Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Continuing the train journey in Canada on Rocky Mountaineer

After an overnight stay in Kamloops, we’re again onboard the Rocky Mountaineer train heading west from Banff to Vancouver, Canada. 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.
Rolling hills become more prominent in the landscape.
Changing landscape

No longer in the Rockies, the mountains we see now in British Columbia are really large hills. Remnants of rock slides are evident, and forest fires have reduced the number of trees. Our route parallels the North Thompson River, with many picturesque bends providing opportunities to photograph the front of the train curving along the tracks.
The Rocky Mountaineer train winds along on a curving path.
River water has the appearance of flowing upstream as thick ripples break in mild white foam against rock islands exposed by low water levels. Not to be fooled, at places the water churns into a menacing mass. Brown dirt slides down hillsides into scrub brush, which forms a barrier that keeps silt onshore. As a result the water is bright green instead of a muddy butterscotch color. In the distance, mountains resemble sand dunes speckled with green Christmas trees.

The train travels through several tunnels, rolls into the town of Spencer’s Bridge, passes Avalanche Alley and Rainbow Canyon, and rumbles by Lytton, where the Thompson and Fraser Rivers meet. The track from Mission to Vancouver is shared by Canadian National Railway (heading west to Vancouver) and Canadian PacificRailway (heading east to Kamloops), so at Cisco Crossing (cisco is a First Nation word meaning unpredictable—perfectly appropriate), we watch two trains cross each other on the bridge’s tracks.
Intrepid rafters tackle Jaws of Death Gorge.
At the slender Jaws of Death Gorge in the Thompson Canyon, whitewater rafters maneuver through the turbulent river flow. We watch for Hell’s Gate, another narrow opening with a rough passage, intimidating whitewater rapids, and steep gorges. Explorer Simon Fraser wrote of this place in 1808, “We had to pass where no human being should venture.” From the safety of our coach, we appreciate efforts of early settlers who ventured across this challenging terrain.

Hell's Gate is a dangerously narrow
passage in a steep gorge.
Dining onboard
Savoring cuisine prepared by a culinary team of 85 is a highlight of the journey. Fresh local ingredients are the mainstay of meals perfectly presented aboard this gently swaying restaurant. While guests admire spectacular scenery outside they are served delectable dishes such as British Columbia salmon, Alberta braised short ribs, or Fraser Valley chicken. For lunch, I choose the ribs, served with mashed potatoes and salad—along with a glass of chardonnay and a taste of chocolate pistachio brownie for dessert.

Then it’s time to sit back and relax. I scan the fertile farmland of Fraser Valley and see fields of corn, raspberries, and blueberries. This compact region supplies more than 50 percent of British Columbia’s agricultural products.
The weather turns windy and cool, not so good for standing on the outside vestibule but okay for sightseeing through the glass dome that surrounds us inside. Fraser River is skinny here, with thick forests growing along its banks and beyond. As the train continues though Fort Langley, a trading region for 9,000 years, we’re reminded that this is where the Hudson Bay Company, the oldest commercial corporation in North America, started trading furs more than 340 years ago.
Farming in Fraser Valley is  important to all of British Columbia.

Before noon, the train heads into the Rocky Mountains again where tall gray-brown peaks appear to be stacked in layers. A few pointed summits rise above the gently-rounded mountains, while growth patterns of the lush spruce and oak forests follow the undulating grain of rock and flowing water in the mountains. Crystal clear lakes reflect majestic mountains, tempting me to fill my camera’s memory card.

Mountains again become part of the landscape.
Shortly before arrival in the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver, the sun pokes out, and our remarkable journey ends on a shining note.

Read about the first part of this train ride at

The Rocky Mountaineer runs from late April through early October and offers rail trips from one to 24 days in length.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



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