ILX Drive to Clarkdale, Arizona: Verde Canyon Railroad
Odometer (ILX): 62,831
Odometer (Legend): 528,242
Trip Distance: 232 Miles Round-Trip
Chugga chugga choo choo.
This weekend I decided to change things up a bit and hop onboard a train instead of hitting the highways for a long distance. The Verde Canyon Railroad is based in Clarkdale, Arizona and operates 20 miles of track. The company’s slogan is “It’s Not the Destination; It’s the Journey.” Sounded like the perfect type of experience for me!
My friend Chris and I headed northbound in the ILX on Saturday morning despite inclement weather. The car was surefooted and easy to control on the wet surfaces of Interstate 17 which climbed several thousand feet in elevation out of the Phoenix valley. By the time we reached a summit near Camp Verde, the rain had transitioned into snowflakes but thankfully they weren’t sticking to the roadways. Once we arrived in Clarkdale, Chris and I enjoyed some lunch what appeared to be the only place in town that was open: Main Street Cafe. We were the only ones there, and as a result had the attention of the entire wait staff. Score!
Clarkdale was founded in 1912 as a “company town,” much like the mining town of Bagdad which we visited this summer. It was named for Senator William A. Clark who owned the United Verde Copper Company. In its day, Clarkdale’s amenities were cutting edge, with electric streetlights, telephone/telegraph, sewer system, and public parks being some of the features of the master planned community.
The mine closed in 1953 and there were tough times for the town, but it was incorporated in 1957 and lives on today, with the Verde Canyon Railroad as one of its hub attractions. In fact, the railroad was originally built as a means of serving the mine. It connected Clarkdale with two other small towns, Drake and Perkinsville, which are now ghost towns (making notes here so I can visit both of those at a future date in the ILX).
Chris and I made our way to the railroad station and checked in, then met up with our friends Matt and Alan who would be joining for the experience. Our out-and-back, 40-mile round-trip ride took about 4 hours. The train’s pace was perfect to allow us time to soak in the great scenery along the way, as we followed the path of the Verde River westward. First Class accommodations were very comfortable, affording two plush couches to our party of four. Select beverages, snacks, and appetizers were included with the $79 fare, and each of us made multiple trips to the concessions area of our car, which was named “Sycamore.”
Power was provided by two vintage FP7 diesel engines, built originally by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors for the Alaska Railroad in 1953. It’s amazing to me that 60 years later they are still providing reliable service. Connected to our passenger car was an open-air “gondola” car with small canvas umbrellas and wooden benches in the center. As long as we had our sweaters on, it made the best place from which to view the Verde Canyon’s scenery. We had a special visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus along the way. Oh what fun it was to ride!
My favorite part of the trip was going through the 680-foot-long (curving) tunnel that took 6 months to carve out in 1911. At times, the train came within only 6 inches of the walls. Our ride was full of other attractions along the way, including cliff dwellings, caves, bald eagle sightings, and an up-close view of the abandoned train depot building in Perkinsville, Arizona that has fallen into disrepair.
Check out the many pictures and video below for a more detailed look at our Verde Canyon Railroad experience. Thanks for joining!
Jump starting our morning with some beverages from Starbucks. The ILX has some of the best cupholders in the industry!
Happy campers, heading northbound.
Camp Verde, Arizona. Bathroom break at the BK with rain that was just a few degrees away from becoming snow.
Backing out… err… guess that rearview camera won’t be doing us much good!
Highway 89A weaved through a neat historic business district in the town of Cottonwood.
Soon we pulled into Clarkdale town limits.
It’s been years since I saw a gas pump with “rolling” numbers like this instead of digital ones. Believe it or not, this one in Clarkdale is still in service.
Our train was waiting for us when we arrived at the station 15 minutes prior to departure.
Beauty shot before getting checked in.
We were assigned to the Sycamore car.
Among our first attractions were these ancient Sinagua Indian ruins, high in the canyon walls. These date back to around 1100 – 1125 AD!
We got settled in for the ride in our comfortable couches.
The gondola car was an inviting place to hang out, though a little chilly when we were rolling through the shade.
Don, one of the many guides who we had, was pointing out something to Matt here.
For 20 miles, we curved along the Verde Canyon crossing trestles and bridges.
Red rock scenery is similar to that of neighboring Sedona.
This is what the inside of our First Class car looked like. These passenger coaches were originally built in 1946 and used in a commuter capacity.
It was great to kick back and relax. The train is a slow-paced way of travel but it’s a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
More from the gondola car.
This was my favorite part of the train ride: the 650-foot-long tunnel. Photo scanned from Rail Magazine, the official magazine of the Verde Canyon Railroad, page 32.
Matt, Alan, Tyson, and Chris
Chris taking a peek at something in the distance. It was neat to see some snow on the ground outside.
This is the old 1911 Perkinsville Depot that we passed, just before the diesel engines uncoupled and switched ends of the train for our return trip. Perkinsville is now a privately owned place, with a population of 10.
The Perkinsville Depot was featured briefly in the 1962 film “How The West Was Won.”
Heading back on the return ride!
View toward the front of the train, showing the alternating passenger cars & gondola cars.
Alan looked a little too excited to be there.
Chris captured a photo of two of the bald eagles that reside in the Verde Canyon, on top of a dead tree.
Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, for a great ride!
Closing out a memorable adventure with a sunset drive back to Phoenix via I-17 in the ILX.
Hope you enjoyed the ride!