Arizona’s Verde Canyon Railroad takes passengers on a spectacular train ride through an extraordinarily beautiful and wild canyon.
While this excursion runs year-round, the mild weather and turning leaves of fall are especially welcoming. Daily high temperatures in the 70s are expected over the next few weeks.
The four-hour, 20-mile railway journey begins in Clarkdale and travels to the ghost town of Perkinsville. The train snakes along the high banks above the Verde River within towering red rock buttes and fantastical rock formations.
Verde Canyon remains much the way it did when the area’s first European settlers arrived. In the canyon’s lush habitat — primarily cottonwood and white-barked sycamore trees — you might see some classic Western wildlife, including javelinas, antelope, beaver, deer and even the endangered river otter.
Nesting season for bald eagles begins in November when migratory raptors join the resident populations. You will be able to see golden and bald eagle nests on the sandstone cliffs as well as in the cottonwood trees.
Verde Canyon is a protected breeding ground for eagles, and while most all other access points to Verde Canyon are closed to the public during breeding season, the Verde Canyon Railroad continues its usual schedule. Generations of eagles have nested here and seem to be oblivious to the train.
The railroad is a remnant of an early 20th-century copper boom. The train transported ore from the local mines to the smelter in Perkinsville.
Today, Perkinsville is a ghost of its former self but makes for a quaint stop with historic abodes and marks the turn-around point of your journey. It looks much as it did decades ago.
Other highlights of the trip include seeing ancient Sinagua Indian dwellings and traveling through a 680-foot man-made, and very dark, tunnel and seeing the three major types of rock in the canyon — limestone, basalt and sandstone.
Southern Nevadans will find it interesting that Clarkdale was founded in 1912 by William Andrews Clark, the copper baron who also founded Las Vegas seven years earlier. Historians have noted that the train station here and other buildings are surviving examples of the types of now-vanished structures that were once typical of Las Vegas.
Today’s Clarkdale resembles Las Vegas before the successive booms that so changed the Clark County town after 1931.
Train passengers can choose between coach or first class; both options include easy access to the open-air viewing cars. First class has roomier seats and amenities such as a Champagne toast when you board, bar service, and appetizers at your seat.
I recommend making reservations; sometimes the more appealing options sell out.
For schedules, visit verdecanyonrr.com, which also has links to other area attractions and lodging.
If you go
Length of stay: Two nights minimum. There is limited lodging in Clarkdale, but plenty can be found in the nearby towns of Jerome, Cottonwood and Sedona.
What to pack: All the passenger cars are climate controlled and have a restroom. If you are interested in spending time in the open-air viewing cars, you’ll need warmer clothes, including a jacket, hat and gloves, this time of year. Wear comfortable shoes and carry a day pack or tote for your camera, binoculars, water bottle and personal items.