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    At first glance, one would wonder why go to the Grand Canyon in winter? First, like many Southwest tourist attractions, there are fewer crowds. By some standards, it may even be considered desolate.

    But, therein lies the beauty. As a photographer, I often make painstaking efforts to exclude tourists and travelers from my scenic photos. One trick is to get up early enough to beat them to the rim of the canyon. There is less urgency to do this in winter. 

    The railway is a fantastic way to get to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It offers packages that include dinner and lodging the night before, the railway ride, and lodging at the canyon.

    While this is a convenient and no-hassle way to book this trip, my experience would have me tell you to book each feature separately. This gives you more choices for lodging, and more flexibility in timing – choosing to match departure time with the regularly scheduled trains.

    The trip by rail is a mix of old world charm, modern convenience, and a bit of showmanship. Even the bartender plays a character as she comes around selling the specialty drinks.

    I boarded the Grand Canyon Railway Train in Williams, Arizona.

    I was plied with cocktails, robbed by cowboys, saved by the sheriff, and sung to by a crooning dandy.  The interactions were comical and very entertaining. It made the 65-mile trip and the 2 hours and 15 minutes each way ride go by like nothing.

    A well-dressed crooner belts out some classic cowboy songs

    To capture the action on the train, I used available light (high ISO, shutter priority, and wide-open lens). This allowed me to get clear photos without blur due to motion.  I also used the flash, but in bounce mode, to eliminate hard shadows.  While using flash in the interior of the train, you will have watch out for reflections ruining the image.

    Between the skits, I had time to both enjoy the passing scenery and take photos of it. First, through the windows, same settings as available light, but I held the lens right up to the glass to make sure I didn’t get reflections from the inside lights.

    There is a common theme here – watch out for reflections when inside the train. I was inside the dome car which gave a greater view, but more reflective surfaces.

    Arriving at the canyon, I took the obligatory shuttle bus tour. I stopped at various lookout points and joined the other tourists taking photos.

    Visitors take pictures from the lookout point

    The light was non-existent. Gloomy clouds hung overhead, a light drizzle pricked my face, and a thick layer of fog all but obscured the canyon.

    The train takes you into a magical vista

    My photos were limited to cliff faces that I could frame on the near side. I couldn’t see across or into the chasm.  My thoughts turned to black and white as I struggled to make gnarly trees into graceful silhouettes against the gray overcast.

    A weather-worn tree on the canyon’s rim makes for a poetic photo

    I took an early morning walk consisting of gaining access to the rim trail starting at Bright Angel trailhead and meandering some four miles, as I tried desperately to find the right light (despite my dawn departure).

    Even in winter the canyon presents breathtaking vistas

    The canyon, of course, doesn’t change, but the seasons provide a different adornment of trees, grasses, and, now, snow and ice.

    The trail was little slippery in spots as I struggled to gain my footing for the perfect angle.

    On the day I was leaving, the sun made an appearance for just ten minutes. I ran up from the train station to the rim’s edge and made this image:

    A chance opening in the clouds makes for a last-minute luminous photo

    Always keep shooting.

     

    If you go:

    A farewell view as the Grand Canyon Railway heads back to Williams, AZ

     

    Rates (2017)

    Packages:  https://www.thetrain.com/offers-packages/

    or

    THE PULLMAN CAR - ADULTS: $65.00 | CHILDREN $29.00

    COACH CLASS - ADULTS: $79.00 | CHILDREN: $49.00

    FIRST CLASS - ADULTS: $152.00 | CHILDREN: $118.00

    OBSERVATION DOME - ADULTS: $181.00 | CHILDREN $149.00

    LUXURY DOME CLASS - ADULTS: $219.00

    LUXURY PARLOR CLASS - ADULTS: $219.00

    DAILY SCHEDULE FOR THE TRAIN

    DEPARTS WILLIAMS  9:30 a.m.
    ARRIVES GRAND CANYON 11:45 a.m.
    DEPARTS GRAND CANYON 3:30 p.m.
    ARRIVES WILLIAMS 5:45 p.m.

    During peak demand periods a second train departure will be added with the following schedule:

    DEPARTS WILLIAMS  10:30 a.m.
    ARRIVES GRAND CANYON 12:45 p.m.
    DEPARTS GRAND CANYON 4:30 p.m.
    ARRIVES WILLIAMS 6:45 p.m.

    The option for the second train will show up in the online booking process when it’s available.

     

     

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    Public Disclosure-- Please Read
    I recently learned of a FTC law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are "sponsored" or compensated.  American Roads and Global Highways' feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. Most of the articles here are results of these trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit and bring you a great story. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.  

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