Written by Panorama resident, Sandy Bush. November 2018
Our move to Panorama was five years ago. In many ways, the change to new environment and environs has kept us occupied with local things. However, after seeing a trip through the Canadian Rockies offered at Panorama’s Hopes & Dreams Travel, we decided it might be time to take the train trip we had thought about doing for years. In the 1970s, we drove our little sporty car into Canada to Lake Louise and experienced the area in June. This offered a Fall trip with other residents in an escorted ten-day train and bus tour of the Rockies.
Twenty-four of us enjoyed this trip in early October. I was somewhat concerned that we’d miss the color array of Fall changes here at Panorama, but figured we’d see changes in the northern reaches. Our trip took us to Vancouver, Whistler, Quesnel, Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff and home from Calgary on a quick flight.
The train trip was wonderful. We were situated in the dome car, so views were everywhere. More fir and pine and less deciduous trees meant less color change than I had imagined. The pine beetle has ravaged much of that species and Canada has also had raging wild fires. The wilderness is a hard place to fight these fires, which seem to be more prevalent as the climate warms. Cold, hard and long freezes help kill the beetle, but many dead standing trees were evident.
We had heard about the food service on this train, but we were still surprised at the quality and variety of dishes offered in our “Gold Leaf Service.” When we were last to sit for breakfast, we were served tea and scones. Our car of 48 people was divided so 24 diners were comfortable in the dining car beneath the dome car. That meant that breakfast was after 10 am and we had some early starting times to re-board the train. There was also a wine and cheese serving for those in second seating for lunch.
Elegant “lunch” in the dining car
Train delays were minimal, except as we neared Jasper where we left the train for further bus touring. Commercial cargoes still have priority over leisure touring. Jasper is a main throughway for cargo east-west in Canada and some trains were congested with back-ups. Our train crew just whipped up an unplanned “snack” as the last day was a long one of fourteen hours, but it included shrimp, fruit, hummus, Focaccia bread triangles, and a sweet little dessert square. Restaurants were closed by the time we arrived and detrained in Jasper.
We all were prepared for cold, but in many places where we walked to view chasms and geologic formations, the 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit was manageable. Glacial ice fields are still fascinating, and we got to walk out on the Athabascan Glacier. We had done this 40 years ago and changes were very evident. Our merry band of travelers also noted that as crowded as it was at the closing of the season for rail adventure, we couldn’t imagine train lengths of 10 or 15 more cars that typically run in summer schedules. We were part of a six-car train.
Walking on Athabasca glacier
Hotels and motels were busy, but so much less so than high season. The magical part of this tour was not handling our bags. Now as older travelers, this is a godsend. We never had to lug our bags once they went on the commercial bus service that took us from Panorama Hall to Vancouver and picked us up at Sea-Tac and dropped us off at Panorama Hall. Our bags would show up in our rooms within the hour of getting our keys and going through customs in Canada was fairly streamlined.
Stained glass window décor at Lake Louise
A silliness on my part seemed to be fighting the ever-present duvets! Having experienced these in our hiking trips in the UK years and years ago, it seems they will be a part of travel forever. These devilish linens kept me overheated the entire trip, but it is the only thing I can say was an issue for me. At the very least, in the snowy wilds of Canada, we didn’t freeze at night! We experienced a bit of spitty snow in a few places, but otherwise we had clear viewing and sunny days.
Leg stretcher at Maligne Falls
We experienced wildlife from the train, on the gondola at Whistler, and during the walk along Pyramid Lake. We saw a black bear mom and two cubs under the gondola, elk in the openings of trees from the train, white-tailed deer and moose from the train, as well as mountain goats looking over the cliffs at our coach as we motored along. The in-room phone at our hotel in Jasper had a special button to dial to hear elk bugling if you missed the 4 am sounds, as this was rut time! This young red squirrel at Pyramid Lake was chomping away on pine cone seeds preparing for winter that was certainly on its way!
Red squirrel along the Bow River
Our traveling companions from Panorama were easy to travel with. We were also spoiled by having escorts along who smoothed over any rough patches, of which there were amazingly few!
The thing that surprised me as we returned home to Panorama was actually being overwhelmed by the color changes that I was sure we would miss. The green of grass vs. the brown of the prairie around Calgary was eye-popping. And we didn’t miss the changing of our trees and the palette of colors. What a homecoming! Sometimes you need to step back and experience other environments to totally appreciate what we have here in Panorama.