Next Sunday’s itinerary: Easter service, followed by an Easter egg hunt, followed by Easter dinner.
If your holiday mainstays are feeling as stale as last year’s Peeps, here’s an alternative: rail travel — and right here in Arizona, no less.
Two hours up Interstate 17 in Clarkdale, the Verde Canyon Railroad runs one train per day (except Tuesdays) into its namesake gorge. On Easter Sunday, that train becomes the Easter Bunny Express.
“The bunny pops out around 11:30 (a.m.) and carries a basket of goodies and visits with the kids. He dances and does a Pied Piper kind of thing, with the kids following him around. We do face-painting on the patio, and we try to take a picture with every single kid. They’re all posted on Flickr, and people can download theirs for free,” says Teresa A. Propeck, spokeswoman for the railroad.
When the train pulls out of the station at 1 p.m., the bunny makes his last rounds on board, giving a jar of jellybeans to one winner, who usually ends up sharing with the entire train car.
“We only carry 400 people on our train, so it’s really intimate,” says Propeck. “The focus is on slowing down.”
Pulled by a 1953 FP-7 diesel engine, the Verde Canyon Railroad’s collection of restored vintage passenger cars roll into a scenic canyon cut by the Verde River at the base of the mountain where, uphill, the town of Jerome is perched. It’s about 25 minutes from Sedona.
The tracks, laid in 1912 to carry freight to and from local mines, pass over vintage trestles and through a manmade tunnel that stretches 680 feet. They wend through a high desert landscape of soaring stone walls and stands of cottonwood, mesquite, juniper and sycamore trees.
“It can be a three and a half or four hour trip, depending on how fast we go, but when you’re 1,800 feet down inside the canyon and you have open-air viewing cars you can go to any time, it goes fast,” says Propeck.
Seating is available in two coach cars, where passengers may bring a boxed lunch or purchase food from an in-car snack counter. In first-class cars, tickets include comfier seats and a hot-and-cold appetizer spread. Drinks are available for purchase from a full bar.
Alfresco gondola cars, accessible at all times for all passengers, afford prime views.
“When you have American bald eagles nesting and Indian ruins and the river flowing along the trackline, you just never know what you’ll see,” says Propeck. “It’s such a riparian area, sandwiched between the Sycamore Wilderness Area and the Prescott National Forest, we get great blue herons, the red-tailed hawks, the javelinas, deer. You can see so much with binoculars and even just a really good camera, because in some places it’s a pretty tight canyon and you have some great views.”
A recorded narration alerts passengers as the train approaches points of interest, and attendants placed in every car answer questions and snap family photos.
Wait time at the depot is tempered by the on-site Copper Spike Cafe, Boxcar Gift Shop and John Bell Museum, a remodeled boxcar containing artifacts and photos of the early days of copper mining and train transportation in the Verde Valley.
Propeck says the Easter Bunny Express sells out each year; at press time, half the seats on the train were still available.
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