Verde Canyon Railroad

After 2 early mornings to get to the Grand Canyon we took it easy this morning and got a late start. We thought we could go to the Blazin’ M Ranch before we took the Verde Canyon Railroad so we would have time to visit their Old West display but when we arrived at the ranch there was a sign that it didn’t open until 4pm. No problem, we took a leisurely ride over to the Verde Canyon Railroad depot to collect our train tickets and visit the gift shop.

We arrived around 11:30 and were surprised to see other passengers arriving too. We thought we were early. The desert smelled like rain and the weather report was for “showers”. We were keeping a close eye on the sky. The wind that had plagued us all week was still with us and still had a cold edge to it.

When I made the reservations the operator said they had a special for people doing the combo with the Blazin’ M dinner show. The special upgraded us to First Class. I jumped at that even though I expected that we would spend a good part of the trip on the open air viewing car. Now with weather threatening I was glad I made that decision.

We had time to spare so decided to have lunch before we got on the train. Neither of us realized that the First Class upgrade included lunch! Anyway, while we were eating it started to rain so we finished off our lunch quickly and headed to the little museum on the property along with about 30 of our closest friends. If they weren’t friends when we went in they certainly must have been when we got out. It was crowded with everyone looking for someplace dry to wait out the storm.

The museum was small but interesting with artifacts, photos and history of the Verde Canyon railroad spread out in front of us in cabinets and in displays. It only takes a short time to go through the museum depending on how long it takes you to read the captions.

Since the rain wasn’t showing any sign of letting up the railroad was considerate enough of their customers to start boarding us early. It meant a longer wait in the cars before we pulled out of the station but at least we were dry. Once again we heard how unusual the weather was for May, normally a dry month for this area.

It wasn’t too long before we heard the “All Aboard” and we began to slowly roll out of the station.

We passed the huge black slag mountain left over from the days of copper mining and heard the story of the former boom town of Jerome that became a ghost town and is now a thriving artist colony. Many buildings in the town have been rescued and restored to maintain its historic appearance. Even now, on my 2nd trip to the area, I still haven’t visited the town. They say 3’s the charm so maybe on my next trip!

The Verde Canyon Railroad trip is a 4 hour rail journey celebrating the glory days of the Iron Horse.  Travel is in vintage cars that have been painstakingly restored to invite today’s traveler to “step back in time”.

 There are 3  types of cars: Pullman  Standard, Budd Stainless Steel  and a refurbished  AC&F caboose. The AC&F identifies the builder of the caboose. It’s like saying a Pullman Car.

When you ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad you are really getting 2 seats for the price of one. Each seat purchased gives access to a 2nd seat in one of the open air viewing cars. In nice weather more people are outside than in so they can enjoy the beautiful canyon and watch for wildlife. Prefer indoor seating, don’t worry about the view; all of the enclosed cars have panoramic windows.

Everyone watches for wildlife starting with the engineer all the way back to the last attendant on the last car plus all the passengers! When something is spotted word flys through the cars as each attendant is connected by ear piece to the next. On this trip we were lucky enough to get good views of not one but 2 bald eagles. One was perched on a craggy bluff, the other in a tree right next to the track! Unfortunately the only picture I was able to get was of their empty nest. I’ve seen the Bald Eagles on both of my trips and failed to get a photo either time. Like I said 3’s the charm…maybe next time.

The Verde Canyon has been occupied for a long time starting with the cliff-dwelling Sinagua. The train passes some of these ancient cliff dwellings but you have to keep your eyes open to catch them.. After the Sinagua came the nomadic Yavapai and the Tonto Apache followed by the farmers and cattlemen. And speaking of cattle, see that cow laying down over there? Out here that’s called Ground Beef! ( yes you can groan)

Many of the acncient cultures left thier mark throughout the canyon by petroglyph and pictograph.

According to local Native American lore, the Verde River is female. She provides an oasis in stark contrast to the surrounding arid countryside. The Verde River is fed from 5 creeks which flow down from the Colorado Plateau: Sycamore, Oak, Beaver, Clear and Fossil Creek. When it rains on the plateau the Verde gets fed the runoff.

The ride reaches its half way turnaround point at Perkinsville station at milepost 18.5. At its peak Perkinsville had  10-12 families living in the vicinity. It even had a small school, a general store and a post office but when the smelter closed in the 1950’s and the railroad switched from steam to diesel the  town became a ghost town.

In the 1960’s a few movie companies came to visit filming scenes for some of the classic westerns of the day like How the West was Won. The story is that during that filming the water tower that had stood by the tracks was blown up for one of the scenes but for some reason did not make the cut. The footage ended up on the editing room floor.

To turn the train around the engine is uncoupled and switched to a side track to pass by the train to the other end and be re-coupled. It’s a pretty amazing sight to see that engine passing by the window.

The return trip was as lovely as the outbound. We even saw a small rainbow as we passed in and out of the rain showers.  Back in Clarkdale we said goodbye to the railroad and headed to our car for the short drive to the Blazin’ M ranch.

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