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My Destinations Chat


All Aboard in Arizona!

August 03, 2011


Trains have carried precious cargo and excitement to the southwest since the first railroad crossed into Arizona in 1877. Making important stops through state history, railroads represent progress from past to present. Locomotive lines paved the way for The Grand Canyon State to evolve from its old west mining roots, into the home of a World Wonder, and the major metropolitan Phoenix area. Trains have helped to put Arizona on track as the dynamic and accessible vacation destination it is today. So all aboard in Arizona!

Track Back to Experience Arizona’s History

Arizona’s first stretch of railroad stemming from Yuma became the main line for the coast to coast Southern Pacific Railroad. The original concrete pivot, once allowing the swing-span railroad bridge to make way for passing steam boats, is now the centerpiece of Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza in historic downtown Yuma. See all the downtown sights. Experience them as you explore Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza by segway for a contrasting adventure. Don’t miss the “Ghost Train” stop at the plaza that recreates the authentic steam engine arrival experience through sights and sounds. The Ghost Train stop features an authentic 1907 Baldwin locomotive with the audio to match. Wait until dark in this sunny town to watch a laser light show trace tracks across the bridge over Madison Avenue. Live it up like an outlaw and explore Yuma and the Territorial Prison made famous by the 1957 and 2007 versions of the movie 3:10 to Yuma. Just before the arrival of the railroad, the prison was built in 1876, and is the most visited of the Arizona’s historic parks today. Although some of the original prison was destroyed when the main railroad line rerouted in the 1920s, the original strap iron cells and solitary chamber of the first prison in Arizona Territory still stand. Walk through them to experience the infamous reputation of the possibly haunted prison. You are WANTED! Put on a scowl and create your own mug shot using the same mirror used by inmates arriving at the prison. This original mirror, prison stripe suits, and lucky prisoner numbers can be found in the exhibits at the prison museum.

Train Trips of Today

Helicopters, horses, small air-planes, mules, guided hikes, white water raft tours, and road trips bring tourists into the Grand Canyon daily, but before Arizona was dubbed “Grand Canyon State,” Grand Canyon Railway provided the only lifeline to this Wonder of the World. The train made its first journey to the South Rim in 1901 making its way cross country from Chicago through Williams, AZ to Los Angeles. This made the canyon accessible to all! Travel to the majestic canyon by railway today to live the same legendary experience as many former presidents and celebrities in an environmentally friendly way. Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clark Gable, Doris Day, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates have all traversed Grand Canyon Railway’s tracks. Special occasions including the anniversary celebration of the railway’s rebirth in September mean the steam engine is back. Engine No. 4960 fueled by recycled vegetable oil features a single class of service in the train’s historic 1923 Harriman cars throughout the year. This interrupts the regular diesel operated fleet of locomotives running on the railway. After developing and implementing effective initiatives into all of its operations, the Grand Canyon Railway was the first US tourism railway to be certified for its environmental management system. Although the railway temporarily stopped running due to lack of demand when road trips and automobiles gained popularity in the 50s, today Grand Canyon Railway is responsible for keeping 50,000 cars outside of this precious national treasure.  

Grand Canyon Railway is the way to go for making the most of the Colorado plateau. From the comforts of a train car, gaze peacefully through your window to enjoy changing desert vistas and mountain landscapes. See the San Francisco Peaks standing over 12,600 feet tall, the highest elevation in Arizona. Peek at a portion of the largest Ponderosa Pine Forest in the country and you may catch sight of some of the region’s native elk, mountain lion, mule-deer, squirrels, pronghorn, bald eagles, horned owls, ravens and even California condors. Visit the railway during the winter to see the snowcapped mountains of Flagstaff and Williams. Create lifelong memories for the family as the magical children’s book, The Polar Express, comes to life each holiday season. Departing from Williams, the train chugs quietly through the wilderness for a special visit to the “North Pole,” where Santa Claus, and his sleigh full of reindeer await. Hot cocoa, cookies, and story-telling session with special sleigh bells for the little ones complete this spirited railroad ride. For a year round treat, enjoy the comforts of the Luxury Parlor Car which include a private bar, complimentary goodies, and a champagne toast on the return train to Williams!

Gentle iron giants weave through the beautiful Verde Canyon, one of Arizona’s many treasures. See the natural splendor of the canyon while experiencing the Verde Canyon Railroad where train cars pass gems like the Sinagua Indian dwellings, fortified trestles, a monocline fault, and through a 680 foot tunnel on a train trip from the old mining town of Clarkdale to the Perkinsville ghost ranch and back. Discover history and feel the fresh mountain air of Verde Canyon as the chugging wheels of the railroad echo against the canyon walls. See bald eagles soar among astonishing views of a wild and live frontier around every bend. Summer season brings the wine tasting adventure known as the Grape Train Escape to twilight on the railroad. Choose to savor wine and ride through the sunset in an open air viewing car on this tour, or get a taste of Tequila Sunset on a festive south of the border themed tour. Ales on Rails comes to the Verde Valley Railroad and brings Bavarian favorites such as brats, pretzels, strudels and beer as the leaves of the canyon trees change each fall.

The Copper Spike Train Excursion offers an original experience on a 50’s style train ride with retro service to match. Glide through Globe on this newest train by Arizona Eastern Railway. Get a glimpse of Globe’s Golden Age charm at the historic depot and Eastern Railway Passenger Station built in 1916. The Gila Valley Globe & Northern Railroad began as a mule train, transporting ore and copper, prior to its acquisition by Southern Pacific in 1924 when it started to take tourists through the Tonto National Monument to see cliff dwellings, the Roosevelt Dam and the Salt River Valley. Today take the train to the Apache Gold Casino Resort Thursday through Sunday to experience the same route which brought travelers to the “Land of the Apache,” nearly 100 years ago! Take the train to see Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park, the Old Dominion Mine property, Roosevelt Lake, and stop in downtown historic Globe to take a guided walking tour! Try the Luncheon and Dinner service in a luxury dome to watch the blue skies and clouds pass by through the glass rooftop.

Arrive steps away from the south rim of the Grand Canyon on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route. The tour departing daily begins or ends in Chicago and Los Angeles, with a stop in Williams for connecting bus service to the Grand Canyon Railway. Depart from Williams aboard The Grand Canyon Railway as you experience musicians, cowboys, and a mock 1900s train robbery on the way to the canyon. Listen to the Trails on Rails program brought to you by the National Park Service while riding along on the train. Onboard guides during season provide insights about changing vistas and the natural heritage of each traveled region. During the offseason, bring your ipod and download the Trails on Rails podcast to kick back, relax, listen and learn.

Trains and Tracks in the Metropolitan Area

The Phoenix Metro Light Rail makes it easy to navigate the fifth largest city in the country, Phoenix. Now stay, where you play using the Metro to get around. The metro makes the trip to Tempe a cinch. Visit Tempe Town Lake to experience pedal boating, kayaking, hydrobiking, and events like Jazz on the beach, or the Oktoberfest celebration. Hike the historic Hayden Butte, see the Arizona State University campus, and the Mill Avenue shopping and entertainment district the same day you enjoy a Suns or Diamondbacks game downtown. Chill out if your visit finds you during the summer season, and stop at the conditioned station which blasts cool air. The chilly breeze from above and powered by the sun brings the temp down 40 degrees!  Take the rail to visit the new home of the Chicago Cubs during spring training at the Hohokam Stadium of Mesa starting spring of 2012. Plan a day full of events using the Metro to connect you with the communities of Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa. Soon enough the PHX Sky Train will transport light-rail passengers to Sky Harbor International Airport. Beginning in 2013, frequent flyers will use this driverless people mover to access the airport along with the many attractions of Phoenix. About 40 miles of extensions to METRO Light Rail will be completed throughout the next 14 years!

If you find yourself without a valentine on February 14, 2012 celebrate Arizona’s 100th birthday! Or celebrate love AND your love for Arizona. Enjoy the Grand Canyon aboard the Arizona Centennial Train departing from the Williams depot offering fares of $7.50 to commemorate the start of the Grand Canyon State in 1912. Listen to narratives of Arizona bygones by the Winslow Harvey Girls and the Bill Williams Mountain Men. A bright night sky in Williams starts at 7:12 pm with a fireworks launch reflecting the Arizona Inaugural in Phoenix 100 years ago. Wine and dine during the Centennial Sweetheart Dinner, taking place in the historic Sultana Theatre, built in 1912 still holding the longest continuous liquor license in the state of Arizona.

Historic steam locomotive, Union Pacific Railroad No. 844, is on track to travel through Southern Arizona to Phoenix in celebration of Arizona’s Centennial. Commemorating railroad history and heritage the locomotive will make overnight stops to be displayed in a number of towns and cities along the way to be determined by Union Pacific. Train aficionados are encouraged to welcome the locomotive at the scheduled whistle stops as it rolls into Phoenix.

On a visit to the Phoenix area visit the Arizona Railway Museum of Chandler to take a self guided walk in the open-air train yard. Check out railroad artifacts, explore passenger cars, the gift shop, and last but not least, an authentic caboose! Celebrate National Train Day with the Arizona Railway Museum each May! McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, in the heart of Scottsdale, is another must see stop to take on any train tour. Take a ride on a miniature Paradise and Pacific Railroad and the antique carousel for a trip back in time. Visit shops, the model train building facility, the museum, play in one of the spacious playgrounds, or just relax in the grass under a tree or in one of the park's picnic ramadas. Sunday night concerts in summertime, the Xeriscape Arboretum, and antique steam engines attract tourists and residents alike.

Choo- Choo-choose the way to take Arizona by train on your next visit to or through the Grand Canyon State. As an integral part of the way Arizona has developed, trains with travel and tourism go hand and hand like the conductor, cars, and caboose. Pack and plan to let loose as you play on an Arizona train escape!


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Filed under: scottsdale, tempe, phoenix, mesa, globe, tours, arizona, centennial, trains, railroad, Arizona family fun, valentines day, vacation ideas, Verde Canyon, Grand Canyon Railway

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