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.
Being aboard the Rocky Mountaineer is a lot like being on a cruise ship. There’s an overarching emphasis on pampering the travelers. Each train car has legions of people waiting on you hand and foot and pointing out that osprey nest that is coming up around the corner, or the big horn sheep trotting by.
Oh, yeah — there’s also a lot of focus on food and drink.
Every car has its own white tablecloth dining room and kitchen. You get seated with other travelers in your car — so far, we’ve broken bread with a couple from Florida and a couple from Germany — and you order your main course off the menu while they bring you other treats, like the fruit concoction pictured above that we got at breakfast. It was a kind of delicious combination of orange juice and fruit sections, topped with a plump, juicy, tart gooseberry. Not a bad way to start your breakfast!
In addition to the two sit-down meals, you’re also plied with snacks and as many drinks as you can inhale, the better to appreciate the scenery rolling by. It’s a pretty civilized way to travel. Call it truising — or maybe craining.
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.