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The Verde Canyon Railroad

by Chris Guenzler

The Verde Valley Railroad had sent me two post cards to help me finish my 50 State Post Card Project for the classroom I work in. I decided I was going to ride this railroad. It was a line that I always wanted to ride so I was going to give myself a present and finally do it. I was originally going to ride it in May, but after looking at the weather and long range forecast I decided the time was right in April, so I called to book my trip. The Arizona Diamondbacks were also home that weekend so I went on-line and purchased a ticket to the Friday night game. Alice Cooper's Cooperstown restaurant was also in Phoenix and I wanted to have a meal in his establishment. I was all set with everything I needed to make a fantastic two day trip for myself.

4/19/2002 I woke up at 4:00 AM and after my morning duties, I was on the road by 4:40 AM. I left that early so I would miss the San Diego traffic which worked out beautifully. I had Interstate 8 all to myself and after gassing up in Yuma, I followed the Sunset Route of the former Southern Pacific {UP} to Maricopa. I found an eastbound at Kinter and after driving dirt roads I managed to get ahead of it on the Freeway to Mohawk where I was waiting for it. I had four westbounds but the lighting was not right for any of them so I just watched them roll west. I had a very pleasant drive and when I arrived at Maricopa I find the new Amtrak depot made out of the California Zephyr {CB&Q} Silver Horizon Dome Observation car. One of the most very unique Amtrak depots in the United States. I drove into Phoenix and had lunch at Alice Cooper's Cooperstown. I enjoyed a smoked Prime Rib which was excellent. After I looked around the place I went to the Motel 6 on Northern Avenue and checked in.

After I relaxed. I drove back to downtown Phoenix and following the directions of Cooperstown's manager I parked behind their building for a mere five dollars. I had time to kill so I decided to walk over to the former Amtrak depot and I walked the platform where I had stepped off many times off of the Sunset Limited and once boarded the 4449 west there as well back in 1984. I returned to Cooperstown and explored the place at length. When I was done I walked the four blocks to Bank One Ball park and picked up my ticket for the Diamondback/Rockies game. It is really an amazing stadium complete with a swimming pool out above center field where I was sitting. About fifteen minutes before the game was scheduled to start, weird music came out of the loud speaker system to be played as the roof was opened up. The wind began to blew, we could see the planes heading for a landing at Sky Harbor Airport as well as the moon shining overhead. I enjoyed the game with me not caring who won or lost. For those of you who care about such things, the Rockies won 8-6. If you liked home runs then this was a game for you, as there were four by Luis Gonzalez, Jose Guillen and Danny Bautista of the Diamondbacks and a solo shot by Greg Norton of the Rockies. It was easy for me to escape Phoenix after the game as I returned to the motel for a good night's sleep.

The Verde Canyon Railroad 4/20/2002

I was up early and drove Interstate 17 to Arizona 260 at Camp Verde. I went to Cottonwood for gas and a McDonald's breakfast. This road took me, after I turned onto AZ 89A, on into Clarksdale right to the depot. The depot is a very attractive building with excellent groomed grounds. Down below the parking lot were cars from the Wyoming and Colorado which came here when the two ex Alaska Railroad FP-7's 1510 & 1510 also came here from that operation when it ended after the 1995 excursion season in Wyoming. I walked up the hill to the front of the train where the power was basically hidden by the trees. I went inside the depot and picked up my ticket and bought the Rail Magazine, Official Magazine of the Verde Canyon Railroad. I went out to my car and read the newspaper and the guide book while I relaxed before train time. About ten minutes before boarding time and I walked up to the platform ready to finally take this trip.

I boarded the coach 2126 Cottonwood an ex Metro North and New York Central before that. The car attendant give a brief speech about safety and the train before I ventured out into our coach's open car Jerome where I would spend the morning traveling to Perkinsville. It was a beautiful clear April Arizona morning. We waited for a few late comers before the engineer whistled and the train started on the way. As we left we passed the freight train waiting to make its run someday next week before we left the yard. We traveled by the old buildings of the smelter complex prior to running between the slag tailings from the former copper industry that was located here. The Verde River came into view and we would follow the course for the next nineteen miles to Perkinsville. We ran on the south side of the river until just short of our destination. The first highlight of the trip was the Sinagua Cliff dwellings high above us on the western cliffs. The next major thing of interest was the original smokestack that marks the location of the former TAPCO power plant which used to generate electricity not only for Clarksdale and Verde Valley but also for Phoenix. We crossed through this area with the narrator telling us to be on the lookout for wildlife that is seen in the area. The PA was used most of the trip to point out locations and for musical interludes when nothing else was worth mentioning. We crossed a bridge which was made from the old turntable from Prescott. We head into the Inner Gorge of the Verde River. A few minutes later we crossed S.O.B. Canyon which is the longest and highest at 150 feet on the railroad. We stopped after the impressive crossing so the passengers could take in the view.

The river is running in a steeply sided ballast canyon and about a mile further there was two bald eagle eaglets {a male and female} in a nest built on an outcropping on the canyon walls. {Mom and Dad eagle were both there on the return trip.} This trip is truly a nature show as we had already seen Spanish Hawks as well as several other types I did not know their names but our car attendant Lorelei can tell you about everything you could every want to know about on this trip. The canyon walls heights are increasing the further we travel west deeper into it. The area we are now crossing was a prehistoric lake bed. Off to the northeast was Block Mountain which has some bright red sandstone showing on it. We passed the gauging station down at river level as we slowly descend towards it. The train ran out on a shelf above the river under a monocline fold at milepost 31. I wished Maureen Angle that most wonderful science teacher I work with at McFadden was here to see this. She loves geology and would truly enjoy this trip through this great scenery. We passed beneath more cliff dwellings high across the river all connected by tunnels I was told. We went by Elephant Rock across the river and if you look at the right time it does look like an elephant and the trunk at MP 28.3. The train ran through Sycamore also called the "Little Grand Canyon" and we met a track inspection vehicle in the siding. Sycamore Canyon joins the Verde Canyon near here. We were in the middle of the Sycamore Wilderness and with all of the colors, natural beauty and history I can easily see why this was all preserved. It is a continuous nature show as my eyes kept scanning the new visions. The next vista of importance high above the cliff at MP 24 is Turtle Rock.

In and around MP 23 there are some interesting rock outcroppings on the south side of the train. At MP 22.5 the train entered the 680 foot curved tunnel blasted through the solid limestone. We come to the end of the Verde River Canyon and crossed the Perkinsville Trestle before we pulled into Perkinsville where the old Santa Fe station still stands.

The engines ran around the train here and before we left they backed the train down passed the station so everyone could get a good look at it. I bought some cookies and a root beer and sat back to write this journey while it was fresh in my mind. I finished but put the camera away and went back into the open car to just enjoy the beauty of the rest of the Verde River Canyon with no distractions. In all of my 670,000 rail miles of travel, the Verde Canyon is one of the most beautiful trips that I had ever taken and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has not taken it before. Back in Clarksdale I photographed the engines before they ran them around the train before heading home.

I stopped and got 4 Arby roast beef sandwiches to have on the trip home. I went back to Interstate 17, to AZ 74 to Morristown and US 60 to Interstate 10 until Palm Desert where the Geo died. I managed to get it off the freeway but at an exit with no phone. I was taken by a nice man to a Rite Aid where I called the Auto Club. Saturday night with no way to get it fixed locally, I decided to have it towed to Lee's Auto Safety in Garden Grove. We got the car there and the driver dropped me off at the Grand Ave exit of the 22 Freeway and I walked home from there.