Yesterday we drove to Lake Louise, which is about an hour away from Banff via Canada highway 1, the Trans-Canada highway. It’s a pleasant ride through more of the towering peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
One of the locals told us that Lake Louise is the most photographed place in Canada. If that bit of local lore is true, it’s not hard to see why. The water in the lake is a brilliant turquoise color, like you might find in the Caribbean, and the lake is surrounded by craggy mountains with glaciers at the far end. It’s a fantastic, beautiful place.
We followed a walking path from the grounds of the Fairmont, which anchors one end of the lake, down toward the glaciers. The trail runs for about a mile and a half along the rim of the lake. We shared the path with lots of other gawkers and some trail riders.
There is still snow melt running into the lake, and the water is icy cold. At the far end, there is a beach and then the lake becomes a kind of marsh, with the glaciers hovering on the mountaintops far overhead.
I’m not ashamed to say that I took my share of pictures of this wondrous place. I’ve helped to add even more credibility to that bit of local lore about Canada’s most photographed spot.
Yesterday we took the gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain, which overlooks the town of Banff. Sulphur Mountain is one of the minor peaks in the Rockies range, but it offers a commanding view of the surrounding countryside and allows you to see for miles. In the photo above, you can parts of Banff and the winding Bow River appear far below.
The gondola is a four-seater that takes you directly up the mountainside and offers its own cool views. Bring an extra layer or two of clothing, because it’s cold at the top. Even though yesterday was technically the first day of summer, we were greeted by snowflakes and a howling wind that made me wish I’d brought gloves and a ski cap. I’d guess the temperature up top was below 40 degrees, and the wind chill was below that.
When you reach the top of Mount Sulphur you can admire the views from inside the building while nursing the beverage of your choice, you can walk around the building on an observation deck, or you can follow a wooden walkway to what appears to be a weather station at the summit of the mountain some distance away. (You can see part of the walkway in the photo below.) I chose the latter option, which exposed me to even fiercer winds but rewarded me with the best views of all and allowed me to get some exercise, besides. Still, I was glad to get back to the warmth of the building.
Yesterday we crossed the Canadian Rockies on the second day of our two-day excursion on the Rocky Mountaineer. It was a day of rugged landscape, plunging gorges, swiftly tumbling rivers, and a mountain goat or two. And, for those of us who appreciate deft feats of engineering, a bridge far above a river, shown below, and a cool set of tunnels that spiral the train upward through the interior of the mountains at a gentle grade and bring you out so you can see where you started.
On the Rocky Mountaineer you can sit in you seat and watch the scenery through a bubble window that allows you to see everything from waist level to directly overhead, or by standing out on a platform to get a more immediate sense for the countryside. I preferred the latter option, the better to gulp down lungfuls of the brisk, pine-scented air and feel the breeze on your face. It’s an exhilarating experience to be out among so many trees pumping out so much oxygen.
By the time we rolled into the station at Banff, the weather had turned foul, but the rain couldn’t dim the experience. The Rocky Mountaineer is a bucket list item worth doing.
When I think of Canada, I don’t typically think of desert — but that’s exactly what the terrain turns into as you head east on the Rocky Mountaineer toward Kamloops, the town that is the destination after day one of the trip. The locals call the climate “semi-arid,” but it sure seems to be full “arid” to me. The area looks and feels like New Mexico or Arizona or other parts of the American southwest. It’s hotter, and a lot drier, with brown-hued topography and scattered plants that resemble sagebrush.
It’s a pretty abrupt change from the farmland and piney forest views we saw during the first part of the trip. According to our waiter — who seemed a lot more knowledgeable than your average waiter, by the way — it’s because the high Cascade mountains to the west and the equally high Rockies to the east create a climate condition called a “rain shadow,” in which lower, rain-carrying clouds can’t move past the mountain ranges. Only high-altitude cirrus clouds that aren’t laden with moisture can scrape by.
Tomorrow we’ll move out of this hot zone and up and over the Rockies, but I’ll always remember this amazing taste of New Mexico in the Great White North. Canada is full of surprises!
As the Rocky Mountaineer heads north into British Columbia, you see prime logging territory — plenty of towering trees that can provide logs to spare, and vast rivers ready to deliver them to the sawmills downstream. The whole country seems geared for a successful timber industry, and that remains true even today. As you look out the window at the landscape rolling by, it’s not unusual to see log delivery rafts floating downstream, ready to be collected.
Once you move away from the American border, though, the rivers become less placid and civilized and more . . . desperate. We go from placid logging rivers to whitewater, such as the brutal Hell’s Gate run, shown below. No wonder it earned that name.
And then . . . everything changes, in a weird and unexpected way. More on that tomorrow morning.
The first part of the Rocky Mountaineer trip hugs the U.S-Canadian border. It’s beautiful countryside, and although we’re in British Columbia we’re looking at mountains in the United States.
Imagine having a close-up view of heavily snow-capped Mount Baker in your backyard! It would make it difficult to concentrate on your chores.
We’re in Vancouver, getting ready to board the Rocky Mountaineer train on the Canadian rail system. It runs over the Canadian Rockies to Banff and points west.
The Rocky Mountaineer does things with a nice touch of class. We were greeting by a guy playing Beatles music on a baby grand when we entered the terminal, got complimentary coffee and juice, and were piped aboard the train by a bagpiper in full Scottish regalia. Now we’ve been given a “sunrise toast” with orange juice and bubbly to start our journey.
We’re in the top floor of a two-story train with more window glass than you can possibly imagine — the better to gawk as the landscape rolls by. The scenery is supposed to be spectacular, and we’re eager for our trip to begin.