There are few pleasures greater than clickity-clack through the countryside on a train. I call it a "land cruise."
One of the most scenic train experiences in our state is a ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad's historic route from Clarkdale to Perkinsville and back into Arizona's other "Grand Canyon."
Passengers are enthralled as the eagle-decorated, vintage engines roll past towering, crimson cliffs, near ancient Indian ruins, over old-fashioned trestles and through a 680-foot man-made tunnel on the four-hour round trip.
This historic route between two national forests and adjacent to a wilderness area follows the upper Verde River. The train consists of first class cars from the era of American railroading dating back to the '40s and '50s. These cars feature living room style seating, complimentary appetizers and beverage service.
Coach cars provide chair seating on both sides of a middle aisle along with a snack bar. A so-called caboose features a personal valet, appetizers, premium beverage service and private outdoor viewing platforms. The train is pulled by vintage FP7 diesel engines, two of only 12 such models remaining in North America. A special feature of this train is the open platform cars located between every two or three passenger cars. The cars have bench seating, partially-covered roofs and open sides which are great for photography and close-up sightseeing.
The train's schedule depends on the season. In March, the Canyon is in bloom and is the time for eaglet arrival and eaglet watch.
The 40-mile excursion to the tiny ghost ranch of Perkinsville rolls past remnants of a bygone copper industry and ancient Indian ruins dating back to 600 A.D. An on-board narrator informs passengers of nature sightings along the way.
In the spring, additional trains are added so passengers may view the colorful display of wildflowers and cacti that blanket the hillsides and canyon floor.
In summer, Starlight tours and a Grape Train (wine tasting) are added. In the fall, autumn showcases the gold, bronze and copper colors of the trees that line the river.
"Ales on Rails," the Verde Canyon Railroad's version of Oktoberfest is featured every Sunday in October and ghosts and goblins inhabit the popular Haunted Halloween Express on Oct. 31.
Winter is time for eagle viewing from late November through March. Over 35 bald and golden eagles migrate to the canyon each year along with other migrating birds.
During the months of March and April, the Verde Canyon Trains' schedule is usually: Sunday and Wednesday departing Clarkdale Station at 1 p.m., returning at 5 p.m. On Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday the train leaves at 2:30 p.m., returning at 6:30 p.m. It does not operate on Tuesday. For reservations and information, call 1-800-293-7245.
Clarkdale is an easy two-hour drive from Payson.