Friday, September 4, 2015

Colorado's Verde Canyon Railroad

Clarkdale, Arizona, is the home of the Verde Canyon Railroad, a 40 mile round-trip journey along the Verde River of central Arizona, one hour north of Phoenix and an hour southwest of Flagstaff. The new depot, opened in 1997, is magnificent, and the riparian scenery along the route sharply contrasts with the surrounding desert views. Bald eagles and their nests and Sinagua Indian ruins are seen from the train, and off in the distance, the Mogollon Rim (Colorado Plateau) and Black Mountain are obvious. Most of the trip is through the Coconino National Forest or the Prescott National Forest, and the Sycamore Wilderness adjoins the route. 

This is a view down the Verde River from a trestle. We saw flying and nesting bald eagles as well as other raptors. Springtime features wildflowers and fall sports foliage changes. Starlight Tours are offered monthly, boasting a return trip under starlight.

Below are caves used by the Sinagua Indians (openings circled with green marker.) The Verde Valley is an Ecotone or "zone of contact" where species from the north and south of here meet and intermingle, making it a unique ecosystem. The Sinagua learned to use every part of every plant for uses such as dyes, medicines, baskets, food, and even their roofs. They established trade routes with the Anasazi to the north and the Hohokam to the south. For 600 to 800 years they occupied the valley but mysteriously left in the early 1400s, becoming one of the "hisatsinom" (Hopi for "people of long ago") who contributed to the genetic and cultural makeup of the Hopi people.

The engines are standard gauge vintage FP7s, 2 of only 12 remaining in service in North America. They were built in 1953 by EMD for use on the Alaska Railroad. Next they were exhibited in a museum in California before being leased to the Wyoming-Colorado Railroad. In 1996 they were bought by the Verde Canyon RR and put into service in 1997 after meticulous renovation, including modern safety features. 

The stark desert background contrasts with the lush green found along the river, as seen below.

The 38 mile railroad right-of-way was built by Senator Clark and was completed in only one year by 250 men using 200 mules, picks, shovels, and much explosives. It cost $1.3 million to build in 1912, but considering that Clark had been netting a million dollars a month for over 15 years from his mine, the cost seems insignificant.


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