In February 2016 Arizona Game & Fish confirmed the presence of an egg in the nest of mated eagles known locally as “Clark” and “Dale.” In the past, the pair has struggled to create a successful nesting site in the Verde Canyon near their namesake community,Clarkdale, Arizona. The couple’s newest nursery was established in a stand of aged Cottonwoods just a few miles outside of town, between Verde Canyon Railroad’s historic rails and the Verde River. By March, railroad personnel noticed that the eagles were exhibiting activity indicating a hatchling may be in the nest. The parents were spotted delivering food, and now instead of sitting directly atop the nest as they would have while incubating, they were seen perching on the edges.
In early April, Verde Canyon Railroad employees were able to confirm presence of a hatchling, using a telephoto lens that shrunk the 20 yards to the nest into a much closer view, snapping photos which captured the fuzzy grey eaglet peering back. The baby’s bright-eyes, already five times more powerful than a human’s vision, observed the train crew excitedlyhigh-fiving each other, no doubt wondering what the fuss was all about. Very nearby, the ever-vigilant parents were spotted hunting for fish in the clear waters of the Verde below.
Because of its partnerships with Arizona Game & Fish and Scottsdale-based Liberty Wildlife, Verde Canyon Railroad relayed the confirmation of the eaglet in quick fashion, allowing a game plan of banding the eaglet to take shape. Banding allows Arizona Game and Fish to check the health and growth of the hatchling, and tag it to monitor the raptor throughout its life and travels. From the photos, Arizona Game and Fish was able to initially estimate the eaglet’s age as three to four weeks old.
The Verde Canyon is prime eagle territory year-round, but during the winter months a large influx of seasonal visitors adds to the resident population during nesting season. In December 2015, Verde Canyon Railroad crew noticed this new nest taking shape in the colossal cottonwood between the tracks and the river a few miles from the train’s Clarkdale depot. The massive bundle of twigs and sticks was unmistakable. With both parents taking part in construction, the raptors and their large nest became readily visible to train passengers during Verde Canyon Railroad’s popular “Eagle Watch” season.
Since its 1990s inception, Verde Canyon Railroad has been an active sponsor of the Arizona Game & Fish’s “eagle watch” program which enables “nest watchers” to monitor viable eggs and active hatchlings. In addition, the train employees often find themselves in a key position to report eagle activity due to the railroad’s proximity to nest locations, most of them in otherwise inaccessible spots throughout the canyon’s wild riparian terrain. (It sometimes takes a village to help wildlife to thrive and survive.)
Passengers aboard Verde Canyon Railroad enjoy a rare glimpse of eagle activity as the train passes through this protected area, closed to all other access during eagle nesting season. For more than 100 years the train has coexisted with the native raptors of this treasured landscape, and since 1990 the train has provided a luxurious adventure to nearly two million worldwide visitors.
A treasured bit of history traversing a rare and scenic Arizona wilderness, Verde Canyon Railroad is a fresh view into the unspoiled heart of the West. Postcard-perfect scenery is only part of the magic. The train provides a comfortable and exciting journey as it travels a leisurely four hours from the charming Clarkdale depot to the ghost ranch at Perkinsville and back. Awe-inspiring rock formations, historic trestles, ancient cliff dwellings, a 680-foot manmade tunnel and soaring raptors are just a few of the trip’s many highlights. The caboose is a luxurious, private car for six very close family or friends. First-class cars boast plush seating, complimentary appetizers and a full-service bar. Coach offers vintage Pullman-style seating, panoramic windows and snack bars. Everyone has access to open-air viewing cars offering 360-degree views and spectacular photographic opportunities.
A stone’s throw from the hillside mining town of Jerome, Verde Canyon Railroad’s Clarkdale depot is located in the heart of the Verde Valley, a diverse crossroads featuring amazing adventures in every direction. Only two hours from Phoenix and 25 minutes from Sedona, Verde Canyon Railroad is the perfect Arizona day trip. Reservations are accepted online at verdecanyonrr.com or at 800.293.7245.