Williams, AZ

A small town success.

As I mentioned in another blog entry, I can’t say enough good things about Williams, AZ, my summer “home town.”

Williams was once a thriving Route 66 community, offering motels, restaurants, and service stations to folks driving between the eastern and western states. Then I-40 came along. East/west traffic sped by and the businesses that catered to the slower, Route 66 traffic folded one after another. But rather than dry up and blow away, Williams cashed in on its location at the junction of I-40 and State Route 64, approximately 60 miles south of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. It reinvented itself as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon,” and managed to attract many Grand Canyon visitors.

Williams’ success is due primarily to its strong Chamber of Commerce, which has worked hard to make Williams a destination in itself. While it’s true that Williams doesn’t have anything that can compete with the majestic beauty of the Grand Canyon, it does have many things that the Grand Canyon doesn’t: affordable motel rooms and restaurants, shopping, and a couple of features you can’t find anywhere else: the Grand Canyon Railroad and nightly shootouts.

During the summer months, the Grand Canyon Railroad runs an authentic steam engine from Williams to Grand Canyon Village. If you’re a train buff, this is a train that you simply must see. You can walk around it at the Williams train depot each morning before 10 AM (when it departs for the Grand Canyon) or at the Grand Canyon train depot each afternoon from about noon until 4 PM (when it departs for Williams). The train ride takes just under 2 hours each way and I’ve been told that the train is often robbed by bandits on horseback. I’ve seen the train from the air many times — both at its arrival at the Grand Canyon when I flew for Papillon last summer and enroute between Williams and Howard Mesa on one of my many flights in the area this summer. (As a matter of fact, I saw it again just today.) The Grand Canyon Railroad runs year-round, but in the other three seasons of the year, they run a diesel engine. The ride is just as much fun.

Back in Williams, there’s trouble brewing every night. You can expect a shootout on the street, and fortunately, the local Chamber of Commerce seems to know exactly when and where each shootout will be. You can pick up a list of upcoming shootouts in many of the local businesses, so you can find a good spot for the action. Bring your camera! The town of Williams just doesn’t say it’s a “western town.” It proves it with tourist attractions that have a definite western flair.

Afternoons and evenings in Williams are fun for everyone. There are horse-drawn carriage rides up and down old Route 66. There are shops and restaurants. And you won’t find a “For Rent” or “Not a Retail Outlet” sign anywhere along the main drag.

If you’re looking for a strip mall or a big box store, you won’t find one. And fortunately, Williams keeps its fast food restaurants where they belong: on the I-40 exits. In town, there are locally owned and operated restaurants featuring Mexican, Italian, and American food.

If day-to-day activities in Williams aren’t enough, the town goes the next step by playing host to a number of events that help the local businesses thrive. For example, a few weekends ago, there was a big Harley Davidson rally in town. Every hotel room was booked, every restaurant was filled. A few streets and parking areas were blocked off with event vendors. The event was a big success. Oddly enough, I overheard an attendee talk about it on the last day of the event. She was telling a friend that next year, she’s coming to Williams a week before the event so she can enjoy the town without the crowds.

If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon area and find yourself in Williams, make a stop at the Chamber of Commerce office. It’s full of knowledgeable people who can tell you about all the events and activities. But it’s also a museum, with exhibits about the area — a good place to get acquainted with the town.

I think Wickenburg can learn a lot from Williams. Sadly, Wickenburg seems satisfied to be a pit stop on the road from Phoenix to Las Vegas — rather than a destination worth stopping and staying at.

11 thoughts on “Williams, AZ

  1. Maria, I was so excited to read about your thoughts on Williams. I of course, went through all the chamber stuff..and have to say that it wasn’t what I was looking for. I go to college and work at the Bullhead City Hospital on the surgical ped. floor and after my semester ends in may I just want a week of relaxing in the big mountains. I had debated..Williams..or maybe drive to Lander Wyoming..and so after reading your wonderful info I thought wow this is what I want I don’t want to race across the country to relax. I have camped in Williams a few times and always had just a couple of days, this will be a week of exploring the restful little town and shopping, eating out and camping in my pop up camper in the woods, thank you for making my mind up for me, ha. The chamber could use some of your writing tips to entice visitors like me who just want to do some down time. I rode the train last summer with one of my sisters and it was a wonderful trip, spent only one night in the hotel in Williams and we both kept saying..the canyon is nice but we wished we could have spent the week in Williams. Wow..you are an interesting person and when I ever have time I need to read more of your thoughts, most interesting especially enjoy reading your thoughts and not having to go through a bunch of nuts remarking on what they think you said that is wrong, ha. Anyway, I have to say I was impressed with your views on Williams, and will take it as an omen. Thanks for the messafe. Kat

  2. Maria,

    You could not be more right about Williams!

    My father and I purchased a 5 acre lot in Junipine Estates (north of Williams off of 64, WSW of Red Lake) in the early 80’s and since he was a teacher and I managed to get a lot of time off of work, we spent many summers in the area.

    Alas, we had the same trouble with some people putting up junk houses, and or storing junk and the only way we were able to make headway to solve the problem was to get the people with the nice places on the board. Once that was done, we hired a strong property managment company that would take the time to drive around, send out violation notices and make assessments when needed.

    Williams still has the small town feel and everyone make you feel at home. It has been that way for so long, I think it always will.

    One of the things I like the best is that you can go fishing at three different lakes in no time from the center of town.

    I don’t get to Williams as much as I did in the past (my father and I had to sell the Junipine place about five years due to his ill health), but I plan to fly up to Clark Memorial in the next couple of weeks to visit a friend of mine who was recently hired as the Cheif of Police.

    Love reading your stuff!!

    Later, Brad

  3. Our encounter with Williams, Az was quite by accident during the Christmas season 1997. We were on a trip to L.A. for a demonstration of a prototype to a manufacturer. We were forced to exit I-40 and search for any source offering gas. We entered through the first exit and wound around the outer perimeter of the town.

    While filling up, I heard the sound of Christmas Carols in the air. I walked toward the direction of the music and saw the unique and wonderful 1880’s style downtown area. We fell in love with the town then, and make it a point to stop, stay and enjoy Williams each time we travel to and from the L.A. area for business.

    We are now looking at purchasing a home there. We love going up into the ski area and viewing the elk, deer, and other wonderful wildlife.The scenery is out of a post card, with the snow capped mountains in the winter and cool evening breeze in the summer. It’s such a refreshing break on a long and tedious trip.

    Roy Ramirez-Owner

    Hard 2 Top Products, Inc.

  4. Hi Maria, I came across this story about Williams while looking up Junipine Estates, Willaims Az. I have a small home in Junipine estates which I dearly love, but alas, I still live near Pasadena Calif for the next few years.

    I love the area and the people and call it home although it is not yet–but, home is where the heart is. I go there as often as possible and am cruising the internet regularly for another parcel in or near Junipine Estates for my daughter and son-in-law (actually I just want my grandson to move out there when we do and his parents are part of the package).

    After living for so long in the city and longing so long for the country I am finally on my way!


  5. Well, it sure beats Wickenburg, which is where I usually spend my life.

    In all honesty, though, I can’t really say. We’re not nightlife people. I know there are a few bars in town and I don’t recall any of them being sleezy. But if you’re looking for a dance club, keep driving. Flagstaff probably has a lot more to offer.

  6. There are a few historic bars – The World Famous Sultana and Canyon Club, both are great places – pool tables, darts, shuffle board. There is also a new brewery called the Grand Canyon Brewery which is also great.

  7. Hi Maria,

    I hear that Junipine Estate’s Home Owners’ Association (just a couple miles down Espee Road, off Hwy 64 in Williams) folded.

    Apparently, the board didn’t enforce it’s ccnr’s, and the state revoked its license. Do you know if this is a vicious rumor, or is it true?



    • No idea, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Our POA is doing a pretty crappy job of overseeing the CC&Rs. Apparently, all you have to do is get on the board and you can break any rule you want. Best of all, your road will always be in great condition right up to your doorstep. The rest of us pay fees to watch our neighbors bring down out property values with ugly mobile homes, Quonset huts, shipping container storage “sheds,” and junkyards while the road condition deteriorates to the point where we can’t even reach our lots in the rain or snow. Do I sound bitter? What do you think?

What do you think?