by Lee Foster
The interminable January rain drizzled on, the British Columbia sky showed endless shades of gray, and the chill in the air enveloping my raft on the Squamish River penetrated every extremity. But the company was outstanding.
The companywas composed of one of the densest concentrations of bald eagles on Earth. Some 665 of these majestic birds (in 2012) perched on the Douglas fir and cottonwood trees in a short six-mile-by-half-mile corridor of the Cheakamus and Squamish Rivers, about an hour by train from Vancouver. The eagles, distinguished scavengers, were gorging on the carcasses of coho and chum salmon that swam up the river to spawn and die. An average of 1,562 eagles have appeared each year for the last 25 years. The number had climbed to 3,769 in 1994. So, just 665 in 2012 was a cause for alarm.
My rafting encounter with the eagles was clearly a conservation story with its ups and downs. Current numbers of eagles are down as the chum salmon population is collapsing. The DDT threat to these magnificent birds has been defeated. The earlier, misguided, anti-raptor sentiments, which had sent many a bullet through an eagle, have been vanquished. But questions about over-fishing in the ocean, foreign fishing, the effects El Nino, pollution issues, and many other potential causes of the salmon decline all stir the debate.
On an earlier occasion my passion for eagles had taken me rafting down Alaska’s Chilkat River, near Haines, through the Chilkat Eagle Reserve. The raft floated past a portion of the eagles known to gather there. This was the largest convention of the U.S. national bird on American soil and was once presumed to be the densest concentration anywhere.
However, Canadian appreciators of eagles at Brackendale, British Columbia, led by artist Thor Frosley, have challenged the Haines superlative. In some past years Brackendale’s eagle population has surpassed that of Haines.
The international range of these eagles was a notable part of the story, I learned, as I paddled my raft with Sydney Cannings, one of British Columbia’s leading experts on eagles. Cannings is a zoologist for the Conservation Data Center, part of the Provincial Wildlife Branch.
“These eagles come from Colorado and from the Canadian Rockies,” said Cannings. “They may have ventured here from Oregon or Alaska. The saving of these eagles means that we have cooperated successfully as western North Americans. The eagles’ range is enormous. They know no borders. They go where the salmon run.”
The bald eagle was taken off the U.S. Government’s Endangered Species list in 1999. This was a small victory, but not a signal to reduce vigilance.
“To flourish into the future, eagles in this area need an assured supply of salmon,” said Cannings. “That means no more ill-advised dams to impede the salmon migration. It also mandates that all clear-cut logging in eagle nesting areas leave some mature trees. Only a mature tree can support a 2,000-pound eagle nest.”
There are other habitat issues on Cannings’ mind as he does one of his jobs–catalog each of the nests of the nesting pairs of eagles in British Columbia.
“Channeling the Squamish River has reduced flooding, but it has also decimated the protective habitat of backwaters and downed logs that the salmon fry need to survive,” he said. “If you ever totally disrupt a salmon run, with dams, overfishing, or habitat destruction, it’s difficult to regenerate it. Of course, all these salmon runs have been regenerated since the ice age of perhaps 10,000 years ago, but it’s a slow process.”
The ability of salmon to return to their birth stream is one of the great wonders of nature. Salmon have many subtle sensing devices for finding their home stream, Cannings explained. It’s partly a chemical smell memory and partly the collective social memory of going down to the sea with your buddies beside you. Some salmon fry know they should swim upstream or downstream to a nearby lake to spend their first year. It’s a marvel to contemplate how they know in which direction is the desired lake. The fry live in the slack-water sections of the river for a year before migrating to sea.
The survival rate is small for both salmon and eagles, added Cannings. The chum salmon lays 3,000 eggs, resulting in three fry, of which one makes it to the sea, returning in three to seven years to where it was born. A nesting eagle pair will lay three eggs, but only an average of 1.4 survive the fierce battle for food in spring after the hatching. At that time food is more scarce than in winter along the Squamish.
Guiding Cannings and myself in the raft was the veteran outfitter in this region, Brian McCutcheon, who was managing the Sunwolf Outdoor Centre. McCutcheon had been rafting this river and watching the eagles since 1980. Sunwolf operates a year-round rafting and sea-kayaking guide business in British Columbia.
“The raft is an ideal vehicle of discovery for eagle-watching,” said McCutcheon. “When we float quietly past, the eagles are not disturbed. Walk on the bank, and they’d all fly away. Participants in a rafting trip need to keep warm and dry to enjoy the eagles. That means rubber boots, rubber gloves, warm clothes, and an all-body rain suit.”
Sure enough, around every bend in the river stood another perch tree with perhaps a dozen eagles on it. When we floated by, they watched. The eagles used Douglas fir, western red cedar, hemlock, and cottonwood for their perches. The mature adults, after about five years, attain the characteristic white head and tail. Mature birds boast a wing span of six feet. The immature birds are mottled brown and appear even larger than their parents.
Besides our main quarry of the afternoon, there were other birds to enjoy in this Squamish Valley below the emerald-green forests and 8,000-foot glacier-capped Tantalus Mountains. Dippers, small and lyrical birds, plunged into the chilly waters in search of insects and small fish. Goldeneye and merganser ducks entertained us with their takeoffs. White trumpeter swans made a regal, measured appearance, flying up the river in late afternoon.
My rafting trip started on the Cheakamus River and included a section of the Squamish River, along the Paradise Road Ecological Reserve of old-growth trees. Thor Frosley and others fought to see the area designated as the Brackendale Eagle Reserve, which was created in 1996.
The chum salmon run begins here each September. The eagles are present from November through March, but they are most abundant in January. Thousands of salmon carcasses are present in the water and on the banks in January.
The raft trip pullout put us near Frosley’s Brackendale Cafe and Art Gallery, where I enjoyed the hot fireplace, some hearty soup, and good talk with Frosley, inspirer of the Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival. Frosley organizes the annual January eagle count, which draws about 150 participants. The festival also has an eagle art show, an eagle photography workshop, and a shindig of a party. The festival began in 1986.
“Rafting is a popular soft adventure in many locations,” said Frosley. “But if you want to see one of the largest concentrations of bald eagles on Earth, you’d better come to see us at Brackendale in January.”
Brackendale Eagle Watching: If You Go
Thor Frosley’s Brackendale Cafe and Art Gallery operates as an informal center for the bald eagle preservation movement, including the annual count in January. Details at http://www.brackendaleartgallery.com.
For overall British Columbia tourism information, contact Tourism British Columbia at www.hellobc.com.
For Vancouver information, contact the Greater Vancouver Visitors and Convention Bureau, www.tourism-vancouver.org.
by Lee Foster
Brawny Vancouver, with its huge container port, and sedate Victoria, with afternoon tea at the dowager Empress Hotel, suggest the contrasting appeals of British Columbia’s major cities.
Begin a visit to Vancouver with a walk out to Canada Place, the pier on the waterfront, where you get a good sense of the harbor.
From Canada Place you can see the container shipping, the ferries, the float-plane taxis, and the maritime prosperity of Vancouver. You can also look west toward the greenery of Stanley Park and south to the skyscrapers of downtown. All this is visible from the decks adjacent to the huge sail-like architecture of Canada Place, a legacy of Vancouver’s Expo of 1986.
That Expo is now a distant memory, but it was a significant event. To the credit of Canadian diplomacy, this was the first world fair where the Chinese, the Russians, and the Americans were all peaceably present.
Today, forestry products, fishing, and tourism are the three industries that fuel British Columbia commerce.
Vancouver has prospered since the beginning, when it was chosen as the terminus for the Canadian transcontinental railroad in 1887. The harbor accommodates 3,000 major vessels a year, from more than 90 trading nations, which do an exchange of goods estimated to be worth $43 billion. As Canada’s largest west-coast port, Vancouver also gets its chunk of the 878,000 pleasure travelers who cruised to Alaska last year.
From Canada Place, walk toward the tall circular skyscraper known as Harbour Centre Tower. Take the elevator to The Look Out at the top and get a bird’s-eye view of Vancouver. There is also a restaurant.
Then walk along the waterfront, specifically down Water Street, to Gastown, Vancouver’s restored brick shopping area of small galleries and restaurants. In Gastown, be sure to see the Steam Clock, an old-time working clock, and the bronze statue of Gassy Jack, one of the early town luminaries, known for his loquaciousness.
Gastown features galleries devoted to Canadian Indian arts and crafts, both traditional and modern. Several such stores are intriguing to visit.
Hill’s Indian Crafts (165 Water Street) has a huge general-store assortment of arts and crafts. One warm memento is a wool sweater from the Cowichan natives who live on Vancouver Island. Hill’s also has an upstairs gallery selling fine art and a large book section on Canadian native art. From masks to silver jewelry, Hill’s has a huge selection. As the manager of Hill’s puts it, “We have everything from $10 crafts to high-end art pieces.”
The Inuit (345 Water) is a store for collectors interested in art objects at the highest level. Inuit carries striking pieces of stone carving, wooden masks, and graphics. The owner confidently and succinctly sums up the store, saying, “We’re the strongest store in Canada for this kind of masterwork art.”
Canada’s indigenous people are among the main traveler attractions of Vancouver. At the Anthropology Museum on the grounds of the University of British Columbia, you can see a handsome display of totem poles from Canadian Pacific Indians. A cluster of these historic poles is housed in the museum structure, a striking glass building with high windows overlooking English Bay. In the Great Hall of the building the totem poles, with their stories of legendary creatures, can be perused. (Take a taxi or a tour to get to the rather distant University area.)
Although the figures, such as the raven and the bear, can be recognized, the detailed stories associated with them and the context of their stories is only imperfectly known. Since these Indians had no written language, but were relatively wealthy, thriving on plentiful salmon and berries, the totem pole stories were a repository of tribal lore. The prerogative to tell certain stories during the leisurely winter period was an important part of the tribal ritual.
The Anthropology Museum building was designed by architect Arthur Erickson, whose name comes up often in this city, most notably with the downtown Vancouver Art Gallery. Outside, you’ll find additional totem poles with a more contemporary design and several Haida Indian dwellings. The Anthropology Museum is a major cultural force in Vancouver. Visitors can easily compare basketry, ceremonial food dishes, dance masks, or fabrics from the six major native groups of British Columbia.
Be sure to see, in the museum theater, Haida artist Bill Reid’s famous sculpture, The Raven and the First Men. The sculpture depicts a Haida myth in which the raven, always a mischievous and powerful trickster, spots the first men, emerging from a clam shell. The raven cajoles them into coming out into the world.
Back in the downtown, walk into the high-rise district. The main experience offered here are the huge shopping complexes, all indoors, as retailers in these rainy, cold, northern cities require. Stop for a look, for example, at Eaton’s and at the Hudson Bay Company, a Canadian business with historic roots. Robson is among the most posh streets for specialty shops and fine restaurants.
Ethnicity, such a touchy issue in Canada in the east, with the French-English tension over Quebec, is one of the attractions for a traveler in Vancouver. The Chinese, Indian (meaning from India), and Italian sections are all worth exploring.
The Chinese district, not far from Gastown, is large and busy. Chinatown, which stretches along Pender Street from Carrall Street to Gore Avenue, provides a lively ambiance of cafes and bustling vegetable, meat, and fish sellers. The Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Park lies adjacent to the Chinese Cultural Centre at 50 E. Pender Street. Stop in at the center for a walking tour map of the area.
The Indian area around the Punjabi Market is a substantial taxi ride from downtown. Get out at 6500 Main to discover this area, extending for four blocks. There you’ll see food stores, such as All Indian Foods, selling bulk curries, every sort of lentil, plenty of varieties of eggplant and okra, and a wide array of cumin or coriander. Sweet shops feature Indian confections. Frontier Cloth House is the largest sari shop in Vancouver. There are gold jewelry creators and an all-Indian travel agency specializing in trips to London or the orient. For lunch, try Dawat (5076 Victoria Street). Ask for the chef’s assortment of curried meats and exotic vegetable concoctions. An estimated quarter-million Indians live in the Greater Vancouver area. In Canada, only Toronto has a larger Indian population.
The Italian enclave is on Commercial Street, starting at 1900 Commercial and running four blocks. See the Italian grocery stores, especially Santa Barbara, with its huge selections of pasta and cheese. The JN&Z Deli carries ample home-made sausage and smoked meats. Continental Coffee has been roasting beans at this location for three generations. Kalena’s features Italian-made shoes. The Dr. Vigari Gallery has arresting metal sculptures and much furniture art.
A new influx of well-to-do immigrants now transforms Vancouver. Along the sea-wall in Stanley Park, you might hear Iranian spoken or see a prosperous merchant prince from Hong Kong out for a stroll.
Note that it takes some time to explore the ethnic districts, except for Chinatown, which is near downtown.
A further downtown treat is the Vancouver Art Gallery. Know that the word gallery in Canada sometimes means museum rather than commercial art shop. The Vancouver Art Gallery is such a museum, featuring work by Emily Carr, a British Columbia artist who portrayed the declining Indian culture and the Western landscape.
Adjacent to the Vancouver Art Gallery is the major traditional hotel, the Hotel Vancouver, with its clubby lobby bar. This grande dame provides counterpoint with the major new hotels of the city, such as the Waterfront Centre, near Canada Place. Waterfront Centre offers all modern amenities and a view of the harbor.
If you have an urge to walk, consider the perimeter seawall walk in Stanley Park. This peninsular walk amounts to an eight-mile outing and can be taken in sections. From Stanley Park, you look back at the skyline of the city. In the park you’ll find an aquarium, with rare, white beluga whales.
As a final attraction in Vancouver, spend an afternoon strolling around Granville Island, an enlightened example of urban planning and restoration. This 37-acre site was an industrial slum before its transformation began in 1977. Granville Island now unites working, living, and playing in a suitable, integrated mix. Several maritime businesses, such as the historic Canada Chain and Forge, fabricators of maritime chains, are the main commercial activity on Granville Island. Tucked amidst these sea-oriented enterprises are outdoor restaurants (try Mulvaney’s), shops, theaters, and art galleries. There is an ingenious child’s playground, called Adventure Playground, where children turn on and off the water of fire hydrants. Another major draw for Granville Island is the Public Market, which attracts residents from all over the region to buy fresh produce, fruit, fish, meat, and flowers. The Public Market’s adjacent cafes and restaurants have become a favorite meeting place for Vancouverites.
Landscaped walks and plenty of benches invite a common citizen to enjoy the maritime scenery of Granville Island without feeling like a vagrant. Stop in at the Emily Carr College of Art to see student work.
Beyond Granville Island, the best view of Vancouver is from Queen Elizabeth Park, which is elevated. The Seasons in the Park Restaurant has a commanding panoramic look at the city as you savor a glass of wine or pause for lunch or dinner. One distinguished element on the skyline is the huge white dome known as Vancouver Place. This is one of the the world’s largest air-supported dome stadiums. Although the teflon skin of the dome is less that a thirtieth of an inch thick, it is said to be stronger than steel.
Vancouver supports a lively nightlife, especially comedy theater. See what’s on at the Arts Club Mainstage. Theater enthusiasts should also check out Vancouver Playhouse.
Victoria is one of the few cities in North America that accurately merits the description “charming.” Focused around an inner harbor of manageable size are an elegant hotel, the Empress; the provincial legislative building, a handsome grey stone structure; an extraordinary museum devoted to natural and human history; and a low-rise brick shopping district of Victorian storefronts.
Victoria has a reputation for civility, cleanliness, and safety. Located on Vancouver Island, west of Vancouver, it is the capital of the province, though accessible only by air or ferries.
“More British than the British” is a phrase one might hear in Victoria. Humorists call the city a place of “the nearly dead and the newly wed.” The city is a peaceful and scenic place for Canadians to retire. A steady government employment makes poverty unusual.
In only a few destinations does a lodging epitomize the place. The Empress Hotel in Victoria is one of those rare examples. The stately Empress, built in 1908 and located right at the bend of the inner harbor, exudes traditional charm. A traveler who can forsake blue jeans for a day should dress up a little and take afternoon tea in the hotel’s grand lobby. You get instruction on sequence–milk and sugar cubes in the cup before the tea is poured. This proper tea includes the traditional tea foods. The ceremony starts with a fruit cup, proceeds to honey-toasted crumpets, and reaches a finale with cucumber sandwiches and scones. To this repast the participants add polite conversation. The hotel’s Bengal Lounge, noted for its curry buffet, brings the flavors of The Empire to Victoria. In Victoria a traveler is reminded of Canada’s ties to the British commonwealth.
A Greyline City Tour is recommended here to get a sense of the beautiful homes and gardens along the fringes of the water. Victoria is “Canada’s Garden City” because of the mild maritime climate. In certain subdivisions, such as the Uplands, woe unto the household that does not garden with enough vigor to maintain the landscape up to community standards. If necessary, the gardening will be done for the homeowner, and they will be billed. The tour lets you off the bus to stroll the Oak Bay Marina. Oak trees are a lovely amenity of the city. On the tour you see some of the beautiful parks, such as Beacon Hill, for which the city is justly famous. Local humorists assert that when you pass from a merely comfortable neighborhood to a posh neighborhood, you have passed through The Tweed Curtain.
After a City Tour for orientation, begin exploring on foot with a look at the Royal British Columbia Museum, one of the country’s outstanding museums. The Natural History displays here depict the British Columbia ecosystems and remind a traveler that as recently as 10,000 years ago there were woolly mammoths wandering the terrain as the Ice Age retreated. The re-creation of natural environments is especially effective, such as elk in a forest habitat.
The Human History part of the museum presents the 12,000-year story of the First Nations, as Canadians like to call the native population. The museum presents their skill at catching fish, their artistry in weaving goat-wool or reed capes, and their rich spirituality, as seen in masks and stories. The museum’s collection of totem poles and masks is truly outstanding. You also see snatches of the 1914 film by Edward Curtis documenting Indian ceremonials.
Walk from the museum to the adjacent legislative building, the expression of Canadian political power in the west. In front of the legislature, chances are you’ll see, in port, the ferry that travels back and forth to Port Angeles, and the hydrofoil that makes high-speed runs to Seattle.
Then walk past the harbor to Government Street, where the compact shopping area begins. One interesting art shop is native painter Roy Vicker’s Eagle Aerie Gallery. Vicker’s distinctive graphics are as recognizable as Gormon’s paintings of Navajo women in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Roger’s Chocolate is the premier chocolate shop. Munro’s Books is good for browsing. Chandler’s Seafood Restaurant has a huge whale mural on its side. Handsome Victorian brick buildings on Yates Street invite admiration. There are many antique stores on Fort Street.
The Chinatown district of Victoria purports to be the oldest Chinatown in Canada. The area is small and easy to grasp. See the herbalist shop Fung Hing Hong, where herbal medicines are mixed in prescriptions. The medicines, such as many types of ginseng, are then ground up and steeped as a tea to be drunk, effecting a cure. View the massive gates of Chinatown and the gambling paraphernalia at the Chinatown Trading Company. For lunch, try dim sum at Kwong Tung.
A short ride from downtown, you can enjoy a pioneering brew-pub, the Spinnaker. It is said that when Paul Hadfield founded this brew-pub, back in 1984, it was the sixth brew-pub to start in North America. Try a selection of ales, followed by a dinner of the famous chowder and possibly filet of sole or snapper.
The grandest garden environment to explore in Victoria is Butchart Gardens, visited by close to a million people each year. The lavish 55-acre floral display is in the former limestone cement quarry of industrialist Robert Pim Butchart. As the quarry’s useful life declined, Butchart’s wife, Jennie, began the substantial gardens, now a showplace of the floral arts. See the view from the Sunken Garden and peruse such varied floriculture wonders as the Dahlia Walk, Rose Garden, Italian Garden and Japanese Garden.
Getting to Victoria can be part of the fun. Take the bus or your car from Vancouver, which means the bus or car will get on the ferry, transporting you through the Gulf Islands waterway. The bus can drop you right at your hotel. A car gives you added mobility for sightseeing. While on the ferry, you get off the bus or out of your car and parade about on the comfortable upper deck, enjoying the scenery. Smaller ferries are the lifeline of the communities on the islands. The B.C. ferries operate one of the largest ferry systems anywhere.
Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia: If You Go
For over-all British Columbia tourism information, contact Tourism British Columbia at www.hellobc.com.
For Vancouver information, contact the Tourism Vancouver, www.tourismvancouver.com.
For Victoria information, contact Tourism Victoria, www.tourismvictoria.com.
by Lee Foster
A few great railroad trips in the Americas truly inspire the imagination.
In Mexico, for example, there is the Chihuahua al Pacifico trip from Los Mochis to Chihuahua over the Sierra Madre Mountains.
So, what does the U.S./Canada offer that is comparable in rail trips?
One main contender is the Rocky Mountaineer rail tour from Vancouver on the British Columbia coast to Banff and Calgary in the Canadian Rockies.
The Canadians have done it right on this adventure in several respects.
First, this is one of the most historic rail trips in North America. The train tracks united East and West Canada, historically, with completion in the 1880s. The railroad opened Canada for tourism. Moreover, British Columbia and the whole of western Canada might have become part of the United States if the railroad had not been built.
Second, this train trip passes through some of the most stunning scenery in North America, the Canadian Rockies, which are fully as impressive as the U.S. Rockies.
And third, the Canadians have arranged this historic rail tour to occur during daylight hours, so you see all the scenery, spending the night at the midpoint, Kamloops. (There is nothing more frustrating that falling asleep in your rail car knowing that imposing scenery is passing you in the dark, as happens on some of the U.S. trains crossing the American West.)
This scenic train ride has a “season,” operating April to October. The first burst of spring and the tree leaves turning color in fall are treats near the ends of the season. I took an October trip and enjoyed the brilliant yellow color of the larch trees.
I boarded the train at 7 a.m. in Vancouver after spending the night at The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. This is the fitting lodging to stay at because it is one of the grand hotels of Canada built in conjunction with the railroad.
As the railroad builder William Cornelius Van Horne said, “If we can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists.”
To achieve this goal the company needed both a railroad and grand hotels. On this trip I experienced both The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (built in 1939, the height of the rail era) and The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (built in 1888, at the start of the rail period).
The train meanders out of Vancouver up the Fraser River, which is noted for its huge salmon runs. An upstream tributary, the Adams River, is said to have the largest red sockeye salmon run in the world, at over a million fish.
The train passes over the route that explorer Simon Fraser first charted in 1808 as he was seeking a trade route to the Pacific Ocean.
The most dramatic moment of the coastal-mountain passage on the Fraser River comes at Hell’s Gate, where the mountains squeeze together to make an opening only 110 feet wide, requiring the torrent of the river water, 200 million gallons a minute, to gush through with awesome force.
After passing the coastal mountain range, the train crosses a long stretch of high desert terrain along the Thompson River, with the most arid area around Ashcroft. This desert environment comes as a surprise to many travelers, who can see the mountain peaks from Vancouver and assume the route will be mountains all the way to Banff.
Finally, after the town of Revelstoke, following further tributary rivers, the train reaches the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Hour after hour of spectacular scenery in the Selkirk Range and the Purcell Range follows. One brief stretch of the trip passes along the Columbia River, which eventually empties into the ocean at Portland, Oregon. Near Lake Louise the train crosses the Continental Divide, the highest point on the trip, before descending into Banff, home of one of the premier hotels in all Canada, The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
Along the way I became aware, partly through the informed commentary of railroad attendants, of the grand historic visions of the area. For example, an entrepreneur named C. E. Barnes persuaded a cluster of British aristocrats to locate in this remote region at Walhachin to farm apples. They built over 18 miles of wooden flumes to bring water from a lake to the apple orchards. The enclave flourished until World War I, when storms wrecked the flume system and the men were called away to fight the war. Eventually, the community collapsed.
The railroad line is still vital today because it ships west to Vancouver in the winter the huge autumn harvest of wheat and other grains grown on the Canadian prairies. Wheat is a substantial Canadian export to China and Japan.
Eagles, osprey, and bighorn mountain sheep are seen many times during the trip. The osprey need about four pounds of salmon per day from the river, which is an easy matter during the spawning season.
I overnighted in a modern chain hotel at the city of Kamloops, which took its name from an Indian word meaning “meeting of the waters,” where the North and South forks of the Thompson River join. The overnight in Kamloops allowed me to experience the entire 600-mile rail trip, roughly 300 miles each day, in total daylight. The days began early and ended when I descended from my dome car at 5 p.m.
The dome car in which I traveled offered unparalleled mountain viewing as the train proceeded at a measured pace. Moreover, viewing areas between the cars allowed direct contact with the fresh air and the outdoors. The food was superb, for breakfast and lunch, on white table cloths, with menu items such as scrambled eggs wrapped in wild BC smoked salmon and succulent molasses glazed pork loin, all cooked to order on the train.
The luxurious dome car service, with a dining room and gourmet hot meals, is called GoldLeaf. More affordable options, with fewer amenities but the same scenery, are called Silver Leaf and Red Leaf.
I spent a few days in Banff, taking guided nature trips to look at the wildlife and scenery, all arranged by the concierge at The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. The level of guide service available here is high. Guides provide the transportation and much insight into nature. The number of patrons on a trip is small, usually nine or less.
Caretakers for the Canadian Rockies are taking many steps to preserve the grand natural heritage, partly by restoring the checks and balances that man has disturbed regarding the large mammals. There are now too many elk, which are stripping the ground for food in winter, preventing the normal growth of new poplar trees, for example. The solution is to encourage the wolf and cougar populations. Highway animal overpasses now allow the free migration of large mammals, prey and predator alike.
I hiked around Johnson Lake, enjoying sightings of elk and mountain sheep as well as breathtaking views of Mt. Rundle reflected in the turquoise waters.
One evening in Banff, celebrating my rail tour, I had dinner at the Caboose Restaurant, located in the original rail station. This beef-and-salmon restaurant has walls lined with historic photos of the rail legacy. The photos of rail construction helped me appreciate what a feat of engineering was involved in constructing a rail bed through the Canadian Rockies. A couple of trains passed by, shaking the building, during dinner.
After my sojourn in Banff, I flew home from the Calgary airport, east of Banff.
The Rocky Mountaineer is one of the more satisfying rail trips possible in North America. The historic story, the scenery, the wildlife, the all-daylight itinerary, and the service are all superb.
If You Go: Rocky Mountaineer Rail Trip in Canada
Rocky Mountaineer rail trip details can be seen at www.rockymountaineer.com.
For tourism information on either end of this trip, contact the following:
Tourism British Columbia info is at www.hellobc.com.
Tourism Vancouver is at www.tourismvancouver.com.
Travel Alberta is at www.travelalberta.com.
Banff Lake Louise Tourism is at www.banfflakelouise.com.