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Holiday train trips can create memories to last a lifetime

Holiday train excursions create memories families hold dear for years to come. Southern Nevada families seeking special holiday experiences find possibilities of traveling with Santa aboard vintage Nevada trains in Boulder City, Ely and Carson City, as well as in Northern Arizona at Williams and Cottonwood. Tickets go fast for the holiday train rides, so act soon.

In Boulder City, restoration continues at the Nevada Southern Railroad, a short line constructed during the building of Hoover Dam in the 1930s. Now part of Nevada’s system of museums, a portion of the line operates along a few miles of track between Boulder City and Railroad Pass.

This holiday season, Mr. and Mrs. Santa ride with families, sharing stories, cookies, hot chocolate, treats and photo ops. The Santa trains operate the first two weekends of December, departing at 10 and 11 a.m., noon, and 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Purchase tickets in person at the depot ticket office on weekends or Tuesdays through Fridays at the railway’s administration office in the large maintenance shop at 600 Yucca St. Fares remain a bargain at $2 per seat.

The Nevada Northern Railway in Ely operates one of the 23 sanctioned “Polar Express” trains across the country. Experiences aboard reflect the popular children’s book and animated film, now seasonal classics for a generation of children. Passengers greet Santa, enjoy the narrated story and share treats. The Ely “Polar Express” is one of seven such excursions in the West.

The resurrected and restored Nevada Northern once served the huge open pit copper mine near Ely. A volunteer organization of railroad enthusiasts keeps the trains running along historic routes from the yards in East Ely. The railway’s depot and corporate offices operate as part of Nevada’s museum system. Unfortunately, budget cuts may close the museum next summer, so try to see it when you take the “Polar Express.” Gift ideas abound in the museum shop.

The holiday excursions during December take an hour and a half to two hours on December weekends on Fridays at 6 p.m., Saturdays at noon, 3:30 and 7 p.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m. Special scheduling includes three trains on Dec. 22, two on Dec. 23, and one each day on Dec. 27 through 30.

Fares on the Nevada Northern’s “Polar Express” are $28 for adults, $16 for youngsters aged 4 to 12 years, and free for children 3 and younger. Call (866) 407-8326 for tickets or visit the railway’s Web site at www.nnry.com or www. polarexpressride.com.

The Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City plans a weekend of excursions with Santa on Dec. 13 and 14. Aboard restored cars of the historic Virginia City and Truckee Railroad pulled by a steam locomotive, holiday passengers visit with Santa and share stories and refreshments. The train runs every 40 minutes from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fares are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for children age 6 to 11. Younger children ride free. Call the museum at (775) 687-6953.

The Verde Canyon Railroad, built in 1882 to serve the copper mines at Jerome, Ariz., runs year-round scenic excursions. At holiday time, Santa Claus boards the train to entrance youngsters with stories, music and treats. One train a day departs the Cottonwood depot at 1 p.m. for a four-hour excursion. First class fares are $79.95 while coach costs $54.95 or $49.95 for seniors. The Santa Claus Express runs each Friday, Saturday and Sunday in December before Christmas. Call (800) 320-0718 for reservations, (800) 293-7245 for information, or check out the Web site at www.verdecanyonrr.com.

By late November, all but six “Polar Express” excursions on the popular Grand Canyon Railway between Williams and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona were sold out. Call (800) 843-8724 now and hope for cancellations or make advance plans for a holiday ride in 2009. Ask about the family packages that bundle rail fares for two adults and two children with rooms at either end of the ride. Investigate the Web site at www.thetrain.com.

Stumped for a gift? Consider the “engineer for a day” adventures available at the Nevada Northern Railway and the Verde Canyon Railroad — pricey but fun.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.

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