Verde Canyon Railroad – It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

Clarkdale, Arizona.

Regular readers of this journal have seen that when I have an opportunity, I “ride the rails”. Though steam is my preference, I have no objection to a diesel-electric tractor. It was only a matter of time before I found myself headed to the Verde Valley to ride a popular scenic route through some of Arizona’s canyon country.

Passengers can choose an open-air car with plenty of fresh air and wide open vistas, or an enclosed, climate controlled car with either first class or coach service options. A small group of six or fewer adults can even book the caboose with a personal valet, champagne, and appetizers. If you would like a view from the front, one person can purchase a locomotive “Ride-Along” in the cab of the FP7 locomotive. The open-air cars are shaded from the hot Arizona sun and people in the coach cars can step onto the open-air car any time they wish to get some fresh air or take photos unencumbered by glass windows.

The restored coach cars have plenty of comfortable seating options along with an appetizer table that is open and drinks that can be purchased. There are options for special trains during the holidays but their usual journey is 20 miles (32 km) into the Verde Canyon area where scenic views are plentiful. Once we entered the canyon, I transited to the open-air car behind us to get the photos that I will share with you in the gallery of images that accompanies this post.

Our car, located near the caboose end of the train, provided me the opportunity to catch several views of the locomotives as we rounded some of the many curves as the rails snaked through the canyon. In the shot above, the train is approaching a trestle over the Verde River. The tour through the valley is narrated and the average speed through the canyon is a leisurely 10 miles (16 km) per hour. We happened to sit on the right (facing forward) in our coach car which proved to be advantageous as the tracks generally stayed on the left side of the river. Views on the left tended to be closer to the cliff side of the canyon. The train travels 20 miles (32 km) to the ghost town of Perkinsville where the engines disconnect and travel to the rear of the train. The cars are then pulled backwards for the ride back to Clarkdale. For those who want a flexible view, the open-air car is best as most people on our trip stood and moved from side to side as the views change. All the while I spent outside, there were very few people sitting. Of course, your mileage may vary.

At the terminal, while you are waiting for the train, you can visit a small museum about the railroad housed in a rail car or you can read the placards placed along the track that features descriptions of the wildlife and other aspects of the Verde Canyon environment. Or, like me, you can simply walk along beside the train as they prepare to load passengers so that you can get a closer view of those two 1500 horsepower locomotives.

Be sure to plan your trip in advance. They don’t run every day and the schedule varies and I’m told they can sell out in certain categories in advance of the trip. You can check out their schedules, fares, and options on their website here.

The red rock canyons are breathtaking and generally unspoiled by human development. I gathered enough images from the trip that I had my own calendar created so that I would have a year of memories of the trip through this beautiful Arizona landscape. I submit for your review, a gallery of images that I captured on the afternoon train trip through Verde Canyon. In most browsers, you can click on an image to enlarge it and scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner




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