Red sandstone walls enveloped the train as it moved deeper into the canyon. Vibrant green Willow and Sycamore Trees mixed with a blend of various Arizona wildflowers and cacti covered the cliffs. An eagle perched atop a protruding rock formation. The sound of the roaring engine echoed through the ravine. I, along with my friend Lance, leaned against the railing, embraced the fresh, brisk air and surveyed the tracks ahead as we traveled further along the Verde Canyon Railroad.
Only a few hours had passed since Lance and I had arrived at the train depot in Clarkdale; yet, it felt as though the world around me had transformed.
At our arrival to the depot, we were welcomed aboard the Phoenix car with a friendly smile from our tour guide, Ralph. As we entered the car, our energetic server and assistant tour guide Kenna showed us to our seats.
As I surveyed the car, I felt as though I had taken a step back in time. The vintage feel of the luxury train car reminded me of how it must have felt to travel by rail across the Southwest in the early 1900s.
Built in 1912, the Verde Canyon Railroad was once part of the famed Santa Fe Railway. Our four-hour journey would consist of a 20-mile trip down the 100-year-old rail line to the small, abandoned town of Perkinsville and then back the line to Clarkdale. Every guest had access to both an indoor and outdoor car, allowing an opportunity to relax and dine as well as enjoy an uninhibited perspective of the canyon from the open outdoor car. As Ralph mentioned several times, the benefit to remaining on the same line for the return trip is, “If you miss something on the way out, you can always catch it on the way back.”
Before embarking, Kenna led our car in a toast of complimentary champagne and cider as she welcomed everyone to the Verde Canyon Railroad family. Soon, we were on our way and heading deep into the gorge. After we enjoyed the included hors d’oeuvres, Lance and I made our way to the outdoor car.
Sights of an old, Native American temple, nestled deep in a canyon cave sparked my curiosity about the history of the rail line. Lance and I approached Ralph with many questions about the canyon. Ralph smiled as he passionately answered the questions about the history and nature of the Verde Canyon Railroad.
The train followed along the path of an old telegram line. Realizing I had lost all phone service in the canyon, I was again reminded of what it may have been like to travel on this historic line in its heyday a century ago.
Soon, we began our journey back to station. The setting sun played off of the deep reds and oranges of the canyon walls. I stood awestruck as I surveyed the passing scenery. I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia as Ralph announced we would soon arrive back at the Clarkdale station.
The Verde Canyon Railroad was much more than a scenic train ride. It was an opportunity to temporarily evade the hectic lifestyle of the 21st century. It was an opportunity to travel back in time and experience a unique form of travel, indicative of the culture of the early 1900s. It was an opportunity to enjoy unaltered nature. It was a reprieve, a chance to breathe. For me, riding the Verde Canyon Railroad was an opportunity to escape.
The sun disappeared behind the canyon walls as the train pulled into the depot, and at that, Lance and I departed. I left assured, however, that the Verde Canyon Railroad would await my next return, ready to transport me out of the stresses of life and into repose.