Pride Travel’s Rocky Mountain Rail Journey Through Canada -Day 11: Kamloops to Vancouver, All good things must come to an end.
Day 11 –Kamloops to Vancouver, All good things must come to an end.
One last early morning wake up call, one last day on the rails and one last night in a Fairmont. Today set our sights on Vancouver, our final destination in this amazing journey. Our transfer the rail station has us looking at a much larger train than we had been on the day before. The cars that do the Jasper to Vancouver run had met us in Kamloops and piggybacked onto us. Our car which had up to this time been at the rear of the train was now smack dabbed in the middle which had its benefits and drawbacks. While no longer the caboose and able to take nice caboose shots, the photo opps from the side were still breathtaking. Nathan was able to take some amazing pictures of both the front and back of the train in tunnels and on large turns. A bonus included less movement of the train was much less pronounced making it easier for us to keep our eyes open.
Our journey continues west towards the Pacific Ocean and always-vivid Vancouver. On today’s journey we expect to see dramatic changes in scenery, from the desert-like environment of the interior, through winding river canyons and pristine forests, to the Coast and Cascade mountains and the lush green fields of the Fraser River Valley. We will pass the steep slopes and rock sheds along the Thompson River and the rushing waters of Hell’s Gate in the Fraser Canyon. The view from the train leaving Kamloops is very desert like, very similar to what we have in California and Arizona. Much of our morning was focused on chatting with our new friends and exchanging contact information rather than being glued to the windows until we pass Avalanche Alley and are barraged with copper rainbowed hues.
After a late yet yummy breakfast, we traverse the Jaws Of Death (true name) with the terrain becoming more lush and greenery returning to our views, a welcome sight indeed. With the forests return and the remaining geologically harsh terrain, the combination becomes singularly unique – a combination of sub-sub-alpine and southwestern in a marriage of harmonious colors.
Dust suddenly explodes all over the front of our car, and with the winds we wonder if a dust storm is coming across. No, it’s a rock slide!… how exciting!!! Gravel and sand come rushing down towards the train in a thrilling split second experience! Of course, our safety was never in jeopardy. Retaining walls, concrete barriers, and electric sensing detection lines all stand sentinel between any potential rock slides and the rail tracks which are a very precious commodity for the railways, along with us passengers of course. The detection lines continuously monitor any movement of earth or rock, and send signals rail operations practically instantly. Crews are then dispatched to cleanup the rail before any train’s arrival and repair any minor damage, with the train notified of any impediments ahead. The rail companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars in annual maintenance of the railways, their investment, and assuring the safety of the trains and its contents.
The transition is complete as we exit Avalanche Alley (also the true name and how appropriate!), and meander through Rainbow Canyon, with its majestic orange, yellow and Sedona-red rock striations. I am writing this section of the blog in real time, while I update the last two days for publication, and pray to whoever will listen that Nathan has taken at least one decent photograph of Rainbow Canyon’s walls. One major challenge in this amazing experience is that there is so much to see from the Gold Leaf Dome and you see so much further than the vestibule; pictures taken here however are through the glass and will often have glare and possibly out of focus. You, reader, have probably seen and picked out those pictures already. And, coupled with the major photographic equipment catastrophe (ie Nathan’s sudden and grossly-inconveniently-timed camera death), we are limited to one camera that Nathan has on vestibule photography duty.
As afternoon approaches the familiar pines give way to a few areas of farm and urban development. Interspersed are large lakes and stretches of water with a few intrepid fishermen out on their boats. Light mist clouds start to settle in around us soon becoming full fledged rainstorms. Our car attendants let us know that the rain is coming down steadily in Vancouver and is expected to last for several days. Nathan and I look at each other knowing how lucky we have been to have such beautiful weather for the large portion of this trip.
One telltale sign that we are closer to major population area is the massive cargo trains that we seem to pass every 20 minutes. Loaded down with 50 -100 cars these behemoths require multiple engines scattered throughout the lineup to muster the amount of power needed to keep them rolling. We had seen a few of these impossibly long trains pass us before but these new ones seemed to dwarf the earlier groupings.
Nathan watches closely as we pass Fort Langley, looks over to me and matter-of-factly states that he wants to come back to visit this township in particular –And I can’t say as I blame him. This little hamlet seemed to be the penultimate small town, with brick buildings facing Main Street. The overall impression would be of the small Americana style towns that you are used to seeing in films depicting the beginning of the 20th century. We have joined up with The Fraser River again as our last few minutes on the train come to a close. Gradually we pull into Vancouver and finally stop at a station specifically The Rocky Mountaineer. The station is quite beautiful and very modern, a stark contrast to the smaller, vintage stations that we had become accustomed to. As the rain fell, a last few minute hugs and well wishes before we board our transfer to the Fairmont Waterfront. Our bus ride takes a little longer than usual as one of the main thorough fares in Gastown has been closed off, but for good reason, there’s a jazz festival.
Check in at the Fairmont is as painless as ever, and a surprise was awaiting us. We had been upgraded to a signature level room. This room was amazing with completely panoramic views from Lionshead Bridge to Ballantyne pier, the whole of the harbor was laid out before us to enjoy. Did I mention that the room was massive? Well it was, with a bathroom with a view to die for of Stanley Park and the brand new convention center. There was also a lovely fruit plate laid out for us on the desk with a welcome back message written in chocolate. I’m sure the chocolate covered strawberries were delectable, but sadly I will not know for sure as I offered them all to Nathan, they are after all one of his most favorite treats. I will say that the rest of the berries were phenomenal, and we later discover that the chef had picked them up from the local farmers market the day before.
Nathan and I lay down for just a few moments for a nap, waking one hour later and realizing that we were hungry. Word to the wise, if you finally decide to eat on a Sunday evening at the Fairmont make sure to do so before 9PM. Unfortunately everything within walking distance was closed, so we ended up cabbing it over to Robson to grab a quick bite at Han’s for Chinese food. Han’s is one of those not-so-pretty restaurants that caters to locals in the Asian community. Don’t let that fool you though, the food is great, with large portions and very reasonable prices, it’s an establishment that the locals will only share with you if you fess up you’ve been to Vancouver multiple times. Finally at midnight we grab a cab back to the hotel, satiated and ready for a wonderful nights sleep on those amazingly comfortable Fairmont beds. We call it a night and sink in to a restful cloud-top night.
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