Verde Canyon Railroad

"the destination"...
"It's not the destination, it's the journey."  These are some of the last words you'll hear over the Verde Canyon Railroad's intercom system* as you return to the station from the four-hour excursion into the wilds of the Verde Canyon (no hidden surprises in naming convention here). 

While that expression has become a tired clich√© when appearing on some sorority girl's Facebook feed, it's the most apt way to view the Verde Canyon Railroad...and would actually be good to know before departing rather than upon return.  The precision of sentiment expressed by "it's not the destination, it's the journey" should not be taken derisively, or understood to mean that this journey is an effort in futility...instead, it should be taken only to understand that after a two hour ride through beautiful landscape -- consisting of the Verde River lazily winding through it's canyon, the canyon itself, a tunnel, some bridges, and maybe a fisherman or two -- the trek culminates in a cow pasture along a decrepit depot that is ambiguously occupied.  It's not a disappointing payoff, but it is an end that comes nowhere close to living up to the billing of "the journey's" previous scenery.  However, the $1 Shamrock Farms ice cream sandwiches do make the destination pretty amazing. 


"The journey"

The trip starts at the Verde Canyon Railroad Station, where you should stock up on food, drink, and air conditioning.  Actually, you should pre-stock on food and drink because, while the mode of transport is from the 1800, concession prices are quite modern.  When you pick up your tickets, you will be told to which car you are assigned.  All cars are helpfully named and there are station attendants who will help usher you in the right direction. 

If you paid for First Class tickets, expect free water bottles and a modest array of snacks, as well as a car attendant to take orders for alcoholic drinks (score!).  You will also be afforded fairly comfortable seats in an adequately air conditioned car.  If you chose coach class seats, I have no idea what you should expect because I try not to rub elbows with any street urchins that may have been on board.  KIDDING.  But, seriously though, I didn't see coach so I don't know what to tell you except that the seats seem to be less of the coushined variety and more of the...seat...variety.  I would imagine that alcohol sales are available in coach, but would assume that the complimentary snacks are lacking.  If you are feeling particularly elite, you can rent the luxury caboose for $600 and take a group of up to 6 people.  The seats are made of luxurious leather, you have a dedicated attendant, you actually are separated from us commoners, and there are a couple cool seats in the roof of the caboose that have a crows-nest feel. 

The tendency seems to be to hang out inside the train and not venture to the open-air cars immediately so as to soak up the feel of being on a train.  There will be time for that later, and the best scenery occurs within the first hour.  This is when you are above the Verde Canyon and can look down onto the river (literally; also, if in the luxury caboose, figuratively), the red rocks of Sedona are in the background, and there are some neat bridges.  After the first hour, the train begins traveling through the canyon, which, while still picturesque (just ask my worn out camera!), grows tedious after you realize that one mile of canyon is pretty much like the next.  At this point, go inside and try to cool off, reemerging only for the big bridge and the tunnel -- they'll announce both. 

The air conditioning is adequate, but not exactly refreshing, so in warmer months the ride might grow uncomfortable (mid-May 80s is about as warm as I'd go).  This would definitely be more enjoyable in late fall or early spring, but in the summer the Railroad offers "starlight rides."  I have heard that the VCR (ha) also does a very impressive Valentine's Day chocolate ride. 

This is definitely a uniquely Arizonan excursion and I would particularly recommend it to anyone who is in search of an authentic Western activity.  The VCR was established in the 1800's to meet the needs of Jerome's mining industry, and continues today in vintage railroad cars.  For any western-film buffs, the destination will, in fact, prove interesting because it was the setting for a scene in How the West was Won.

The VCR is located in Clarkdale, just past Old Cottonwood, beneath Jerome, and near Sedona...so there are plenty of ways to make this a good day or weekend trip.  For some ideas, see "So You're in Cottonwood..." on GTFO.

Further reading:


*you'll also see this in probably every review and mention of the Verde Canyon Railroad.

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