by Katie Butler Johnson
Though my calendar is telling me it’s Fall, I’m still feeling that “Rocky Mountain High” I caught on Celebration Senior Travel's Rocky Mountaineer Train trip last August. The entire trip, from beginning to end, was well done.
Just before dawn on August 11th, we gathered at “The SPOT.” From there we bused to DFW for the flight to Calgary, our first step into Canada. We spent the night at the Delta Calgary Hotel where the welcoming dinner’s dessert was one of the best I’ve tasted. Several bakers among us claimed it was a molasses cake - just like their moms used to make.
From Calgary, we traveled to Banff and spent the night in the cozy Royal Canadian Lodge, an idyllic lodge complete with fireplaces in the rooms. For our free day in Banff, most chose to ride the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain for a panorama view of the mountains. I chose to explore Banff itself.
My first stop: the Buffalo Nation Luxton Museum with its award-winning collection of native artifacts. I have a small collection of Native American Art and wanted to see what the First Nation people were creating. The life-size dioramas at the museum are spectacular. The artistic patterns woven into clothing is stunning. I particularly like the shells incorporated into women’s dresses. From that museum, I walked to the Whythe Museum of the Canadian Rockies where I watched a demonstration of how to select a suitable tree for canoe making and how to make that canoe the Native American way.
After strolling all over town and walking through those museums, I was looking for a quiet place to rest when I happened upon the Cascades of Time Gardens. With benches placed beside winding trails set next to waterfalls and beautifully manicured flowering beds, it was perfect for resting awhile and thinking things over. I decided Banff reminds me of Oberammergau in Germany. Both are like jewels set midst magnificent mountains. Both feel inspiring - like springboards for creative energies.
We made a bonus trip to Lake Louise to see the turquoise glacier-fed lake. It wasn’t on our original itinerary, but was added so we wouldn’t miss it while we were so close. It’s a beautiful spot. It would have been delightful to dally by the lake, but the lake front and trails were crowded and you could barely take a picture without someone walking into it.
On the third day of the trip, we boarded the Rocky Mountaineer train and experienced “GoldLeaf” pampering with white linen table service as we rode the rails through Alberta and deep into British Columbia. The train followed the historic Canadian Pacific Railway route connecting British Columbia to the rest of Canada. We saw the exact spot in Craigellachie that the last spike of the Canadian transcontinental rail line was hammered into place.
We traveled on the train from Banff’s lofty alpine setting, alongside rushing waters, through spiral tunnels, over soaring trestles, past lakes into semi-arid Kamloops where we overnighted at the Kamloops Hotel. Next morning we continued our journey through desert-like canyons filled with sagebrush and haunting hoodoos and ended in Canada’s #1 Tourist destination: Vancouver.
After spending the night at the Sheraton Wall Centre in downtown Vancouver, we ferried to Victoria Island where we overnighted at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. The next day we visited Butchart Gardens, taking tons of pictures. Then we caught the ferry back to Vancouver and packed to return home - taking with us great memories of our time in Canada and the new friendships made during our time together.
Oh, there is an interesting antidote about the train ride to Kamloops. There is this woman named Doris who lives in a yellow house and always wears a yellow blouse. For many years, she has come out to double wave at the Rocky Mountaineer train each time it passes. Her dog is always with her and has learned to distinguish between the sound of the Rocky Mountaineer and that of a freight train. He only reacts to the Mountaineer. Doris flung both her arms high into the air and waved at us as our train passed by her house- and her dog was right there with her.
Our trip was golden because Celebration’s staff made it so. They knew how to handle all contingencies. They guided us through a tangle of unanticipated bureaucratic covid regulations the Canadian Government threw our direction when we landed in Canada. They patiently untangled and took care of it all. And the Good Lord gifted us absolutely GLORIOUS weather for the entire trip!!!