April 25, 2019

All Aboard

I love train travel. Unfortunately, I live in a city without regular Amtrak service. Even when Phoenix had trains at the Union Station downtown, there was just one train each day, in each direction. Years ago, when Salt Lake City was my home, I was in train heaven: Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Portland and L.A. were served several times a day.

With a little bit of effort, though, I can still get my train fix. About two hours away is the Verde Canyon Railroad. Originally built to transport copper ore in 1912, it now welcomes a million visitors a year on a four hour round trip through the rugged, spectacular Verde Canyon. There are stunning views, bald eagles, coyotes and occasional mountain lions. Though a daily freight train shares the same tracks, the tourist trade from this excursion has a major economic impact on the area. 

My youngest daughter gave Betty and me a pair of tickets as an early birthday gift for my 70th. A few weeks ago we packed up and headed north for a short, but needed, two day break from routine and my train fix.

The trip leaves and returns to the small town of Clarkdale. Just a few miles west of Cottonwood, a 15 minute drive from the hillside wonders of Jerome, and about half an hour from the red rocks of Sedona, this is a rugged and dramatic part of my home state.

The birthday present placed us in the first class section, complete with champagne toast, a buffet of light lunch items, a cash bar, and bottled water (very important in the desert!). We had two easy chairs for seats as well as a private table between us for the food and drinks. Huge picture windows allowed for watching the deep canyons, bald eagles, and rapidly flowing Verde River.

Even better, just one train car behind us was an open air car, with benches, shade, or the chance to lean on the railings and watch nature in all its up close glory. With a length of a quarter mile, 18 cars and two engines, this is real railroading. 

Betty took hundreds of pictures and several videos to help us remember this special trip for years to come. Here is a small sampling to allow you to armchair travel!


The Verde Canyon Railroad station in Clarkdale


Toasting our adventure

A long, long train







6" clearance entering a 600 foot long tunnel




A pair of  bald eagles high above the cliffs


For the return trip, the engines moved to the back of the train to pull us home










The end of a perfect day


30 comments:

  1. Lynn and I also took this train trip during our stay in Arizona last winter. Your assessment is spot on! I am looking forward to future rail excursions. Immediate plans for the summer are the Cumbres and Toltec out of Colorado to New Mexico.

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    1. One day I'd like to take the train out of Durango. I imagine that route is really spectacular.

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  2. Funny but Deb and I were thinking about taking one in the not too distant future. Maybe one of the longer ones across the Canadian Rockies, or a transcontinental one across the US. You've gotten me more interested in it from Betty's pictures.

    Thought you might get a kick out of recent Kiplinger's posting on "thinking of retiring to AZ?" I am sure you can relate, Bob. https://www.kiplinger.com/slideshow/retirement/T006-S001-9-reasons-you-should-retire-in-arizona/index.html?rid=EML-retire&rmrecid=1883518140

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    1. Our bucket list includes the Canadian train route from Vancouver to Halifax. It is as expensive as a long cruise, but appears to be that once-in-a-lifetime trip and worth the cost. Even though I spent much of my youth in New England, I have never been to the Canadian Maritimes, but have been fascinated by their rugged way of life.

      I looked at the link, Chuck, and that is a good summary. Of course we moved here well before retirement years (I was 31 when we moved to Tucson), but all the positives have kept us in the state (with a relocation to the Phoenix area in 1985). The cost of living, the pace of life, the varied activities, and the ability to change climates with a 2-4 hour drive make it home. Summer is tough, but I couldn't tolerate a place with more moderate heat but higher humidity. It is not for everyone, but it is for us and our grown daughters and grandkids.

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    2. Bob, be sure to check out the Rocky Mountaineer that follows the original transcontinental route over the Rockies. It's on our list.

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  3. Looks like fun! I took the cross-country train once, from San Fran to NY, changing in Chicago. It's a long way!

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    1. I hope you had a sleeper room! Even the tiny roomettes are better than a coach seat on a trip that long.

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  4. One of our best AZ memories is the Verde Canyon Railroad. We loved it! We've discussed training across the US and still may do it. I've heard mixed reviews on the sleeper cars, but I'm still interested. :-) (Great pics by Betty, BTW.)

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    1. We have had a roomette a few times and a family bedroom once. At less than 4 feet wide and 6 feet long it is amazing how comfortable the roomette is during the day and at night. You have to go down the hall to the bathroom but you do get a wash basin. The family bedroom is much more expensive but includes an an easy chair, much more room, and a private bath.

      All sleeper rooms include meals, so the cost is a bit more reasonable.

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  5. We have done many small train trips across the U.S. and a few in Europe. We are nuts about trains. We just got back from a weekend in Ely, Nevada and took their train out into copper mining country. We live in So. Cal. and have taken the train from L.A. to Santa Barbara and back a number of times. Love the train era.

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    1. When my daughters lived in San Diego, we took the train from downtown to Carlsbad and back...so pretty.

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  6. I love train rides! I went on a few as a kid and always loved them. I'll have to look into going down the coast. That would be really fun! Thanks for sharing the gorgeous pictures!!
    b

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    1. Philly probably still has decent train service so you are not that far away!

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  7. Wow, what a trip and great photos. I am sure it was something you'll long remember!

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    1. It was. Betty took several hundred photos and several videos, so we have a lot to help us remember.

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  8. My dad was an airplane pilot but his first love was trains! He would have enjoyed that so much.

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    1. There is something about a train whistle that inspires an urge to travel. Being on the rails forces you to slow down and really look at the countryside. As a pilot your dad probably appreciated the difference between looking out of a plane window and a picture window at ground level.

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  9. We are hoping to take the Oriental Express someday. You would love the Durango, Silverton line. I did NY to Flagstaff when the kids were little. LOL- I hardly remember that trip. I wonder why?
    Have you considered getting a Eurail pass and just going for a few weeks? It is worth doing. !~ Janette
    Great pictures Betty.

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    1. One of my daughters has a dream of a trip on the Orient Express some day. I'll settle for the Silverton trip!

      Europe and Eurail...yes, it is something we have talked about.

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  10. I have done the Verde Canyon train ride. Nothing but good to say about it. I spent the majority of the time on the open air car. Friends have been guests on the Rocky Mountaineer; high end and very personalized service. There's a small railway day excursion from Stettler, AB, Canada, with original cars/engines that is run by a volunteer organization. There are seasonal theme excursions, one for kids. It's on my list of things to do when I have guests from England next year. It gets you into the back country. I would also like the train trips that feature musicians. There's so much to see and do in this world.

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    1. You have highlighted one of the problems, Mona: so much to see and do and so many options. I guess the answer comes down to prioritizing based on personal tastes.

      Betty and I took the Grand Canyon Railroad from Williams to and from the Grand Canyon several years ago. It was not nearly as satisfying as the Verde Canyon railroad because the scenery is flat, filled with little more than scrub bushes. At the Canyon you have less than two hours before the return trip. Maybe for tourists it is OK, but for a resident, it was a bit of a disappointment.

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  11. What a thoughtful gift from your daughter, Bob - early Happy Birthday wishes! I've always loved the ideas of experiences as gifts - so much fun, so many memories.

    My Dad worked on the old Penn Central railroad, so I grew up with an affinity for trains. Our daughter worked for a local tourist rail line for a couple of winters when they ran the Polar Express. It was heartwarming to see her follow in her grandfather's footsteps in a way.

    Our most memorable train experiences were in Alaska - the domed rail cars that we enjoyed between Fairbanks and Anchorage, and a ride on the historic White Pass & Yukon railroad out of Skagway. Gorgeous scenery on both and excellent experiences for the kids. One of the advantages of train travel is that you're able to see some beautiful areas of the country that you might not be able to access otherwise. And I wholeheartedly agree with Mona - there is so much to see and do!

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    1. Idea, not ideas. So much for my proofreading skills.

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    2. Railroads are in my blood. My paternal grandfather worked for the railroad in Pennsylvania. The story is he died at a very early age of a heart attack when he feared his train was going to crash with another.

      Just seeing the Alaskan landscape from the cruise ship and the day trips, I can image how aue-inspiring a train trip into the interior would be.

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  12. To visit my daughter, I travel by train sleeper car from Mississippi to Chicago, than catch the California Zephyr to Salt Lake City. I love the food, and the sights and tunnels through the Rockies are amazing.

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    1. That must be a fun trip....such different terrain all along the way.

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  13. I'm also a big fan of train travel and have taken a couple of wonderful cross-continent trips by rail (one on Amtrak and one on Via Rail in Canada). On a train, the trip is part of the vacation, not a necessary form of torture at either end.

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    1. I have looked at some of the Via Rail trips in Canada..they are on my to-do list.

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  14. I love train trips too. Rob is a retired locomotive engineer, so for him, train rides remind him of how poor passenger train service in Canada has become compared to years past.

    What a great birthday present.

    Jude

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    1. We are likely to take a short train trip from Montreal to Quebec City and back next year when we visit eastern Canada. It makes more economic sense to fly to Montreal and take the train for the last 150 or so miles.

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