The Verde Canyon Railroad travels north from its station in Clarkdale 18 miles to its turn around point at Perkinsville. Technically, the train doesn’t turn around, but that’s getting ahead of the story.
The Verde Canyon adventure starts at the depot on the north side of Clarkdale. For most people, that means coming in through Cottonwood, past Dead Horse State Park and
Tuzigoot National Monument.
As you walk up to the depot you can, if you look carefully, see Tuzigoot off in the distance.
You can also see the town of Jerome high up the mountainside to the west and the valley of the Verde River to the east and south. To the north is the enormous black mound of slag from the Clarkdale smelter.
The depot is beautiful inside and out. There’s a gift shop and a café where you can get food and drinks to sustain you on your 3 and 1/2 to 4 hour trip (along with bathrooms for those in need). Tables are located outside on a pair of patios.
Tickets for the train specify a particular car and one of the “gotchas” is that you need to find your car when it’s time to board. Signs are posted off to the opposite side of the sidewalk from the train, and I heard a few people who were confused about this arrangement when trying to figure out where to line up.
There are several levels of travel, from coach to first class to caboose, and several special trips, such as the Chocolate Lovers and Grape Train Escape, so ticket prices can vary significantly. We did the coach class and it was fine. Most of the time for most of the people was spent out on the open air car, so the seats didn’t see much use inside the car. On a colder or hotter ride, that might have made a difference, but the seats are comfortable enough for this ride. The seat backs flip, so that the seats can face forward no matter which end of the car is hooked to the engine.
The open air cars have canopies and plain bench seats, so they aren’t as comfortable as the enclosed cars, but they have the great advantage of letting you see a great deal more.
One more thing I will add about the cars: The cost of snacks and drinks on the cars is very reasonable, considering that the riders are a captive audience. We got some decent large cookies at 2 for $1.00 and a fruit smoothie for $3.00, for example. Beer was $3.00 to $5.00 a bottle, if I recall correctly. No guarantees that the prices will stay the same, but we were very pleasantly surprised.
The train pulls out of the depot so smoothly that you might not even notice that you’re moving if you’re not looking. With a top speed of 10-12 MPH, the ride rarely gets past “mildly swaying.”
For our trip in October, we found that waiting to board was a little too warm for comfort and we were glad to be in the air conditioning on the train while we waited for the trip to start. Once we were under way, though, the exodus to the viewing cars commenced. The breeze of the train’s movement combined with the cool of the Verde valley to quickly cool us to a wonderful fall temperature.
The train rolled along, passing the slag pile and then heading out along the Verde.
Watch for the cliff dwellings above the left side of the train heading out.
For part of the way, the Verde has cut an “inner” canyon into the floor of the valley and the train runs along the lip of the canyon. As the train goes on up north, the tracks run alongside the stream in the Verde canyon itself.
The railroad was originally built southward from Perkinsville to Clarkdale, so the train travels up the Verde canyon past mile markers with diminishing numbers to Perkinsville, where the return trip begins.
Rock formations line the upper Verde canyon and many of them have been named – I remember the Budweiser Frogs and a guardian angel among them.
The canyon narrows at one point so that the train has to go through a tunnel. The people on the outside cars are encouraged to make a racket at this point going and returning.
Near Perkinsville the canyon widens into a wide meadow and the steep cliffs give way to rounded hills. Cattle were visible in the trees along the river there.
We didn’t see a great deal of wildlife on the trip. We did see three bald eagles, but I wasn’t able to get a good shot of them. I did, however, get to shoot this little critter.
At Perkinsville the train stops, the engines detach from the front of the train and move to the back where they hook onto the caboose, and then the train starts up again, heading back to the depot. Inside the cars, you can flip the seatback so that you’re facing the train’s direction of motion. By that time, however, several people may have flipped one seat one way and another seat the other so that two seats face each other. That gives enough room for people to chat or for a couple folks to stretch out and nap to the rocking of the car.
For our trip, the train was heading back into gathering dusk and many folks put on jackets and pulled sweats on over their shorts as the desert air cooled with the setting sun. The Verde Canyon settled into shadow, but part of the Mogollon Rim in the far distance glowed red. What a wonderful trip!
Just a note: There are two Arizona trains running excursions(that I know of). In addition to the Verde Canyon Railroad, there is a train running from Williams up to the Grand Canyon.