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All Aboard!

Jimmy Magahern | Sep 3, 2013, 9:29 a.m.

“We always love seeing the incredibly beautiful red rock formations and Indian ruins,” she says, “but I particularly like watching for animals. One time I saw a dog herding the cattle at a ranch—I thought that was pretty cool.”

While the Grand Canyon Railway affords passengers the best final destination in the state, the Verde Canyon Railroad is distinguished by the open-air cars it pulls between the covered coaches, allowing passengers a close-up view of the breathtaking vistas along what it calls “Arizona’s other grand canyon.”

“Outside is the best place to be,” agrees Fermin Estrada, a 71-year-old native of the region who began working as an attendant in the first-class cars after retiring from the town’s cement plant (still Clarkdale’s sole big industry) in 2002. “That’s where you do your best viewing.” While Estrada hosts guests in the train’s luxury caboose, he loves it when the party moves outside to the canopy-covered gondola viewing car, where passengers sometimes get close enough to the passing red rocks to touch them.

“A lot of people from back east are not used to seeing this kind of country,” he says. “They haven’t seen that red sandstone. It’s just like Sedona, but without all the development. It’s just gorgeous to look at.”

Although the Verde Canyon Railroad doesn’t offer the onboard Western entertainment that’s become the Grand Canyon Railway’s trademark, the train features several special events, like the occasional “Rhythm on the Rails” trip showcasing strolling Arizona musicians and Saturday evening Starlight Tours featuring “Grape Train Escape” wine-tasting and “Tequila Sunset Limited” shot-sampling, not to mention the popular “Ales on Rails” afternoon blasts during Oktoberfest season.

On any of Arizona’s trains, though, regulars say the best entertainment is simply the slow-moving view outside your car’s window.

“Of course we can’t stop people from using their laptop computers and cellphones on the train,” says Moore. “What does happen sometimes is after people have been on the train awhile, they begin to understand it’s not quite as necessary as they thought to have all that technology with them all the time.”

Moore has observed that sometimes even the kids glued to “Angry Birds” on their iPhone at the start of the trip will be watching out the window for real-life eagles on the way back.

“As the marshal, I’ll sometimes say, ‘You know, you can work on that laptop when you get home. Right now, you need to be looking out the window at all this gorgeous scenery. That’s where the real action is.’”

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