Rocky Mountaineer Railtours - Day 2
A Transportation Experience of a Lifetime
by Alain Gayot
Luxury Rail Travel
An early departure assures the now train-legged voyageurs another full day of adventure, with anticipation building to conquer the Rockies. You can sense the excitement on the train and the feeling of possible reward — not unlike climbers going for the summit. Breakfast is once again served on board, as the train travels through ranchland along the South Thompson River, gaining altitude as it nears meandering Shuswap Lake (with more than 1,000 miles of lakeshore). This is also the start of serious wild animal territory, and the sighting games rehearsed the day before begin to pay off.
The search for wildlife is ongoing and it takes three passengers to confirm a sighting for it to count. Those in the rear cars have the advantage of front car passengers, who initiate the sightings, to prepare them to see a bear on the left or a moose on the right. With help from the ever-present Canadian wines and other assorted cocktails, there were a few Bigfoots and Yetis — but then you had to be there for that.
Complementing the commentary from the attendants, who are available at all times to answer questions, are copies of The Rocky Mountaineer. This gazette includes a detailed description of your journey along with historical articles, interesting trivia and lots of great old photos, as well as suggestions for prime photo-ops. The route is divided into subdivisions with each subdivision broken down with a series of mile markers. Using the guide and the mile markers, you can learn about the Great (and least successful) Train Robbery of the Bill Miner Gang, the unique clay formations called Hoodoos and the site of the world's largest salmon run. No detail is too small, and all come together to create a larger picture of one of the greatest manmade undertakings through one of the most beautiful and rugged natural regions in the world. But while the facts and figures are interesting, it is the actual scenery that is the star of this trip ... once again, we must emphasize the GolfLeaf Service dome cars for best enjoying the views.
After the train passes Craigellachie, where the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven, it enters the tunnels, snow sheds and glaciers of Rogers Pass. The journey follows Kicking Horse River to Kicking Horse Pass. By the time it travels beyond the village of Field and reaches the Spiral Tunnels — a marvel of engineering that inspired several books — the views are astounding. This is a good part of what the trip is all about: the Rocky Mountains. Following the dizzying ascent through the tunnels, dominated by glaciers and cathedral-shaped Jurassic formations, you have a chance to stare at the Yoho glacial valley. All of a sudden you realize how small you are and how big this transcontinental achievement was.
Soon comes another highlight as you pass over the Continental Divide (more than once), defined geologically as the highest point on the trip. It is exhilarating and a letdown at the same time: exhilarating because it's so beautiful, big, crisp and magical, and a letdown because you're nearing the end of the fantastic journey. From here the train enters Banff National Park and crosses over to Alberta. The ride from this point on to Banff takes place in an awe-inspiring glacial valley surrounded by a multitude of varied rock formations — we were particularly struck by "Castle Mountain."
First Nations people enjoyed this scenery in peace for centuries and lived in perfect harmony with nature. Today, the Canadian government has done its best to preserve this landscape and its wildlife. Also in this magical setting, you will find the luxurious accommodations of The Fairmont Banff Springs and The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. We chose to stay in Banff, but for travelers who have a few extra days, we recommend driving on to Jasper to take in even more pristine lake, glacier and mountain scenery.
Thanks to the early rail pioneers and the hard work of the Rocky Mountaineer staff, we were transported both physically and spiritually through this vast geological domain. We will never forget the grand vistas, fabulous animals and fresh air. We agree with Rocky Mountaineer Railtours: this is a truly spectacular rail journey. We look forward to returning.
The shortest trip takes passengers from Vancouver to Whistler (or vice versa), a one-day journey offering views of Howe Sound and the Coast Mountains, Brandywine Falls, Mount Garibaldi and Cheakamus Canyon ($176 each way). In 2013, Rocky Mountaineer added the Coastal Passage route, a three-day trip through the Canadian Rockies, arriving into and departing from Seattle (from $2,911).
Many travelers from around the world opt for a rail/cruise package, serviced by Holland America Line, to get the most from their trip. These packages can only be booked through the Rocky Mountaineer website. To find out more about Rocky Mountaineer Railtours Canadian Vacation Experiences or to book a trip, visit www.rockymountaineer.com or call 877-460-3200 (toll free in Canada and the USA).