Why do you think you haven’t heard much about it? Honestly, the Arizona spots spoken of regularly are Sedona, Phoenix, Tucson, and the Grand Canyon. That leaves little room for the lush region of Central Arizona. We, too, may have missed the Verde Valley. However, we were sponsored by the Verde Canyon Railroad for a day trip to the scenic high desert so we explored Verde Valley. Experiencing the beauty of this lesser-known historic area – Verde Valley – was a stimulating addition to our travels.
DISCLAIMER: Many thanks to Verde Canyon Railroad for hosting. While we were hosted at no charge, we received no payment for this post, and this post is our honest opinion.
Scenic Historic Verde Valley Day Trip from Sedona
Just 30 miles southwest of Sedona, we traveled to experience the history and sights of the Verde Valley. In hindsight, it would have been lovely to stay in this less-populated area and only go to crowded and expensive Sedona for a day of sightseeing and hiking.
On our drive toward the Verde Canyon Railroad through the Verde Valley, Tom and I were quickly surrounded by red rocks and Mingus Mountain in the black hills range. Ah, nature’s splendor! The Red Rocks rose up surrounding us as we passed Red Rock State Park.
Heading for Clarkdale in the Verde Valley, we were looking forward to experiencing ‘Arizona’s Longest Running Nature Show,’ for a 4-hour 40-mile train trip on the Verde Canyon Railroad. We also added a visit to the area’s Native American Ruins of Tuzigoot and Montezuma’s Castle.
Sights and History of Verde Valley Arizona
Native American Ruins
On the trip from Sedona to the Verde Valley, we visited Tuzigoot, a National Monument of an ancient pueblo built by the Sinagua people. These were dry farming people who lived in the foothills from around 600 AD. Tuzigoot was built between 1125 and 1400, situated on a summit ridge high above the floodplain. These ruins once encompassed 110 rooms in 2 to 3-story structures. It is exquisite to view the valley during a walk up through this ancient Native American pueblo structure, and interesting to read the history posted along Tuzogoot National Monument.
We spent so much time walking around Tuzigoot that we didn’t have enough to visit Montezuma’s Castle before the Verde Canyon Railroad journey. Montezuma’s Castle is 40 minutes south of the Clarkdale train depot, location of the Verde Canyon Railroad. We missed it! I still want to see Montezuma’s Castle, a cliff-dwelling nestled into sheer limestone cliffs. We plan to get back there to see it. I hope you do too!
Clarkdale Train Depot
Just before the railway station in Clarkdale, when crossing a bridge into the up-and-coming town of Cottonwood see quaint colorful town, restaurants, Inns, galleries, and artists. This is where many of the Sedona workers live today.
Upon arriving at the train depot, find lots of parking, and then head inside to the gift shop. After checking in at the gift shop, browse or purchase authentic Southwestern Artisan’s work at the Boxcar Gift Store. Also, be sure to visit the John Bell Railroad Museum while at the Clarkdale Station to see the collection on the railroad’s history, exhibits on the surrounding towns, the copper industry, excavated artifacts, and the Yavapai-Apache tribe.
Verde Canyon Railroad for Sights and History of Verde Valley Arizona
Verde Canyon Railroad is a ‘heritage railroad’ that runs between Clarkdale and Perkinsville. Originally called the Verde Valley Railway, in 1912 it was opened as part of the Santa Fe Railway to transport copper from Jerome Arizona. It was designed to link the copper smelter at Clarkdale to the copper mines in Jerome.
In 1988, the railway was sold to a private party who opened it for passenger service between Clarkdale and Perkinsville, a ghost town today. It became Verde Canyon Railroad again in 1990. Today as part of the rail service, the track is used for hauling freight as well as the tourist railroad.
Arizona High Desert Rail Journey
Before boarding for the 4-hour, 40-mile round-trip, guides give boarding and safety instructions. Then we anxiously board to start our trip to see the scenery that gave this train ride the reputation of Arizona’s Longest Running Nature Show. In addition, its destination is Perkinsville where scenes where from some of the great westerns were filmed, like, How the West was Won.
Once on board, we’re seated in nice leather chairs and sofas at copper tables in 1st Class. Now settled in, the staff serves snacks with a choice of Champagne – my choice – or apple cider. Music selections from country western, jazz, and 40s – 50s music entertain us while we get settled. Guests are given the cash bar menu of premium alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Servers are lovely, upbeat, and knowledgeable about the area.
A food spread on each of the 1st Class cars includes sandwiches with various meats, chicken wings, vegetables, fruit and brownies. We baby boomers like our food and wine. It is buffet style with plenty for everyone.
With our surroundings, it’s easy to imagine that we are traveling like wealthy westerners from the early 1900s. This type of adventure seems to appeal to the retired crowd, and as baby boomers, we fit right in. Simply sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery on a restored, streamlined, and climate-controlled rail car. Train cars have panoramic windows to view the scenery.
Most passengers select one of the eight 1st class cars, and each includes food and drink. The train includes several outdoor shaded open-air viewing cars – Great for Taking Photos. There is also Coach Class for $30 less, but 1st class is well worth the upgrade.
Experience the history near Sedona
Excited for our journey, we are off to see the high desert flora and fauna of the Verde Canyon, and some ancient cave dwellings, which are only accessible by train. We also learn the history through the narration aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad.
As we pull out of the Clarkdale Station, we can see the historic mining town of Jerome, a National Historic Landmark, atop the mountain in the Black Hills. Jerome was settled as a copper mining town, and this rail track was built to link Jerome’s copper mines to the smelter in Clarkdale.
The Verde Canyon Railroad round-trip journey exposes stunning views of high sandstone cliffs, impressive rock-faces, and ancient Sinagua ruins in the towering rock walls. Our hosts point out the mistletoe, and as quickly as our excitement rises to see mistletoe in nature, it is squashed as we learn that it is invasive and killing the indigenous trees. Quickly we move to view more natural and man-made sights along the route.
Flora and Fauna of the High Desert
Taking in gorgeous rugged landscapes and magnificent outdoors is a feast for the eyes. Our route through the Canyon is only accessible by rail and goes over wooden railroad trestles, through narrow tunnels, and across iron bridges. Land bordering the rails is Prescott National Forest and Coconino National Forest. As we travel our guides point out ‘Dinosaur Rock’ and ‘Elephant Rock,’ plus excavated ruins, while we learn about the area’s early development, and the native ancestral history.
In the outdoor viewing cars, bald eagles, kestrels, donkeys, and coyotes come into view. We saw horses and cows along the mountain ridges, likely some belong to the few farmers left in the area.
Jerome is a city located atop Cleopatra Hill in the Black Hills overlooking the Verde Valley. A National Historic Landmark, Jerome is best known for its copper mines that operated in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, Jerome is a small mountain town, bustling with tourists, filled with restaurants, galleries, and a thriving art community. From its historic buildings to its exquisite views – on a clear day you can see the red rocks of Sedona across a vast valley – it makes for great photos. What a lovely spot to spend an evening after the Verde Canyon Railroad Journey!
If you have missed the sights and history of Verde Valley Arizona, go back for a return visit. If you are looking for a relaxing day and want to see the sights, the Verde Canyon Railroad is the best way to do so. Verde Canyon Railroad carries about 100,000 passengers per year and is considered an ‘Arizona Treasure.’ I can definitely see why! Make sure you leave time to visit the Native American ruins. Top off the day with a visit to the mile-high town of Jerome for the views and dinner. Two days in the Verde Valley is even better to visit all these sights.