So you think you’d like to stay in Williams, Arizona for a night or two, do you? Well then, perhaps you’d also like to know something about the town. Williams started out as a lovely wildflower-covered meadow surrounded by volcanic mountains and ponderosa pine-covered hills. The lush growth attracted sheepherders and cattlemen as well as settlers pushing on to a new frontier just ahead of a railroad.
By 1882, when the rail line was completed, 250 people called this area their home. A post office had been established a year earlier. A name for the town was given in honor of mountain man, William Sherley Williams. “Old Bill” as he was known had been a well-known trapper and guide in the early 1800’s.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Williams was considered a rough and rowdy frontier town with the trappings to entice the cowboys, loggers, Chinese laborers and railroad workers. These saloons, opium dens, brothels and gambling houses were soon restricted by ordinance to a section of town known as “Saloon Row” on Railroad Avenue.
The fire of 1901 destroyed 36 business buildings, 2 homes and 10 hotels in less than an hour. Since they didn’t want a repeat performance, the town was incorporated within a week in order to form a fire district.
In the early days of tourism a trip to the Grand Canyon was taken the hard way – either in a wagon or a stagecoach over bone-jarring roads. Then in 1901 the Grand Canyon spur was added to the railway. This spur was used until 1968 when visitor preference for their personal automobiles forced the railway out of business. As you may know, however, the train is back in action as an alternative way to get from Williams to the Grand Canyon.
If you are staying in Williams, whether or not you are riding the Grand Canyon Railway you might want to stop by the Grandstand next to the depot for the 9:00AM performance of the Wild West Shootout. This free event occurs every morning that the train is operating. After it is over you may want to stand by the tracks (at a safe distance, of course) and wave to the passengers as they embark on their historic journey to the Grand Canyon.
Another fun thing to do in Williams is to explore the shops and museums on old Route 66. This portion of “The Mother Road” was completed in 1926 and then by-passed when interstate 40 construction was complete in 1984. The entire downtown business district was placed on the National Register of Historic places at that time.
Williams is also known as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon.” The Williams Inner Grand Canyon Jeep Tour departs from here at 9:00AM. This tour gives an entire day of fun along another section of Route 66, at the Grand Canyon Caverns and on the only road that goes down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The Diamond Creek Road is an unpaved road that goes right to the Colorado River. That is why the jeep tour makes perfect sense. You can ride in comfort and let your guide deal with the road. Old West Jeeps also operates three other tours from Williams: The Ultimate Grand Canyon Tour, The Colorado River River Smooth Water Rafting Tour and The One-day White Water Rafting Tour.
Besides being a gateway to the Grand Canyon, Williams offers a variety of activities for people who want to experience the great outdoors. There are lakes for fishing, trails for hiking and even places where you can go skiing – both downhill and cross country. The Deer Farm is a great place to go if you have children or grandchildren in tow. They will have a great time interacting with the many exotic animals there. Coming in early summer 2010 a drive-through safari area known as Bearizona will be opening.
Shared by both the Chamber of Commerce and the Kaibab National Forest Service, a historic railway depot doubles as a visitor center. You can get your “America the Beautiful” National Park Pass here as well as maps, books, Grand Canyon and Kaibab Forest information.
If you are looking for lodging you will find a variety of familiar name chain hotels as well as some “Mom and Pop” motels and Bed & Breakfasts. When hungry you will also be able to find a wide variety of eateries from steakhouses to Route 66 diners and everything in between.
Come to Williams for its proximity to the Grand Canyon. Stay here for the tours, entertainment, food, affordable lodging and the small town atomosphere. There is always something to see or do in or near Williams, Arizona.