Verde Canyon Railroad
One of the things we like to do is take rides on vintage trains. We have ridden on the 1880 Train in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Grand Canyon Railway, the Durango & Silverton Railroad in Colorado, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway also in Colorado, and the Copper King Express in Montana just last year. The Copper King Express started passenger service in 2006, but was never able to turn a profit. Therefore, they decided to concentrate on hauling freight and made the last passenger run on Nov. 29, 2009.
When our online research turned up the Verde Canyon Railroad that departed from nearby Clarkdale, we thought it sounded interesting and decided to give it a try. There are daily, four-hour, 40-mile round-trip excursions up the canyon to Perkinsville.
The railroad was originally started in 1912 as the Verde Valley Railroad which was a 38-mile branch line from Clarkdale to Drake, AZ, to serve the cement-making operations in Clarkdale and the copper mines in Jerome. You can see Jerome over on the side Cleopatra Hill from various locations in Clarkdale.
Dave Durbano purchased the railroad in 1989-90 and began passenger excursions from Clarkdale to the abandoned town of Perkinsville. Unlike the Copper King Express that traveled through a blighted, mostly industrial area, most of the Verde Canyon route is lined by national forests and wilderness areas.
The train departs at 1:00 PM, and they ask passengers to arrive an hour early. We had plenty of time to kill, and since it was lunch time, we checked out the snack bar. They had a variety of snacks and sandwiches, and we decided to share a southwest turkey panini. It had pepper-jack cheese, spinach and cilantro, and it was delish.
In addition to standard coach seating, Verde Canyon Railroad has first-class seating and luxury accommodations in the caboose. We are usually somewhat budget conscious, but this time we opted for first-class seating. First-class cars are set up with couches and high-back upholstered chairs that looked roomier and so much more comfortable than the Pullman seating in coach. Not only that, but first class included a champagne or sparkling cider toast to start the excursion, complimentary bottled water, and hot and cold appetizers along the way. The photo below shows the roomy, comfortable seating in first class.
As the excursion started out, we passed the site of the copper smelter. The smelter covered 200 acres and had over 30 buildings. The smelter closed in 1950 and was torn down, but mountains of slag remain along the track. The slag was molten when it was dumped, and corrugated iron panels held the slag back so it didn't slide onto the tracks. Much of the corrugated iron has rusted away, but he slag has solidified so it stays put.
Interestingly, a company has recently purchased the slag pile and will haul it away over the next 20 years or so to reprocess it. The slag has copper, zinc, silver and gold left in it from the original smelting operation, and modern methods make it economically feasible to recover these left over metals.
After passing the slag pile, the track begins to follow the Verde River. The train ambles along at a relaxing 10 or 12 miles an hour, so there's plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. At the beginning of the route, the river valley was still relatively flat.
A little farther along as the altitude increases, the canyon gets deeper.
Appetizers were served shortly after we left the station. We had chicken wings, sandwiches, a vegetable platter, crackers and three or four types of cheese, Caesar salad and bite-size brownies for desert. After we had some snacks, we went out onto one of the open cars.
Each guest is assigned to an enclosed car, but there is an open car with benches for every one or two closed cars. Riders can go out onto the open cars for a better view of the passing scenery. Each open car also has an attendant who is an expert on local history and the wildlife. The next photo shows how the open cars (darker color) are placed among the closed cars.
We passed the nest of the bald eagles who are year-round residents. The eaglets have left the nest by now, but we later saw one of them on a distant ledge. A number of migratory eagles join the year-round residents in winter. There were a couple of ospreys flying high overhead, a couple of small elk, and one black bear ambling along the river bank. Unfortunately, we didn't get any wildlife photos.
Still farther up the canyon, the red sandstone becomes more apparent. The red color comes from a small percentage of iron in the rock. In the next photo you can see uplifted red sandstone to the right with black volcanic basalt to the left. The basalt is topped with a layer of red sandstone, and there is a layer of light-colored limestone on top of that.
Speaking of rocks, our attendant identified many of the named rock formations for us. These were a lot easier to photograph than the wildlife since they were a lot bigger and they didn't move. The first one was Hole in the Wall.
Then there was Lincoln's Profile - complete with a tree for hair.
The next one is Turtle Rock.
There were more, but the last one we'll show is the Guardian Angel. You can see the flowing robes, the long hair, and it even looks like she is carrying a shield.
There are numerous Native American cave and cliff dwellings and pueblos in this area of Arizona. In addition to the larger, better known ruins, there were several along the train route, including the one below right before we got to the turn-around point in Perkinsville.
Perkinsville is a small, abandoned town named after the Perkins Ranch that has been located there for a century. Except for one home occupied by a Perkins descendant, about all that remains at Perkinsville are old, unused railroad buildings.
Scenes from the 1962 movie How the West Was Won were filmed in Perkinsville. The station appeared in the move.
At Perkinsville, the train stops, the locomotives uncouple and run down the siding to the other end of the train for the return trip. Notice the bald eagle paint job.
The FP7 locomotives being used for passenger service (#1510 and #1512) were built in 1953 by the Electro-Motive Division of GM for a railroad in Alaska. After service in Alaska, the locomotives were put on display in California for a while, then were used in Wyoming. Verde Canyon Railroad purchased the locomotives in 1995 and restored and updated them.
We saw the black bear we mentioned earlier on the return trip back to Clarkdale, but other than that, the ride back was fairly uneventful. We spent part of the time inside enjoying our cushy seats, and part of the time outside. Even though it's the same scenery as on the way up the valley, it looks a little different on the way back because not only are you viewing the scenery from the other direction, the sun also is at a different angle.
We really enjoyed the Verde Canyon Railroad. Not only was it a scenic ride, but we liked the comfortable, roomy seats, we liked being able to move from inside to out at will, and we liked the appetizers.
Our next sightseeing outing will be to Sedona, so stay tuned.