Let's Hit The Road

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Some of us might be experiencing spring fever right about now, so why not hit the road for some relief?

Take a day trip or perhaps make it a multi-day getaway.

Recently Norma and I, along with another couple, got in the car for a trip to Cottonwood and more.

It’s a scenic ride through the beautiful pines north through Pine, Strawberry and down to Camp Verde. This takes about an hour, then another half hour or so to Cottonwood. This town has some very interesting antique stores as well as tasty restaurants. We first passed through Cottonwood only to return later in our journey.

Close by is Clarkdale. This town has about 4,000 people and once housed employees of the copper mine. The day we were there, we stopped into a local art show, which was most interesting. The area has some very accomplished artists and more than just a few paintings were on display. They were also selling used hard-back books for $1.50 and we found a couple good titles to purchase.

Here, also, is the home for the Verde Valley Railroad, which takes you on a 20-mile, four-hour journey through very scenic terrain. You can often spot eagles and other wildlife from the train windows. The conductor gets on the public address system to inform you of the sightings.

The Verde Valley train is made up of old streamlined equipment from the 1940s and ’50s eras, which were built by the Budd Company and Pullman Standard. The rail cars have been modified several times and you will find them quite comfortable. You can purchase coach class or first class. I recommend first class because the seats are arranged like a club car in the old days with a selection of bar and soft drinks as well as snacks.

Coach seating is like that of any coach car riding the rails today and no food or beverage is included.

The train departs Clarkdale at 1 p.m. and returns at 5 p.m.

At this time of year the train operates daily, except Tuesdays.

If you do not take the train, continue from Clarkdale to Jerome. It is an old mining town perched on the side of a mountain and has become a collection of old homes, fun shops and old-western architecture. Park the car and walk two or three blocks to snoop the stores and shops. You may even find something to purchase. It’s fun to stop at an ice cream store and enjoy a cone of your favorite flavor.

On your return home, stop again at Cottonwood for dinner at The Tavern Grille at 914 North Main Street. The building was once pretty much destroyed by fire and the present owners have restored the bar/restaurant into a very pleasant place in which to dine. The interiors show western class as you might find in early San Francisco. The menu is very good and offers items you would not expect a restaurant in this part of the world. The kitchen fulfills the promise and you wind up very pleased with your choice of food. Food is fair priced and you will depart very satisfied.

This is about all you can experience in a one-day trip from home, but you may decide to stay overnight somewhere in the area so you can continue to other interesting points the next day. In Cottonwood, after your dinner, consider a stay at the hotel next door to the Tavern Grille, which is in fact the Tavern Hotel. They have 10 beautifully remodeled rooms that would be nice in a major resort anywhere. The room rates vary with the season, but the all-inclusive pricing gives you not only the lovely room, but breakfast the next morning at a restaurant across the street.

If you will be out for a second day, consider traveling on to Sedona and Flagstaff. Sedona is worth some time because of its tasty restaurants, art museums and shops along with the dazzling red rock formations that surround the town. You will find talented artisans with interesting jewelry on display and colorful pottery, glass and woodwork. Sedona is truly a first class art colony and well worth the time to explore.

Now, take Highway 89A out of Sedona and travel the magnificent winding road through Oak Creek Canyon. This is about a 40-minute journey through some of the most beautiful scenery in Arizona. Oak Creek runs alongside the highway with high walls of rock right above you as you head north. There are a couple of lookout points you should stop at on your drive through the canyon. Be sure to take the camera.

Flagstaff is always interesting — the main road through town is what remains of Historic Route 66 and the alpine scenery is beautiful.

You’ll find museums, department stores and many interesting points depending on your particular desire for fun and education. The old Santa Fe railroad tracks run through town, which now belongs to Burlington Northern Santa Fe. You will see very long freight trains speeding through town as often as every 10 minutes during certain times of day. Visit the AMTRAK railroad station located on Route 66 in the middle of old town where the visitors bureau is located for Flagstaff and the surrounding area. You can pickup quite a few brochures describing interesting points. There will also be volunteers to answer any questions you may have.

To the northwest of Flagstaff is the highest peak in Arizona, Mt. Humphreys, which reaches 12,670 feet.

The Lowell Observatory is at 1400 West Mars Hill Road. The small planet Pluto was discovered here in 1930 and the observatory continues to work at looking at the stars and outer planets. There are interesting displays at the observatory and both daytime tours and evening viewing programs.

If the Northern Arizona Native Americans are of interest to you plan some time at the Museum of Northern Arizona. You will find a lot of information regarding Navajo and Hopi cultures.

Northern Arizona University is located here and if your timing is right you may be able to take in a concert or play on campus. I recommend staying a night in Flagstaff at the Little America Resort, it has large rooms and good food.

From Flagstaff you might wish to continue your trip to other parts of the state since you are having so much fun.

The Grand Canyon is close by — take Interstate 40 west out of Flagstaff, travel 30 minutes to Williams. This is an Old West town that did well during the operation of Route 66. Today, it is pretty much devoted to the operations of the Grand Canyon Railway. This railway gets better with each year of operation. I suggest you stay at the railway’s hotel located in the center of town. It is modern and delightful — especially if you are a rail fan. Purchase the package that includes two nights at the hotel with meals, plus the roundtrip rail trip to the Grand Canyon. The train takes just under two hours in each direction and you can purchase coach, first class, vista-dome class or space in the last car on the train — the parlor car, which includes snacks and some beverages. From this car you can step outside on the platform and enjoy the wonderful high-altitude air as the train runs along the tracks. There will be western entertainment coming through the cars, as well as some other surprises you will have to discover for yourself. Before the train departure at Williams, you can witness a shootout in a western set next to the tracks. This train gives you more than three hours at the Rim of the Canyon before returning to Williams.

The train is comprised of 1940s and ’50s Budd Company rail cars and the entire train is streamlined silver equipment. My favorite section is the vista-dome cars where you ride high for the best views. The engines are diesels, except once each year when a steam engine is on the point.

Not too far away from Flagstaff and Williams is the Meteor Crater. Take the I-40 east toward Winslow about 20 miles and you will come to the turnoff for the Crater. The Crater was formed when a meteoric mass, traveling at 33,000 mph hit the Earth. The impact, blasting nearly a half billion tons of rock from the surface, destroyed all plant and animal life within 100 miles. This park is currently privately owned, surprisingly, and is very well run. You can stand on the rim of the crater and witness the destruction caused by the meteor crash.

We have covered quite a lot today, but I did want to give you some ideas to help you as you plan to hit the road.

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