Saturday, May 28, 2016

Ride the rails through the Canadian Rockies, first day

The Rocky Mountaineer rounds a curve with vistas of
lake and mountains all around.
I’ve settled into my seat on the Rocky Mountaineer train when the hostess comes by with a warm, refreshing washcloth. Soon we’ll have breakfast, she says, as the train with a reputation for impeccable dining and service rolls by Eisenhower’s Peak and Castle Peak, mountains that preview scenery we’ll see on our two-day train ride from Banff in Alberta province to Vancouver on the western coast of Canada.
Majestic mountains provide scenic landscapes along the way.
Rocky Mountaineer began operating luxury trains in western Canada more than two decades ago. Larry and I are riding the most popular route called First Passage to the West, a journey through a vast territory of unspoiled wilderness that is not accessible by other means. As the only passenger rail service on the CanadianPacific track, it traces the rail route that connected British Columbia to Canada more than 125 years ago.

The route starts in Calgary, Alberta, travels 307 miles through breathtaking Rocky Mountain scenery around Banff and Lake Louise and then on to Kamloops in British Columbia, where passengers disembark for the night. Trains run only during daylight, so guests won’t miss any of Canada’s snow-capped peaks, gleaming lakes, and green river valleys along the way. From Kamloops the next day, we’ll ride 285 miles to Vancouver, arriving late afternoon.
Creating a rail route

Monument at Craigellachie
When the United States purchased Alaska in 1867, it was feared that British Columbia might be annexed by the U.S. British Columbia promised to become part of Canada in exchange for completion of a transcontinental railroad.
The Rocky Mountains have always been the biggest obstacle for establishing a southern transportation route across Canada because building through mountain passes was very costly. But the project was undertaken by Canada’s two prominent railroad companies, and the last spike was driven into the ground at Craigellachie (noted by a monument we pass) in 1895, ultimately uniting the country.
So many “wow” moments

About mid-morning we approach the Rocky Mountain Trench, a section of flat land that separates the Rockies from the Columbia Mountains. With those ranges and the Purcell Mountains in the background, we spend plenty of time in the vestibule, the open-air observation area between coaches. Although we have excellent views at our seats on the upper deck through a wide wall of windows that extends overhead, we feel more connected to the scenery when outside—and it’s the best spot for taking pictures.
Rolling hills, mountains, and blue skies provide scenic views
on the Rocky Mountaineer train ride.
As the train travels through Mount Macdonald Tunnel, the hosts explain how avalanches in the 1880s often buried trains traveling over Rogers Pass. For about a century the Canadian Pacific Railway instituted various solutions, but in the 1980s CPR completed an engineering feat by tunneling through the mountain to create the longest train tunnel in North America. Each day 24 Canadian Pacific trains traverse its 10-mile length.

Large expanses of windows allow passengers to
enjoy passing scenery from the comfort of their seats.
Before daylight fades, the Rocky Mountaineer enters a semi-desert region. As we travel onto Thompson Plateau toward Kamloops, our destination for the night, the flatland is covered with scraggly sagebrush and rabbit bush vegetation. We learn that ranching and fur trading are important to the economy of Kamloops, whose central location has also made it a tournament capital for many sports.
Larry enjoys a cool drink
on the train.
While it’s possible to drive the distance faster, riding on a train is more scenic, comfortable, relaxing, and doesn’t require much more exertion than walking from our coach to the dining car. Since passengers spend the night in hotels, luggage is transported by truck and deposited in pre-arranged hotel rooms.

After our arrival in Kamloops, a bus takes us to Five Forty Hotel, where we find a lime green post-it note on our bathroom mirror that reads “Be a little crazy now and then.” Great advice, we decide!

Part 2 of Ride the Rails through the Canadian Rockies detail sthe second day’s journey and arrival in Vancouver. Read it here:
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier




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