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Up the scenic Verde River on the new Arizona Central.

Up the scenic Verde River on the new Arizona Central Just as railroads once opened up the Western frontier to increased exploration and discovery, the Arizona Central Railroad has opened up a heretofore hidden stretch of the Verde Valley southwest of Flagstaff. Prehistoric ruins, rare and endangered wildlife, riparian vegetation, and stunning rock formations are all visible from the new sightseeing train, which transports passengers 20 miles along the Verde River by a scenic route once accessible only to dedicated hikers.

The 5-hour excursion is now in its seventh month. From Clarkdale, former railroad hub of the Turquoise Triangle copper-mining district, the train carries up to 250 passengers through Sycamore Canyon and up to the tiny town of Perkinsville, then back along the same route. In June, July, and August, departures are at 3 P.M. Wednesdays through Sundays; Saturdays are barbecue excursions only (see far right column).

Tour leader Don Charpio and Clarkdale resident and amateur historian John Bell accompany the tours, providing running narratives and answering questions about the region.

Abundant wildlife, diverse flora

Wildlife viewing is a highlight of the trip; bobcats, brown bears, coyotes, foxes, javelina, mule deer, mountain lion, and wild turkeys are among the animals you may spot from the train's open-air gondolas. Enclosed cars have large windows for good views from inside the train as well.

The Verde River is also an internationally known migratory nesting spa for hundreds of waterfowl and home to such endangered bird species as bald and golden eagles, belted kingfisher, common black hawk, osprey, peregrine falcon, and yellow-billed cuckoo. In addition, much of what remains of Arizona's native riparian vegetation grows along this river (85 percent has been destroyed throughout the state over the last hundred years). Flowering barrel cactus, cottonwood, desert willow, hedgehog agave, maguey, mesquite, and sycamore all grow here.

Historic and prehistoric sites of interest

As the train pulls out from the Clarkdale station, it passes the remains of an old copper smelter and continues through a 40-acre slag deposit dating back to 1912. It also passes an abandoned Arizona Power Company structure, which was completed in 1918.

Just opposite the plant are ruins far older: the remnants of a 600- to 900-year-old stone wall built by Sinagua Indian hunters to aid in trapping game. These people were descendants of the first native population that inhabited the area some 12,000 years ago. Nestled among the cliffs that tower over the track are their cave dwellings and the ruins of pueblos.

Costs and booking details

The basic excursion ride (in open or enclosed car) is $24 for adults, $14 for ages under 12; a seat in the first-class club car runs $40. You can bring your own food or buy a box lunch ($6); snacks and refreshments can be purchased on board. The Westen Barbecue Excursion ($53 per person, $75 for first class) includes a stop in Sycamore Canyon to enjoy a Western-style meal served on china and red-checked tablecloths.

For a weekend getaway, you can rent the caboose, complete with bunks for up to six people, a lavatory, and a wood cookstove. It can be delivered by the train to a secluded area for overnight camping and fishing, then picked up the next day during the train's regular run. Prices vary according to number of people and services requested.

Call (602) 639-0010 for required reservations and additional information. To get to Clarkdale from Phoenix, follow I-17 north 86 miles and take the Clarkdale-Cottonwood exit west. From Sedona or Flagstaff, take U.S. Highway 89A southwest to Clarkdale. The train depot is at 300 N. Broadway.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jun 1, 1991
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