Saturday, October 11, 2008

29-08 Exploring Verde Valley Arizona train ride

Verde Valley, Cottonwood AZ

One of the interesting things I’ve learned in exploring the history out west, is that the Native American population was seemingly everywhere. In the Verde Valley where I’m staying, there were over 50 pueblo villages most on the tops of hills.
Even though this valley is very arid, these ancient communities filled the valley. Of course the Verde River as well as the deep well at Montezuma’s Well provided the needed water for these communities.

Just think, if this valley contained over 50 communities and you multiply that by the rest of the land out west, there was a huge population containing many varied Indian tribes out here.
I did take a short day trip over to Montezuma’s Well. It’s the site of a few small cliff dwellings overlooking the well which was created when a limestone cavern caved in thousands of years ago and created the well. It has a constant 76 degree spring water flowing through it. This is just one of the many historical sites in the area. I’ve visited many of the others on previous trips to this area.

Walking along the rim of the well and descending into the well along a stone stepped path, I was able to view the cliff dwellings from both on top and down next to the deep pool of water. Passing under shade giving shrubs and mesquite trees along the edge of the deep blue water, I discovered a few more stone carved dwellings tucked into caverns on the south end of the well itself. Signs written on the limestone walls from the early 1800’s let me know that early explores also discovered the ruins.

Just being able to have the time to explore in depth these sites and at my leisure is such a joy. And to contemplate the immensity of the cultures that lived out here thousands of years ago helps me to understand our world a bit better. I’ve even had the opportunity to read some books on the history and even a novel or two about the ancient cultures out here, bringing these sites to life.

Some of it is not always pleasant. Like finding out that many of the Indians believed in witches, some may have been cannibals and when they left the area for good, some believe they went into outer space on space ships. Strange stories passed down around campfires late at night.

Train Rides. Verde Canyon Railroad:

Yes, I’ve been on another train ride. This one is called the Verde Canyon Railroad and is my 4th or 5th train I’ve been on. I’m dedicating this whole article to my buddy Ray Vargas who is an avid train buff. After seeing the Vintage FP7 Locomotives, (numbers 1510 and 1512), I can see why train aficionados get hooked on trains. All of the other trains I’ve been on have been steam locomotives and fit a particular era in time with their coal fired steam hissing and belching thick black smoke, they provide a visual sign of the power it takes to pull a train down the tracks.

The FP7 on the other hand is a diesel engine with a sleek design from 1953. They were built by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors and there are only 12 in existence. It takes two of the engines to pull our train and the first surprise of the day was at how quiet and smooth the engines were. Originally built for an Alaskan rail line, through a number of transactions they’ve ended up here in Arizona.

I talked to a train buff before boarding the train as a few of us were scrambling to take pictures of those awesome engines up front. The guy told me he and his wife along with only about 8 others have reserved 4 private cars on a train that will travel out west for Christmas this year and end up in Santa Fe. A dream trip for anyone into trains.

But my trip was on the Verde Canyon Railroad and it started out pretty comfy in 1st class. Of course I got a discount 10%, so I paid $71 for the 40 mile round trip ticket. I sat at a two seater copper covered table with a great window view, others had loveseat couches facing each other with a coffee table in between. The couches were so comfortable that some passengers ended up dozing off. As the train left the station, as smooth and quiet as could be, a gentle rocking of the cars back and forth, we were offered a full breakfast buffet. I was only two seats away from the buffet and was right up front to be one of the first to enjoy the breakfast along with a champagne toast to start the day.

The canyon follows the Verde river to Perkinsville, passing two or three homesteads still remaining in the canyon which is now a part of the Coconino National Forest. One of the homesteads belongs to the Rosendo Alvarez family. Of course I thought of my good friends Trine and Linda Alvarez and wondered if Trine was related to this Alvarez family. Their story is told in the magazine given out at the beginning of the trip.

The train has an excellent PA system so one could hear the special recorded messages about each section of the trip. The Train attendants also got on the PA and provided additional info as we passed by Indian ruins, eagles nests, the rock formations, the few homesteads along the Verde River and all the other attractions. It was seamless and I really enjoyed the music that was played periodically throughout the trip as well. One song in particular sang about the journeys we take in life, the journey to find ourselves, the journey to find our souls, to find our way through life and those we meet along the way. A journey that is never ending but always moving forward. It was kind of haunting in a sense, looking out the window of the train car, seeing the canyon walls pass by, looking down into the cotton wood trees and the shallow Verde River below, realizing I was on that journey. Where would it lead, what would I find along the way.

Each train ride I’ve been on has been different. This one had an overall sense of being comfortable, pleasant in a relaxed way. The music and narration for the ears, the sights of the canyon filled the visual need and walking out on the open air viewing cars I was able to feel the breeze and still warm fall air as it brought the smells of dusty rock canyons, Cottonwood trees, dry cactus desert land, the Verde River and sunshine as we traveled the rails to Perkinsville.

It sure beat watching the stock market this past week.

Your traveling reporter, Doug p hoping you get to take a walk in the wood, or along the beach and refresh your mind and soul.

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