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. …