Verde Canyon Railroad Sign

Verde Canyon Railroad Sign

Our drive to Clarkdale, where we boarded the Verde Canyon Railroad, took us on the snake-like Highway 89A with its hairpin curves over Mingus Mountain and through Jerome. The United Verde Copper Company, purchased in 1888 by William A. Clark and located in Jerome, was the richest individually owned copper mine in the world. When the original smelter was discovered to be centered over a rich vein of copper, Clark decided to move the smelter from Jerome. His namesake, Clarkdale, came into being as a company town built from a unified master plan. In addition to his new smelter, all homes were rented and commercial property leased. The city is now recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. We stopped at the Clarkdale City Park and picnicked near the century-old gazebo. Some tree stumps have been shaped into throne-like seats. This park has a modern playground. Clark was one of the three Copper Kings of Butte, Montana. In addition to dying as one of the fifty richest men in the United States, Clark has impacted our national politics. In 1899 he bribed Montana state legislators to be selected as a U. S. Senator. During the revelation of this scandal, Clark is purported to have said “I never bought a man who wasn’t for sale.” The U. S. Senate would not seat him and they enacted the 17th amendment to the Constitution which calls for the popular election of senators. Clark did succeed in getting elected in 1901 and served one six-year term.

Verde Canyon Train

Verde Canyon Train

The 38-mile Verde Canyon Railroad was built from Drake to Clarkdale in 1911-1912. In 1990 it started its current life as a four-hour, 20-mile passenger excursion adventure into the Verde Canyon. Before boarding the Cottonwood Coach, we stopped in the John Bell Museum where we saw pictures and memorabilia from the history of this railroad. I especially liked the mannequins of Hobo Joe and Engineer Woody. We selected seats with a large picture window on the left side of the car. However, I would recommend choosing seats on the right side which follows the Verde most of the way. We did discover how to change the direction that a seat faced. I spent most of my time enjoying the open-air viewing platform constructed from a flat car. I kept moving from side to side to take pictures and stay in shade. We were located near the middle of the train which allowed us to see the two engines as well as the caboose while negotiating curves. The Verde River appeared muddy. The green riparian area surrounding the river contrasted with the colorful cliffs. Elephant Rock and Turtle Rock were two of the more interesting rock formations. The pitch black of the 680 foot tunnel also contrasted with the canyon scenery. We saw an area where eagles had nested earlier in the year. Our turn around point was the Perkinsville Station which had a water tower used when the railroad used steam engines. At one time 10 to 12 families lived here, but now only 12 people populate this desolate area. Several farm animals were grazing near the station where I watched a nursing colt. At the Perkinsville Station the GP7 engines change direction before beginning the return trip. Throughout the ride there is narration about what can be seen interspersed with every train-related song in existence. This wilderness train is likely to offer unique vistas in each season. As the motto of the Verde Canyon Railroad says, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”

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