Thursday, July 13, 2006

So, We Went to Canada, eh?


The map above shows the route that we were on for our Grand Canadian Rockies tour with Tauck. On the map, you'll see the black dotted lines. That section of our tour was on the vintage train, "The Canadian". This was a high-end trip including excursions and five-star hotels. Not our normal jaunt, but a wonderful experience that might've spoiled me some. I mentioned before that we did this trip with Andy's mother and sister, Carol. We met them in Vancouver, our starting point. We flew in a day early to give us some extra time to tour this beautiful city. The hanging flower baskets were an immediate reminder of our last trip to British Columbia - the city of Victoria.




Here's Andy walking the cobblestone streets of historical Gastown.










On our free day before meeting the rest of our group, we decided to hop a ferry to hop a bus to tour the Capilano Suspension Bridge. This bridge is suspended about 230' above the river and is the only way to access the rest of the park. The park was built to preserve a temperate rainforest and they built a series of Tree Top boardwalks to give you a different perspective of the forest - looking down on it. Many of the trees here were several hundred year old Douglas Firs.








One afternoon we rented some bikes and went for a quick ride around 1,000-acre Stanley Park. This park is on the tip of the peninsula bordering downtown.
Earlier in the day the tour bus had brought us through Stanley Park (but on the roads, not the waterside bike path). The tour of Vancouver showed us several other parts of town: Gastown, Bloedel Conservatory, Granville Island, and other notable sights.

Day Two of the Tauck Tour:
This day could've been named after a movie: We took a bus to catch a ferry (to Vancouver Island) to get back on a bus (to tour the city of Victoria) to get another bus (to Butchart Gardens) to hop a float plane (back to Vancouver) to board the final bus to reach our train (to cross B.C. to reach the Canadian Rockies). Whew! What a mouthful! Most of the day went off without a hitch, well...outside of missplacing one woman for half-an-hour in Victoria. Victoria and Butchart are such beautiful places to visit. Unfortunately, this trip did not allow for enough time to enjoy them. We had about 1 1/2 hours at each to explore. We'd been there before, but I was so excited for Carol and Mom to see them. Well, they'll just have to go back.
Here's mom and Carol boarding their 6-seater float plane when we were leaving the Gardens.
A view of Vancouver and Stanley Park from our little plane. We liked our pilot - he flew well below legal limits (just the way we like it!)


The Canadian: This train was built in the 1950's. We really enjoyed the observation car with it's glass-domed ceiling. Greg, our tour director, started off this excursion by popping some bubbly for us all. "I could get used to this", I said to myself. Cheers!




And the views were fabulous...


We were on the train overnight til about noon the next day, and with the sun not setting til 11pm, we had plenty of daylight to enjoy our views.

Jasper
We stayed at the Jasper Park Lodge, which is the more rustic of the Fairmonts. But the lodges were comfy, cozy with views of mountains and lakes all around. Even our "neighbors" were very friendly.












On our rainy, free day, Andy, Carol and I went for a hike. Sometimes you just can't wait for the weather to clear up to enjoy the scenery when you are only given one day. So even though we got wet, and slipped along the muddy trails, and got lost, and had to break out our compass to find an alternate route home, and show Carol just how hiking-savvy we are (ahem), it was worth it. Right, Carol? It was quiet and serene, and our new trail brought us out along the Athabasca River. Wonderful.

Jasper to Lake Louise
The drive along the Icefields Parkway to Lake Louise was stunning. The Rockies up here appear so much larger. It's not that they are taller (which they're not), it's because you get to see more of them since the elevation at the foothills is lower than in the States.
Athabasca Falls, was a gorgeous, powerful waterfall. The thunder of it went through your chest.
Now add a rainbow, actually a double-rainbow, to the scene!
Further south along the Parkway, we visited the Columbia Icefields. Here we are standing at the Visitor Center below the large glacier.
Then we hopped onboard one of these monster Ice Explorers for a trek up onto the glacier. For our safety, they only allowed us onto the packed area...due to the large crevasses in the area. Would've been fun to explore further, but you could see an area not too far away that looked like stacked snow blocks and probably was where the crevasses were.
Oh, and after continuing south with several scenic pull-overs to ooohh and aaahh over the gorgeous glacial-green lakes, we finally arrived at Chateau Lake Louise. An incredible hotel in an incredible location.
Lake Louise and Yoho National Park
Here's a view from our room. The hotel offers "sunrise wake-up calls" so that you can wake up at 5:15 am to capture the sun reflecting off the mountains, glacier, and then again off the lake. Sometimes the whole mountain is painted pink. Please note that that green color of the lake is real - that's what these glacial lakes look like!



We day-tripped to Yoho National Park. We stopped at several scenic overlooks, one being the Natural Bridge. The Kicking Horse River squeezes through a tight opening through this rock crossing. In the process it's carved out some intricate pools and channels in the rock.

















We also stopped at Emerald Lake, where Andy and I took a hike around the lake before rejoining everyone at the lunch table at the lodge on the lake. The hike was unique in that the trail on the south-facing slope was dry with lots of wildflowers - see this Yellow Lady's Slipper (in the orchid family). While the north-facing slope was wet with ferns, mushrooms, and even rain to prove it's point. It had a dual-personality!
Then we stopped to watch a 2-mile long train go through the spiral tunnels which allowed us to see the same train on three sets of tracks as it snaked about and around the steep incline.
After Yoho, Andy and I hiked to Lake Agnes Teahouse from the Chateau. We joined several others from our group who stayed at the teahouse for, well, tea! But we decided to continue up the trail to summit the Big Beehive for a view of Lake Louise, too.
This is Lake Agnes. The rustic, logcabin-like teahouse sits on the precipice at the far end.
Here's a view of the Chateau from the top of the Beehive. We only had about 5 minutes at the top before we saw a big storm cross over the mountains behind us. Good thing we had our layers with us! We layered up, zipped up, and before we got 20 feet the sleet and snow hit us in the face. A sketchy hike on the way down since we had to cross a couple of steeply-sloped snowfields that would've ended the slide straight into a freezing Lake Agnes. Not to mention our pants were soaked and our legs went numb in the winds coming off the glaciers above us. But, of course, we loved it anyway. Just another reminder for us as to WHY we bring so much stuff on our hikes. Ha!
Banff
The first thing I'll say about the Banff Springs Hotel is that we didn't get to stay long enough. This hotel, with it's Scottish-castle architecture, and its bagpiper welcoming its guests, is just so beautiful to walk around - inside and out. A must-see. This picture is from a trail on Tunnel Mountain.

Are you a golfer? Well here's a birds-eye view of the world-famous Banff Springs Golfcourse. I don't remember the course-designer, because I'm not a golfer. But if you golf, I'm sure you've heard of it. Either way, look at that location.

Well, we had a glorious trip as you can see. Now we're just trying to figure out when we're going to get the RV back up there so we can explore more of the mountains, lakes, and glaciers we got a peek at.

Now don't you think Canada is lovely, eh?

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