The ranch at the end of the line.

In February, Mike’s mom came out to Arizona to spend a week with us. She’s in her 80s now and although she’s still pretty mobile, there are limits to the things you can do with her. Among our activities was a ride of the Verde Canyon Railroad.

The railroad is a tourist attraction through-and-through. They ask you to get there an hour early — that’s so you’re stuck in a corner of Clarkdale where the only restaurants and shops are their snack bar and gift shop. Our “first class” tickets entitled us to snacks on board, but we worried that it wouldn’t be enough for the 4-hour ride. So we spent another $30 on burgers, hotdogs, chips, and soda like everyone who was waiting.

But the train ride itself is thoroughly enjoyable, especially if you like to simply relax and watch the scenery go by. The narrow gauge railroad winds along the southwest side of the Verde River, one of the few Arizona rivers that runs year-round. From the train cars — including the outdoor observation cars which are extremely pleasant — you can see a variety of wildlife. We saw bald eagles and glimpsed two different herds of javelina. On a previous trip, I remember seeing deer. There’s a recorded narration, some hokey music, and some extremely knowledgeable “conductors.” Our guy in the open car had brought along photos and the Plants of Arizona book to identify plants. And unlike the folks at the Grand Canyon Railroad, these people aren’t squeezing you for tips throughout the ride.

PerkinsvilleThe ride ends at Perkinsville, where the canyon opens up to a broader valley. There’s a ranch there and the train stops literally in front of the ranch house. The place appeared occupied — there were horses and cattle there — but there wasn’t a person in sight. The conductor guy told us the story. Years and years ago, when the railroad was built, the land at the ranch was needed as a station to take on water and fuel for the steam engines. The railroad had offered the land owners a lump sum or a royalty for the use of the land. The Perkins family had taken the lump sum, giving up their control of the right of way. Today, under new ownership, the tour train had control of the land. The people who live in the house make themselves scarce when the train stops there on every run.

Verde Canyon EngineWhy does the train stop at all? Well, this is the place the engines are moved from the front of the train to the back for the return ride. There’s a siding there and while we’re waiting, enjoying the scenery and feeling kind of bad for the people who have to deal with 130 tourists a day looking into their windows, the engineer takes the two engines and moves them. The task takes about 20 minutes and they sell ice cream sandwiches to us while we wait. Then we’re on our way back to Clarkdale at a slightly faster speed, leaving Perkinsville behind.

Do I recommend the Verde Canyon Railroad? Sure. Why not? Just get a good lunch in Cottonwood or Clarkdale before getting to the station. Don’t pay extra for the first class seating. And spend the entire journey on one of the outdoor cars where you can really see what’s around you.

What do you think?