Exploring Northwest US and Canada: Week 2, Day 10, Rocky Mountaineer!

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February 23rd 2018
Published: February 23rd 2018
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7/20 It was a sunny and fairly clear morning when our ride to the train station was at the Mount Robson for our 6:40 am pickup to take us to town to the Rocky Mountaineer train trip to Kamloops and then Vancouver. Luckily the mountains were mostly visible on our last morning in Jasper.

The Rocky Mountaineer was on the tracks being readied for our big excursion. Beautiful flower boxes filled with white spotted purple petunias, blue lobelias and yellow potato vines made a cheery entrance on this chilly morning. We made a bit of a spectacle as we arrived in our white Calgary Stampede cowboy hats in the Jasper Train Station. We were greeted with coffee and fresh fruit and a friendly welcoming committee that included a gentleman from Newfoundland who told us that in 1949 his then-country voted on whether to join Canada or become a US territory. The tie was eventually broken by one point to join Canada (it would have been the US if they had been offered statehood.) As we waited with our coffee in the train station Matricia and her beautiful daughter from the Cree Nation sang and drummed for us, resplendent in their native costumes. I spent some time talking with them about their life in Jasper and the Cree Nation up north.

Once we were seated in our Silverleaf Coach, the Jasper staff waved goodbye from the train platform and as soon as the train was underway all the passengers were given an orange juice to toast a farewell to the mountain town and the beginning of our much anticipated Rail Road journey.

Not long after we left Jasper we passed through the Yellowhead Pass, the lowest point along the Continental Divide and soon after we crossed the division between Alberta and British Columbia when we lost an hour to Pacific time. It wasn't long before we were served breakfast: a warm croissant with strawberry jam and butter, coffee and fresh fruit, soon followed by a hot breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, potato and corn hash and roasted mushrooms. I began to realize a little exercise was needed to make it through our train journey!

As we continued along our journey we passed the beautiful 5 mile long turquoise Moose Lake edged with tall evergreens. Not much further on, Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 12,972' stood out with its snow covered peak framed by tall evergreens. It wasn’t long before we saw more evidence of the devastation from the mountain pine beetle. Large swaths of brown pine trees were apparent in the hills and mountains. Smoky haze came and went until around 11am when the rains came. Still, the scenery was beautiful with marshland and meadows, rivers and dense forest and occasional mountain views. I stepped between the train cars for unobscured photo ops jockeying for position among other travelers. It was a bit brisk so I soon came back to my seat for a nice hot toddy.

About midway we passed the Blue River so named because the 'rock flower' added the turquoise blue color to the water. By now it was raining pretty hard, much needed in the drought stricken areas here where fires had popped up throughout this region. We then passed the Pyramid Falls but with little warning several of us converged in the open area to photograph the elusive falls with little success.

Lunch: Around 12:30 hot towels were brought around and soon after, lunch was served at our seats. Spinach salad with dried cranberries, chicken (me) or pork (Dave) and brown rice risotto, steamed winter squash and cauliflower. They ran out of chicken so I ended up with pork. Halfway through my lunch Julie, a sweet young server, kindly brought me a chicken breast. It was much better than the tougher pork chop but still not remarkable. We both enjoyed a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from British Columbia. While dining (1:30pm) we enjoyed a lovely view of the North Thompson River.

I attempted to photograph Little Hells Gate between trees on the fast moving train. Not very successful but I got the idea. This area is where the Canadian Overlanders came through in 1860 looking for gold in the Caribou Gold Fields, their base in Kamloops. Like the United States Overlanders, they suffered greatly along this rather unknown territory, traded guns for food with the First Nations people and were basically unprepared for the grueling journey ahead.

It was quite chilly by the window so I asked for a blanket to bury myself in which I highly recommend if the weather is a little chilly. (Of course I frequently jumped out of my warm blanket to take the odd photo while bundled in my scarf and jacket.) I found a particularly nice benefit on the train: there are two outlets between the seats for charging phones etc in comparison to very few accessible outlets in the hotels. Since I did not know this to plan ahead, Jacob, part of the cabin crew, kindly loaned me his charger to charge my iPhone.

The rain was teaming when we passed through the small farming town of Clearwater. The rain was providential because there was a large fire in the area with hundreds of firefighters and helicopters working to stop its advance. Right now there are over 30,000 hectares on fire in British Columbia. Hard to complain about the clouds and rain when it is much needed to help put the fires out. Again we ate: Our mid-afternoon dessert was a delicious lemon cheesecake topped with currant berries and a gooseberry. The best food so far! Decaf coffee with Baileys rounded out the afternoon.

For over a week we had been told about the fires rampaging British Columbia and most especially the areas north of Kamloops. Recent forest fires began in the Kamloops region covering around 11,000 acres; within three days they grew to 60,000 acres! More than 500 fires were going strong and firefighters have at this point trimmed it down to 140 fires. Many fires were caused by careless humans, a few were intentional and some were dry tinder lighting fires. In this desert climate of Kamloops there had been less than 1/2" of rain in June and July with temps in the 90s and although it is sprinkling today it is hardly enough to prevent or stop the fires and it therefore brings fears of more lightening strikes. The entire city north of Kamloops called Hundred Mile House was evacuated because of these fires. When we pulled into Kamloops we were told that this town is a fire evacuation center and to expect an unusually large number of people in town. 90,000 people call the town of Kamloops home but cows still outnumber people 3-1. With the evacuees the town swelled with people but the generous souls of this city opened their doors and their hearts to those in need giving food and shelter for hundreds of now homeless people.

As we got closer to Kamloops we started to smell the smoke from the fires. By the time we reached Barriere where the Barriere River flows into the North Thompson, the smoke had cleared but we saw the remnants of a several year-old large forest fires that had destroyed acres of timber and a lumber yard. The topography changed near Kamloops from high mountain fir, cedar and spruce to sage brush and lowland meadows.

Kamloops means “meeting of the waters” in the Shuswap or Tk’emlups language, referring to the confluence of the North and South Thompson Rivers. Kamloops has been home to these First Nation Peoples for millennia. Sadly we were a week early for the annual Kamloopa Pow-wow. The fur traders founded Kamloops as the Hudson's Bay Company with the first trading post in 1821. The Shuswap First Nation People had a good relationship with the Hudsons Bay Company trading for furs but they also traded with Americans as early as 1811. The gold rush (1859-60) was a later inducement to move out to Kamloops. Overlanders from Manitoba crossed the Rockies and rafted down the North Thompson River to Kamloops in 1862 on their way to the Cariboo gold fields. Our train passed a statue of the Virgin Mary in the Kamloops town cemetery to commemorate the First Nation People who died contracting small pox that was carried on the European blankets that were traded for furs.

We were met at the train by the Rocky Mountaineer Railroad Road train staff who sheltered us with umbrellas to a bus transport that took us to the Hotel Five540Forty downtown. When we arrived more umbrellas were waiting to get us from the bus to the hotel. We were greeted by two First Nation drummers singing as we entered the portico and several hotel staff handed us wine glasses full of fresh lemonade. The transfer from train to room was seamless with our bags already in our lovely and spacious hotel suite when we arrived.

As if we were hungry...it was time to eat, again. Tired and probably a bit hungover from too many hot toddies, I dragged Dave in the pouring rain to the nearest restaurant across from the Hotel Five540Forty (recommended by the train team) called the Frick and Frack Tap House. We both had a really nice meal in spite of the loud crowd. Most offerings were in the $16 range so it almost didn't matter what we ordered. Dave chose a salmon burger that was amazingly good with a side of slaw that was perfectly made. I had a small bowl of wonton soup with fresh vegetables. I wish I had been hungrier because it was so good. We didn't order a beer because we had so much to drink on the train!


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