Verde Canyon Railroad
By Anita Lum
With the Tunnel Fire causing road closures to the north and the Crooks Fire raging to our south, we felt extremely lucky to see clear skies as we made our way to Clarkdale. The weather was perfect: sunny, in the 70s with a light breeze.
Our reservation was for the 1:00pm train that Saturday. The drive to Clarkdale was approximately one hour from our home; unfortunately, we left a little late. When we arrived, the train was almost fully boarded. (We neglected to see that little note encouraging visitors to arrive one hour prior to the train’s departure). So, we did miss enjoying the museum and refreshments available at the café & beverage bar on the patio but we were there to experience the beautiful vistas from the train so we weren’t overly concerned about missing anything at the depot. We’ll check all that out next time.
All seating is pre-assigned and quite comfortable. On one side of the aisle there is seating for four with a table in-between and on the other side, it is a table for two. The large, panoramic windows provide a good view for all. Also, adjacent to every passenger car, there is a partially shaded, open-air car where you can take in even more of the beautiful surroundings. Each passenger car is equipped with a bathroom and a full-service bar as well. One is permitted to walk outside with beverages (including alcoholic ones) but there is limited sitting in the open-air car. That seating is along the center and much of the view can be blocked by folks standing along the side rails – which is the place for the best views.
Shortly after the train pulled out of the station, we were served a champagne toast and small charcuterie plate. There were three railroad employees onboard our car. Two of them were engaged in serving food and drinks and the other gal was providing commentary about the history of the railroad and the surroundings as well as the animal and plant life in the area. Our only complaint was that it was extremely difficult to hear the narration due to the music. Even when riding in the outdoor car, the ambient noise – the train’s chugging and squealing - drowned out the young lady’s voice much of the time. The train ride would be much more enjoyable if there was an improved sound system – we heard many folks saying the same thing. Still, our guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out so many interesting things including ancient sycamore trees, bald eagle nests, native American cliff dwellings.
Most of the route we travelled is otherwise inaccessible so it is a real treat to be able to witness the magnificent scenery along the Verde River Canyon. At the mid-way point, the engine is relocated to the other side of the train for the ride back.
The vintage engines were originally built for the Alaska Railroad in the early 1950s and put into use at Verde Canyon in 1977. The original tracks were used for mining and cattle ranching but today, used for sightseeing. Our little escape was a four-hour, 20-mile long trip that was both enjoyable and relaxing. We highly recommend taking the time to experience, explore and enjoy the Verde Canyon Railroad!