Rocky mountain run – Vacation Focus – Rocky Mountaineer train tours, Canada – Brief Article
When adventurers and explorers traveled through the Canadian Rockies, they saw majestic mountains, huge raptors, bears, rushing water, and quiet valleys. They also scrounged for food and, at the end of the day, their cold bottoms were probably covered with saddle sores.
William Van Horne thought there was a better way. In the late 19th century, he was instrumental in building Canada’s transcontinental railroad. A strong believer in tourism, he said, “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists.”
The Rocky Mountaineer train helps tourists view these incredible vistas in luxury and style. Domed cars are transparent capsules that rumble and slither through tunnels, over bridges, and around mountains. Provided within these capsules is first-class service. It sure beats the clippidity-clop of a horse and wagon.
The train’s westward itinerary originates in Calgary or Banff, Alberta. My advice–start from Banff. You sleep later, explore Banff, and spend the night at the Banff Centre, the famous learning hub for artists, writers, and musicians.
“All aboard,” shouts the conductor in the early a.m. The train departs Banff for the two-day, 585-mile journey that will cross five mountain ranges, travel past semi-arid desert and temperate rain forest, and terminate alongside the coastal waters of Vancouver, British Columbia.
The 30-35 m.p.h. cruising speed makes it easy to watch the world go by and to spot wildlife. A mama osprey snuggles in her nest to protect her eggs from the crisp Canadian air. Elks graze in a pine-forested landscape. When the Mountaineer emerges from one of the many tunnels, eagles rise toward the snowy mountains.
Clouds roll in and cling to the slopes of the peaks. It’s chilly outside, but inside the train is warm, cozy, and friendly. The 45-person staff in the train’s Gold Leaf section sees to your every need. They also provide a running commentary on the area’s history, geology, flora, and fauna.
Still, there’s that early morning departure. If it weren’t for the smell of fresh coffee and freshly baked pastries, the hum of the train might throw you back into the arms of Morpheus. But then you’d miss the scenery–like the old train station alongside awesome Lake Louise. Some of the old freight train cars are now a restaurant. Scenes from Doctor Zhivago were filmed there.
Soon it’s time to make your way to the lower-level dining car for more food. Breakfast selections include eggs Benedict and scrambled eggs wrapped in smoked salmon with caviar.
“I’m not here to keep people healthy, but I’m here to make people happy,” says Edward Walker, the train’s executive chef. “Still I try to keep it on the light side and cater to special needs.”
While all this eating is going on, the train rolls past Banff and Yoho national parks. The Canadian, British Columbian, and Albertan flags mark the Continental Divide, an intriguing point of geography because all the water to the east of it makes its way to the Atlantic, while the destination of the water on its western side is the Pacific. At 5,332 feet, the Continental Divide is the highest point of the journey. The train continues to navigate steep grades through spiral tunnels. Soon the Columbia River runs alongside the tracks. On the outdoor observation deck in the rear of the car, photographers literally hang over the side in pursuit of that perfect shot.
Kicking Horse Pass is a great “photo op.” When the train emerges from the 3,255-foot-long Upper Silo Tunnel, you can see the train as it spirals into the Kicking Horse Valley. Bear tracks zigzag across the barren shore of Kicking Horse Lake.
“Bear on the left,” comes a sudden shout of a passenger. Everyone shifts to the left. One wonders if this quick change in the train’s weight distribution could send it careening off the track.
When daylight starts to diminish, so does the journey. The Rocky Mountaineer travels only during daylight hours. Kamloops is its overnight stop.
For passengers staying in a local hotel, evening fare is the Two River Junction dinner theater. The wait staff becomes the cast in a production about Billy Miner, the “Gentleman Bandit.”
The next morning, the train crew and guests are more relaxed. Everyone is quick to share sights, like the Indian cemetery on the outskirts of town. Crosses cover the corpseless ground. Rejecting missionary customs, the Indians snatched the bodies and secretly buried them according to their tradition.
The train moves on toward soaring peaks, blue-hued glaciers, and roaring waterfalls. Over bridges and through tunnels it weaves its way through Black, Thompson, and Fraser canyons.
The narrowest part of the Fraser River is Hells Gate. Water gushes through the 110-foot-wide gorge at 200 million gallons per minute. A series of concrete fish-ways slows the current, making the upriver salmon run less aerobic. Near the town of Hope, shacks line the shore. The “First Nations” people (Indians) use the huts to dry and smoke salmon.
Soon small towns and logging camps become plentiful. On the outskirts of Vancouver, the trappings of civilization appear–huge cranes, factories, and traffic–and our adventure comes to an end.
Says a satisfied passenger, “We’ve done a lot of rail travel, including the Glacier Express in Switzerland. This is the best.”
The other train-travel junkies nod in agreement.
Rocky Mountaineer two-day trips start or end in Vancouver. There are two classes of service–the upscale, domed car, Gold Leaf service and the more economical Red Leaf service that has regular cars and catered boxed meals. Red Leaf is more like a 1940s train experience.
Rates run from about $350 for Red Leaf at low season to $1,250 high season for Gold Leaf. Call (800) 665-7245 or visit www.rockymountaineer.com.
COPYRIGHT 2002 World Publishing, Co. (Illinois)
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group