BY JANET STEINBERG
All aboard! Time to go clickity-clacking the Canadian Rockies.
Though most of Western Canada is painted white by a blanket of dense snow between November and April, now is the time to start thinking about, or planning for, that dream trip to the Canadian Rockies.
Riding the rails from Vancouver, British Columbia to Jasper, Alberta was one of the most relaxing, most scenic, most memorable, trips I have ever taken. Come along with me as I take you on a trip across a land of abundant wildlife, majestic snowy peaks, glittering glacial lakes, roaring waterfalls and towering trees.
My husband and I donned our Rocky Mountaineer engineer’s caps and boarded the Rocky Mountaineer train, for one of the optional rail tours offered by Rocky Mountaineer Vacations. We were eager to ride the rails across that same historic route that would reveal the scenic wonders of the Canadian Rockies. And to think, all of this was to be up close and in daylight hours.
Guests onboard the Rocky Mountaineer train can choose from two classes of service…RedLeaf or GoldLeaf Service. RedLeaf Service, similar to traditional rail coach environment, provides guests with assigned, spacious, comfortable reclining seats, large picture windows, and at-your-seat meal service, in a non-smoking, air-conditioned rail coach.
The 35 RedLeaf coaches, classically styled railcars built in 1954, have been upgraded a number of times. RedLeaf Service also offers individual attention and colorful, interpretative, commentary provided by an Onboard Attendant.
Chilled breakfasts and luncheon selections like British Columbia salmon and Alberta beef are served airline-style at your seat. You will not miss a moment of the spectacular scenery. Complimentary snacks, tea, coffee, and soft drinks are made available throughout the journey. RedLeaf Service also offers forward facing seats able to rotate to accommodate groups of four, restroom facilities in each coach, and open-air vestibules at the end of all coaches.
Travel onboard the bi-level GoldLeaf Service dome coach offers the same attentive standards enhanced by a luxurious golden touch. The 12 GoldLeaf bi-level dome coaches, custom-built exclusively for Rocky Mountaineer Railtours Company, were first introduced in 1995.
When I boarded the quiet, smooth-riding, bi-level, dome coach, I could understand why everybody raves about Rocky Mountaineer GoldLeaf Service. From the upper level seating area we would have a 360-degree view of the stunning and constantly changing vistas outside our window.
POP! went the champagne cork as Onboard Attendant Keith toasted the 76 passengers in our dome car with a Welcome Aboard Mimosa Cocktail. “Here’s to the most spectacular train trip in the world,” Keith said. “Cheers!” But the pampering did not stop there.
As we descended from the upper level dome car down a 10-step spiral staircase to the main level dining room, the aroma of breakfast being prepared wafted from the galley. Comfort, luxury, and delicious food were to be found in the GoldLeaf Dining Room where white linen, gleaming tableware, and fresh flowers awaited us.
The menu in this rolling restaurant included regional cuisine such as Bison and Eggs for breakfast and Wild Mushroom Chowder and Baked Wild British Columbia Salmon for lunch.
GoldLeaf meals are accompanied by complimentary wines and spectacular views…a gorge that explodes with 200 million turbulent gallons of water a minute; a bridge as high as a skyscraper; and a tunnel that doubles back on itself. A true feast for the senses.
Exiting the dining room, one passes two very important spots on the train…the restrooms and the gift shop. The former needs no explanation. The latter is well stocked with ‘bear necessities’ and train trivia such as bear tee shirts, bobblehead train engineers, engineer caps, and wooden train whistles.
Our first day’s journey took us from the bustling city of Vancouver to Kamloops in British Columbia’s semi-arid interior. Enroute we passed through the fertile Fraser Valley and the scenic Fraser Canyon. A highlight of the canyon occurred when the train slowed down for passengers to photograph Hell’s Gate, where the torrential waters of the mighty, muddy Fraser River pass through the canyon’s walls at its narrowest point.
Upon leaving the lush greenery of the pastoral Fraser Canyon, the trained followed the South Thompson River. As the train approached the city of Kamloops, timberland turned into a semi-arid desert with a fascinating hillside landscape. Kamloops Lake is reputed to be the home of Canada’s version of the Loch Ness Monster…the Ogopogo Monster. Lloyds of London has offered $1-million for an official sighting of the Ogopogo Monster.
Kamloops (population 85,000), in the heart of the Thompson Okanagan region of British Columbia, was the location of our overnight stop between Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies. This hospitable city was named Kamloops (derived from a Shuswap Indian word meaning "meeting place") because it is nestled at a point in the valley where the North and South Thompson Rivers meet.
Upon disembarking we were motor-coached to our hotel. Having freshened up, we were whisked away to the Two River Junction Dinner Theatre and Musical Revue.
Early the next morning, we boarded the train for the trip to Jasper. Of the 555 passengers (292 GoldLeaf and 263 RedLeaf) aboard the Rocky Mountaineer to Kamloops, only 233 passengers (135 GoldLeaf and 98 RedLeaf) remained on our train for the trip to Jasper. The others took alternate train routes to Lake Louise or Banff where motor coaches would take us a couple of days later.
Departing Kamloops we traveled along the Thompson River through rolling plateaus into the snowy peaks of the Monashee and Cariboo Mountains. Our journey continued past Pyramid Falls, the Alberta Icefields and Mt. Robson. The peak of Mt. Robson, the highest in the Canadian Rockies (12,972-feet), was obscured by cloud cover.
|ROUNDING THE BEND TOWARDS JASPER|
Four days into our fabulous mountain escape, I found there was one serious problem. I had already caught a severe case of Rocky Mountain High for which my physician husband told me there is no cure.