Arizona’s Verde Valley is steeped in history ranging from Native American settlements to copper mining and ranching communities to railroads; all stories now converging in the Sedona area tourism boom. Verde Canyon Railroad’s John Bell Museum, housed in a renovated 1940s box car, is a treasure trove of the Railroad’s fascinating history and the municipalities that blossomed as the copper industry exploded and more tracks were laid to meet the demand. Featured are exhibits on Jerome, Cottonwood, Clarkdale, local ranching families, the Yavapai-Apache tribe, the mining industry and the network of area rail lines (now mostly vanished) that contributed to the Verde Valley’s early development.
In addition, newly-discovered artifacts unearthed along the tracks have been added to the collection of classic train implements and objects. Over the past 25 years, the keen-eyed track crew has uncovered countless antique relics along the Verde Canyon Railroad tracks, ranging from 100-year-old switch locks to oil cans and portions of horse harnesses, many items dating back to when the rail line was constructed or prior. Additional input from local historians and supplemental images, such as vintage postcards and historic photos made available through cooperation with the Clarkdale Heritage Museum, round out the Railroad’s captivating past.
Educational storyboards installed down the quarter-mile length of the depot’s platform detail the Verde Canyon’s flora and fauna as well as out-of-print details about the railroad’s classic locomotives and rail cars. The John Bell Museum is free and open to the public daily, and the colorful, educational storyboards may be viewed by depot visitors at any time.
On heritage rails built in 1912, Verde Canyon Railroad has operated as a scenic wilderness excursion since 1990. When this “little train that could” started its passenger operation more than a quarter century ago, it ran a small consist of two coach cars, one first-class car and two open-air viewing cars. Now nearing its two-millionth passenger, Verde Canyon Railroad carries nearly 400 folks per day in nine first-class cars, one coach and one luxury-class caboose interspersed with six open-air cars spread along tracks more than a quarter mile long.
New for 2016? The Engineer Ride-Along Program is designed for those who want to see the magnificent Verde Canyon from inside the cab of a powerful mid-century diesel engine. Railroad enthusiasts will rub elbows with Verde Canyon Railroad’s engineer and conductor aboard an historic FP7 locomotive and become members of an elite guild.
Only two hours from Phoenix and 25 minutes from Sedona, Verde Canyon Railroad is the perfect railroad experience. www.verdecanyonrr.com