Sunday, 2 September 2007

The Rocky Mountaineer

We spent the last two days of our holiday on the Rocky Mountaineer train, which winds nearly 700 miles through the Rocky Mountains from Vancouver to Calgary.

As you can imagine, it's just mile after mile of breathtaking scenery - soaring mountains, some topped with snow and glaciers; sprawling lakes rolling on endlessly; wild rivers tumbling between sheer rockfaces; and stretches of quasi-desert where trees and vegetation all but disappear.

I kept looking down or looking up to see landscapes so extraordinary I thought I must be dreaming. The train just climbs up and up until at one point it's 5,500 feet above sea level and still the mountains are streaking to 10,000 feet.

There're two levels of service on the train - Gold Leaf and Red Leaf. On Gold Leaf you get cordon bleu food, extra personal attention and higher windows so the scenery is more visible. We opted for Red Leaf, which was just fine - we still had delicious food in large quantities and didn't miss any of the scenery. And it costs about half as much.

The only weak link on the trip was the overnight stay at Kamloops, a hideously ugly town with second-rate hotels that made us glad to be back on the train in the morning. With some 2000 passengers from three trains all stopping overnight, the company needs to find much better accommodation, maybe by building its own deluxe hotel.

Some passengers think the train is too slow but I enjoyed the leisurely, laid-back crawl that gives you time to appreciate the most dazzling sights without feeling rushed.

Even on this idyllic ride, the effects of global warming are evident. Huge swathes of pine forest are being killed by the ubiquitous pine beetle, which up till now was largely wiped out by plummeting winter temperatures but is now thriving in the much warmer climate. If it can't be controlled, much of the forest cover will vanish in a few years and with it the massive timber industry.

It's a sobering thought that our flights to Canada and back contributed to this carnage. But what do we do instead - stay home and watch the telly? We may all be facing some hard choices before long.

PS: Have just read that the spruce bark beetle is also chomping its way through Alaska's Kenai Peninsula (south of Anchorage).


Conortje said...

My occasionally holy friend is from Calgary. He's promised to take me to Canada soon. Glad you're back!

Nick said...

I liked Calgary - a nice buzz to it, very smart and clean and elegant, lots of willowy joggers pacing the streets. Getting colossally rich too from all the oilsands. Nothing much to see tourist-wise though, except some galleries and theatres and cultural stuff. Maybe not bohemian enough for you, Con, I think Vancouver's more your style.

Wisewebwoman said...

Very well written piece, Nick.
My daughter called me from her train-ride from Halifax to Montreal tonight so your entry was quite serendipitous :>).
Sad about the pine beetle and your seeing the evidence up close and personal of the effects on the forests....heart-breaking.
And we're all in this air-travel dilemma.
As to the Maritimes - all of Nova Scotia, PEI, parts of New Brunswick and the Northern shore of the St. Lawrence estuary is a big secret - rustic France transplanted to North America and of course Newfoundland, you just can't miss it, everyone new to it is literally in shock and awe at the jaw-dropping beauty.

Conortje said...

I think you're right - I've been dying to go to Vancouver for ages. I'll start saving now.

Nick said...

www - have noted your recommendations. Will have to start planning another trip!

con - you must definitely go. Plenty of funky, hang-loose districts you'd enjoy.

Medbh said...

I just love travelling by train, Nick. It's roomier and safer than flying. We drove across Canada when we moved here and the scenery is far more untouched than in the U.S., where there's a huge roadside complex off the highway every 30 miles.

Nick said...

Oh me too Medbh, I'd go everywhere by train if I could. Trouble is that in NI, firstly the ferry / train option to the rest of the UK takes much longer than a plane and secondly, the bus and train network within NI is so minimal the only realistic means of travel is a car. No wonder global warming is out of control.