'The Most Spectacular Train Trip in the World'
as the Rocky Mountaineer Railway is billed, begins with a ride through the
deserted streets of Calgary at in the morning.The meeting place is at the base of the CalgaryTower and within a few moments we are
offered refreshments and a seat on wooden benches.The Rocky Mountaineer staff are polite,
helpful and friendly without being over the top and once our cases are stowed
and we have our red maple leaf badges, the train is waiting at the platform.Our on-board attendant is Joan, a cheerful
Canadian who keeps us well stocked with food, drinks and fascinating snippets
about the journey. Her delighted
response to any decision regarding the choice of food or drink is "Perfect!"
The journey from Calgary to Kamloops and on to
Vancouver passes through places with such evocative names as Kicking Horse Pass
and Stoney Creek and the First Nation (don't call them Red Indians!) settlements
such as Sicamous and Yoho.The first
impression of the mountains after leaving the flat plain on which Calgary is situated, is their height.The silver grey cliffs rear up out of the
ground, sheer and perilous, with tantalising glimpses of the white glaciers on
their summits; their lower slopes are smothered in a lush, green swathe of towering
Lodgepole pine and Douglas fir. The
streams that will later feed into the Thompson and Fraser Rivers criss-cross our
route,their glacial water varying from tranquil
sage green to a tumbling, excited pale mint and all the shades of coffee from placid
mocha to bubbling, cappuccino rapids.This
is the land of the black bear and the bald eagle and it is with eager anticipation
that we gaze out of the windows hoping to be the first to spot some interesting wildlife.
Joan tells us that the pioneers came up with
some truly amazing solutions to cross the Rockies, one of which is the spiral tunnel which turns
round through some 288 degrees whilst dropping 55 feet (16.76m) in 0.6 mile (just
under 1 km). It's staggering to think
that the engine driver can watch the rear trucks of his mile long train disappearing
into the stygian gloom even whilst he is emerging into the bright sunlight!
In winter, the mountains are enveloped in snow
deeper than a two-storey house and simple pine roofs called 'snowsheds' protect
the track in the most vulnerable areas.On
one cliff, an ancient man-like figure built of stones has been constructed. This ancient 'Inuksuk' has been adopted as
part of the logo for the Olympic Winter Games which are to be held in the popular
ski resort of Whistler in 2010. We also spot
the strange Hoodoos - geological formations made from a hard layer of stone
under which a softer local rock has weathered into huge bobbin reels.
The town of Kamloops, our over-night stop, is laid out
on a typical North American grid and is situated on the meeting place of the
north and south branches of the Thompson River.After an ample evening meal in our hotel, we go for a walk in the peaceful
RiversidePark and watch the sun set over the
Checking out of the friendly hotel next morning,
Joan greets us all with a cheerful "Good morning!" and seems genuinely pleased
to see us again.The next part of the journey
is through the aptly named PaintedBluffProvincialPark and then over arid, desert like
country where straggly sage bush and yellow daisies cling tenaciously to the buff
Exiting the desert lands, the track runs beside
a deep ravine and we soon see the green and brown currents swirling and eddying
as the Thompson
absorbed into the mighty Fraser.
Again the scenery changes; there are signs now of
human habitation - a fence, a flash of grey tarmac and a glint of sunlight
reflected off a window.We are nearing
the built up west coast of Canada and the end of the line.The engine's horn sounds repeatedly and it's
a gentle downhill slope for the rest of the trip.Western red cedar, pines, aspen and arbutus
trees line the route and for 15 minutes we are in a blizzard of downy white seeds
from the Black Cottonwood trees.
The last run into Vancouver is via the urban eastern outskirts
and we are welcomed in by smiling, waving Rocky Mountaineer hosts.
It's certainly a marvellous trip to make.The scenery is breathtaking; the food good,
imaginative and plentiful and our coach attendant is interesting, amusing and
informative.The overall verdict?Practically Perfect!