Off the Beaten Path: Verde Canyon Railroad

Maybe you think steam trains were all the west has to offer, but you would be wrong.

The Durango & Silverton RR and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad are immensely popular steam attractions that take visitors back to the old days of mining, timbering, and frontier life. On our trip along historic Route 66 we found brochures for the Verde Canyon Railroad, off the beaten track in Clarksdale, Arizona, about 100 road miles south of Flagstaff. The brochures show a two-diesel-electric locomotive pulling a string of various coaches, Pullmans, open air cars, and a caboose. We love trains, so we called for tickets. “The next train is tomorrow,” said the agent. We booked two coach seats.

Our TrainWe were astounded at the crowd of people on hand at noon for a 1 p.m. departure. Several tour buses disgorged travelers and the parking lot was nearly full. Our tickets were for the Cottonwood Pullman coach formerly used on the Eastern seaboard. Our car guide told us we could move to the open car behind us anytime we wished. There were about a twenty cars on the train including a caboose (for $700 your entire party can occupy the valet-served caboose.) Verde River green at right.

CabooseEach passenger is given a map of the 40-mile round trip with features shown: the copper smelter (1883 to 1953) and its tailings pile, the old power plant, the SOB Bridge, a 680-foot curved tunnel, and miles of brilliant orange, red, tan and cream color sheer walled canyon. In the open car, where we mostly rode, another guide pointed out features like a bald eagle nesting site, Sinagua culture ruins, turtle rock, and historic details about old ranches along the right of way. The curves number 186 and are some of the sharpest of any standard gauge railroad.





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Our EnginesVintage FP7 locomotives were built by GM's Electro-Motive Division in 1953 for Alaskan rail service. They are two of only ten still in existence. The history of the named cars is given in a $3 souvenir book about the road. Each car offers refreshments including soft drinks, beer, and wine, cookies, and other snacks. We highly recommend the Verde Canyon Railroad to rail fans and scenery fans alike. Those old enough to fondly remember adventurous train rides in their youth, or modern Amtrak and Canadian Pacific Railroad trips, will be hauled back to those memorable experiences — PLUS the scenery is closer and better! It runs all year and reservations are required – 1-800-293-7245. Click here for website.