or saw. I was glad that the older children knew better, but we had to counter teach the younger ones, reminding them of the story of Noah and the Great Flood. The geologists say that a sea once covered this area, thus the reason for sea shell fossils. We say that “Yes, a sea covered it – the whole earth was covered by the sea!”

It was nearing three o’clock, and we were ready for a rest. The train was due in a few minutes. As we chugged along the tracks, Abel stretched out on one seat and took a nap. The others yawned and leaned back in their seats.

All of a sudden, two bandits rode their horses along side the train and demanded it to stop. The coach door opened and the men with kerchiefs over their noses and mouths, and guns cocked, walked down the aisles asking if anyone had some gold for them. I started filming them. One pointed his gun at me. “What are you shooting at, Buddy?” They moved on to the next car.

The train started up again, and we thought the show was over. Then, not five minutes later, a sheriff comes in our car asking if we’ve seen some bandits. “Which way did they go?” Everyone points toward the back of the car and the sheriff disappears. Soon they all come back, like a final curtain call, all smiles and laughs and shaking hands with everyone. Stephen turns to me, “That’s JJ and Two Feathers!”

Before long, we were pulling into the train station in Williams – with bell clanging and brakes hissing and steam puffing around us. We walked right by the big black engine on our way back to the van. We saw the tinder box glowing hot with the fire that boils the water that makes the steam that pushes the pistons that move the huge wheels that make the train roll on the tracks. It was a great science lesson for the kids… and me. I never really knew how steam engines worked.

Tired and hot, we were ready for a swim back at the campground. So after a quick supper, we changed our clothes and headed for the pool. While I enjoyed one more good soak in the hot tub, the others splashed and dived in the pool. The kids thought they recognized some of the men in the pool with them. Wasn’t that JJ and Two Feathers relaxing in the swimming hole, too?

(For some interesting information about
the Grand Canyon and the Great Flood,
click HERE .)

Drive over to Sharyln's Blog Dancin' on Rainbows
to find more great stories.


Debra Ann Elliott said...


Anonymous said...

I'll have to go back on a sunny day. so glad you
and the kids got to see it!

Sharlyn Guthrie said...

Good for you for doing NaNo! I smiled when I came to the apple poem -one I do each year with my preschoolers. :)


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