Courtesy of americansouthwest.net/
When travelers reach
inevitably they react to the power of its incredible red rock formations. Many also visit its famed vortex sites, a less visual encounter. For an appealing side trip, travelers can enter landscapes, forged by humans and natural forces in eras past. Both the Wilderness Train in Clarkdale and the nearby Tuzigoot ruins offer unique opportunities for photography, wonder, and contemplation.
Operated by the
Verde Canyon Railroad,
the Wilderness Train welcomes a choice (via ticket price) of vintage cars, each of which is paired with an open-air car. Travelers can observe and photograph the landscape from either; they are encouraged to move in and out and back and forth--and also stop at the snack/beverage bar. In each car, entertaining guides supplement the broadcast commentary by alerting passengers to upcoming photographic vistas; answering questions; offering local color; and pointing out specific sites, such as rock formations, bald eagles and their nests, and aspects of riparian life along the Verde River in the canyon below.
The 4-hour, 40-mile round trip from Clarkdale to Perkinsville is akin to an ecotourism adventure. Immediately after leaving the depot that offers food, souvenirs, and a small museum, passengers look up at the old mining town of Jerome, and then they pass a slag dump, so close that it blocks the window until it tapers away to reveal an astonishing and perversely attractive 40-acre, 40-foot mountain of black slag, accumulated over the 40 years that Clarkdale operated the smelter for the
Jerome copper mines. The track, originally laid to transport the smelted ore, now transports passengers into a wilderness that is not accessible by any other means.
The landscape is spectacular and ever-changing. As they ingest it, passengers are educated about the mountain ranges that they see; the varieties of rock (e.g., basalt, sandstone, and limestone) that make them up; the geological forces (e.g., fold and fault) that produced them; the history of two visible cave dwellings of the Sinagua tribe; and the challenges of track, trestle, telegraph, and tunnel construction 100 years ago. Above and below, cliffs, wildlife, water and vegetation pass by, mile after mile.
The Wilderness Train's motto is, "It's not the destination. It's the journey." Nevertheless, Perkinsville, the abandoned "ghost ranch" train station at the end of the line, is another reminder that ways of life change. Near the old buildings--bunkhouse, water tower, station, and cattle pen--a few livestock wander slowly around a quiet corral where once a whole community supported a vanished local industry. Here, the engines are switched for the return trip, down the same track but through a landscape that has shifted, offering different shadows, wildlife, and river reflections, and a second chance to see it all.
Before or after the train adventure, passengers should not miss the chance to take the self-guided tour of the
Tuzigoot National Monument,
the Native American ruins on a nearby hilltop that offer another great view of the Verde River. Partially restored by New Deal out-of-work copper miners, these impressive pueblo-style dwellings were also built by the
Sinagua Indians. Their disappearance remains a mystery, but the archeological evidence of some 75 rooms challenges travelers to visualize living in a remote time when food from the fields and marshes was prepared in the big stone vessels, and shelter was afforded only by the grey stone walls.
The Sinagua are gone, but travelers can still stand on their hilltop to appreciate the buildings they left or to watch the birds in the marsh sanctuary below. The miners are gone, but travelers can ride their tracks on the Wilderness Train. Get on board!
Traveler Michelle H. Norell, PhD, has degrees from the University of Rochester, Brown University, and George Mason University. She is an amateur photographer and retired educator with a professional history in school administration and teaching English, Film Study, and Advanced Composition.
Michelle Hull Norell
If you go
Historic Cottonwood: www.visitcottonwoodaz.org/
Dead Horse Ranch State Park: www.pr.state.az.us/parks/DEHO/index.html