Just beyond Banff and Lake Louise your glass-domed train glides passed the sign, The Continental Divide. Look around. You’re surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet.
These are the wilds of the Canadian Rockies, with its rugged snow-covered peaks and deep canyons, moose, elk and bear, lakes both green as emeralds and blue as sapphire, waterfalls, and rivers carrying glacier water cold and clear as the most perfect diamond. Crown jewels all, fit for these most majestic mountains on the continent.
This, for me, is the most glorious place on earth.
Twenty-five years ago, Carolyn and I tested our new relationship by spending four months traveling the West in a little 23-foot motorhome. Driving through the awe-inspiring Glacier National Park and up the spine of the Rocky Mountains to Jasper was as spiritual as it was magnificent and magical.
It was near that same continental divide that we saw three sleek trains emerging from tunnels, each headed a different direction. Only later did we learn that this was just one train, the famed Rocky Mountaineer, traveling in spiral tunnels – underground switchbacks – with the powerful locomotive already coming out the maze of tunnels as last coach is entering the first, snaking down the steep incline.
So when the folks at Rocky Mountaineer Vacations asked if we’d be interested in taking what they call “the most spectacular train trip in the world,” Carolyn and I jumped at it.
Boarding in Calgary, I realized at once that we were on a world-class coach, the traveling equivalent of a five-star hotel.
I’ve experienced many trains, even the original Orient Express. For sheer luxury, excellent service and cuisine, and the most dramatic scenery you’ll ever see from a coach, The Rocky Mountaineer gets my vote as the best ever.
Attendants cater to your every whim. Starting the first day with champagne and orange juice in the dining car on the coach’s first level, you know you’re in for relaxation, romance, and perhaps the finest movable feast ever.
For breakfast, there’s lightly scrambled eggs wrapped in wild British Columbia smoked salmon. Drizzled with a dill crème fraîche and topped with a touch of caviar.
Or savor the Sir Sanford Fleming Benedict. A poached egg nestled on lobsters and fresh spinach atop a toasted English muffin, napped with a citrus Hollandaise sauce.
And there’s more, so much more to come. Later you’ll be offered baked wild British Columbia salmon glazed with maple and ginseng or slow-roasted Alberta bison.
Remember to leave room for scrumptious desserts. And chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, each sweet unique in taste and form (even an oh-so-edible chocolate toy train).
Meanwhile, upstairs in the vista cruiser, our Rocky Mountaineer guide and raconteur extraordinaire, Thaddy, provides fascinating and informative commentary all along this 667 mile, two-day journey.
The Rocky Mountaineer’s GoldLeaf Service is akin to the best offered by cruise ships. A steward and his or her assistants are at your beck and call for drinks, hors d’oeuvres, anything your heart desires. You sit comfortably in a true observation car, windows curving up and across the car top. Bathrooms are clean and bodacious, especially compared with air or sea transport.
Best of all, I think, I’m not driving! I’m seeing everything. No need for one eye on the glacier, one eye on the road.
On the first afternoon, I wondered what happened when we left this Canadian Rockies heaven? Turns out there are four more glorious mountain ranges and hundreds of streams and rivers to see before pulling into Vancouver the following afternoon.
“The train’s a bit late,” said Thaddy that first evening. “So the chef has baked these big-as-your-hand oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies to hold you till your dinner theater in Kamloops.”
Yes, dinner theater. And then a fine hotel for the night, your luggage awaiting you in your room.
The second day, traveling from Kamloops to Vancouver is as beautiful and interesting as the first, the ride so smooth and quiet, the loudest noise you hear is the clicking of cameras.
That final afternoon there is a friendly poetry contest.
Here’s Carolyn’s entry:
Salmon Song, Eh
Shining Salmon in the brook
In your eye, that certain look
At long last, you’ve reached that place
That puts a smile on Salmon face
So have your fun, then have a smoke
Sadly, pal, you’re gonna croak.
She didn’t win or even place. Yet everyone is a big winner on this journey. As Carolyn and I and our co-travelers – most about our age – emerged from the train in Vancouver, we were all the richer for our new knowledge and gratitude for having experienced one of the great rail journeys of our age.
CANADIAN ROCKIES TRAIN TRIP DETAILS…
From mid-April to mid-October (with select December departures) the Rocky Mountaineer’s two-day, all-daylight rail spectacular travels either direction between the coastal city of Vancouver and the Rocky Mountain destinations of Jasper, Banff, and Calgary with an overnight stop in Kamloops, B.C. In May 2006, Rocky Mountaineer Vacations will introduce a third trip, the Fraser Discovery Route. This two-day, all-daylight rail journey will travel between Whistler, B.C., and Jasper, Alberta, with an overnight in Quesnel, B.C.
Prices including meals and overnight accommodation, start from $969 per person for GoldLeaf Service, and $469 for RedLeaf Service.