In early October, 2021, Ms. Karen and I made a quick vacation trip to Central Arizona above Phoenix. Our purpose for the trip was to ride the Verde Canyon Railroad. It was a four-hour drive to Cottonwood for our first night where we stayed at the Iron Horse Inn, in Old Town Cottonwood. The Tavern Inn and the Iron Horse Inn were recommended by Roger Naylor, travel writer, who lives in that neck of the woods. The Tavern Inn was new, popular, and had a Restaurant. We chose the Iron Horse as it was historic, less expensive and history was our main reason for stopping in Cottonwood in the first place.
On the way to Cottonwood for the night, we stopped at Fort Verde, in the old settlement town of Camp Verde. This was Gen. Crook’s headquarters from which he subdued the Tonto Apaches and sent them all to the San Carlos Apache Reservation in 1875.
Fort Verde was originally 22 buildings that housed mostly infantry, but also some cavalry regiments. Today, only three buildings remain: the enlisted men’s quarters, officer’s quarters, and the surgeon’s home and office.
The former Administration building houses the Visitor Center with interpretive exhibits, period artifacts from military life, and history on the Indian Scouts and Indian Wars era. The park offers picnic tables, restrooms, RV and tour bus parking, and is ADA Accessible. From Fort Verde, we went to our hotel in Cottonwood, the Iron Horse Inn.
Cottonwood is a small Arizona town near the Verde River. On the Wednesday night we were there, the town was unexpectedly crowded. Main Street was lined with cars for several miles.
The Iron Horse Inn was built in the 1930’s by the Eden’s, who owned the lumberyard in back of the motel. My guess is that it was named the Iron Horse after the garages in the courtyard below the guest rooms. We are not sure why the Inn is built of stone when the owners owned a lumberyard, but then the Valley is full of stone walls presumably from the Verde River nearby.
The Iron Horse Inn, turned out to be a pleasant place to stay with a very nice courtyard with spotlessly clean and comfortable rooms, that I am guessing were originally garages for the Motor Inn, and thus the name, Iron Horse. Or it could be named after the statue of a horse out front.
We ate dinner that first evening at the Colt Grill on Main Street. Food was poor and the service literally non-existent. It was one of those “Order at the counter and food will be brought to you” restaurants. In a town that should serve local wine due to the proximity of the Wine Country we had heard so much about, we found local wine unavailable. This privilege seems to be saved for the wine tasting rooms which were numerous. The Colt Grill was definitely made for the in and out tourist trade. We will try Bocce Pizzeria next time.
After a restful night in Cottonwood, we had until 1 pm to wait for our train ride. While Dead Horse Ranch State Park, a popular destination from Phoenix, is located near Cottonwood, we chose the historic route and headed for the pueblo at Tuzigoot National Monument. The ruins at Tuzigoot consist of over a hundred rooms and were probably home to several hundred people for several hundred years. After the people left, sometime in the 1300s, the pueblo stood empty until the early 1930s, when it was excavated by American archeologists and then turned into a national monument in 1939. Montezuma Castle National Monument is also nearby and an interesting side trip. We skipped it this time as we had been there before and our time was limited.
The concrete path up to and through the ruins is fairly steep and the battery on my electric scooter gave out. With the help of Ms. Karen, Paul and a couple of kind tourists, I was helped back to the visitor’s center while the rest of our party, Karen’s brother Paul and his wife Linda, explored the ruins. The ruins at the top are NOT wheelchair accessible unless you are Andre the Giant or the Hulk. I date myself.
The ruins cover acres of land, not just the top of the hill, and there are paths to many of them. It would be easy to spend a half-day there with a picnic lunch or head to Dead Horse Ranch for a picnic.
The Train! The Train!. Then it was time to find the train depot in Clarkdale, a few miles from Cottonwood. We arrived about noon and had an hour to wait for our train ride. There is plenty to do while you wait. There are museums and storyboards and you can order your lunch to take on the train. We had booked the caboose for eight people in April of 2021. I for one was really looking forward to it, having been cooped up for more than a year.
Apparently, we were supposed to wait for someone to take us to the caboose. But we were excited and waited at the caboose for someone to come. Finally, someone showed up telling us they had been looking for us at the depot a quarter-mile away. But, the museums were in the direction of the caboose and we were halfway there. Laurie, who greeted us, turned out to be our onboard concierge, tour guide, and wait staff. A native of the area, Laurie was a terrific hostess, who clearly loves what she does; showing us points of interest along the way and serving appetizers and drinks. The first bottle is free, champagne or wine, the rest are on you. Sodas are free. There is a full bar and the Bloody Mary’s are a meal. As you travel, Roger Naylor, local travel writer, narrates the ongoing descriptions of the valley’s route.
The caboose is definitely first-class train travel. The original price seats six, but two additional people can sit in the cupola with a different vantage point for a couple more Ben Franklins. I never got up there, for obvious reasons, but several in our party enjoyed the sights from above. The caboose has its own restroom and you can stand outdoors on either end of the caboose. We will leave it up to your imagination as to how the train got turned around. In addition to Karen’s brother and sister-in-law, we were joined by neighbors Ron and Elaine and their two friends, Kat and Jack.
The train ride is a four-hour round trip to Perkinsville and back to Clarkdale. You never leave the train. There is outdoor viewing located on several other cars, between the indoor cars, on this 1/4 mile-long train. It is a very pleasant ride through the Verde Canyon along the Verde River lined with cottonwood trees. The only disappointment for me was that we had scheduled the trip for the fall to enjoy the autumn leaves turning color. But unfortunately, all the cottonwood leaves were still bright green. Laurie told me we should come back in a few weeks to see the fall colors. It must be spectacular against the red canyon walls.
At the ranch, train stop, in Perkinsville, our tour ends and the engines have to disconnect from the train, go back on a side track, and re-connect at the caboose. Along the way, Paul pointed out herds of deer, horses, and cattle, a cave, and Indian ruins on the side of a hill. We looked for the eagles that Laurie said were in the trees and pointed out where we might find them. I saw one landing on a cottonwood branch. You might get lucky, too. There is a road to Perkinsville as well, but I hear you need a high clearance vehicle on a good day and a 4 wheel drive when the weather does not cooperate.
This tourist train has operated for more than 25 years now. It passes through some of Arizona’s most undisturbed wilderness. The first rails were laid more than 100 years ago. The trip is 20 miles to Perkinsville depot and 20 miles in return. There was once a windy narrow-gauge railroad up the steep mountain to Jerome from the smelter in Clarksdale, but it is long gone, as is the smelter. It was described as “the crookedest train line in the world”. It was only 26 miles long, but with 186 curves, most over the last half of the line.
Stay tuned for the story of our visit to Jerome and stay at the Jerome Grand Hotel.