July 24, 2014

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Jasper is Just Fine!

The first day of Railroading in the Rockies may be the last!

 

Jasper is Just Fine!
Our tour of the Banff National Park has changed into a visit in Jasper National Park, including a visit to the Colombian Icefield. Our drive to Jasper was completed just in time for a wonderful dining experience, and then a leisurely stroll up the main street, stopping in various gift shops, stores and looking for mementos.
Among the items we found are place-mats, funny fridge magnets, pajamas, mugs, dinosaur kits and more. We relaxed as the winds picked up and then turned into the hotel for an early night. Two hours of trying to get an Internet signal that stayed blew away with the strong winds. After rising at 5:30 a.m. to put our bags out to be picked up by the hotel staff, we dressed and waited in the lobby before boarding the train. 
 
In the depot, another wireless service allowed me to log on to a free network and post the last account.
We also checked email, wrote to family, looked for the latest news from WTAP and then boarded. Our grand rail adventure had begun as we pulled out in style! This year’s coaches are more comfortable than earlier one, with meals served, commentary provided, and spectacular scenery gliding by.
We have been traveling in “The Great Trench”, the second largest feature on the planet that can be seen from space. (Number One is the Great Barrier Reef.) This riff valley falls between the Canadian Rockies on the east and the Coast Range to the west. We eventually found the Frasier River along side us, and then left the riff as we turn west across the Caribou Plateau. We are now on “new rocks” instead of “old rocks” (275 Million years old), and the land forms have changed. No more mountain chains and peaks with snow caps and glaciers.
We have seen elk, cattle, deer and birds today, as we go through spruce forests punctuated by birch, aspen and other lower trees. Miles and miles without humans, the rail track maintained and leased to the Rocky Mountaineer by Canada National railroad. Along the rail is a decaying telegraph line, complete with insulators, wire and tilted poles. Our tour guide says scavengers harvest the line and the glass insulators for resale in gift shops. The longer the insulator stays out in the elements, the more blue they turn… and the higher the price they command in gift shops. (About $75 currently.)
 
Late in the day as we approach Quesnel, B.C., we are addressed by the railroad operations manager.  He tells us the forest fires that threaten British Columbia forests are not contained, and are threatening the city ahead of us. The newspaper shows Lillooet, where the flames are less than 1 km away from the homes. The provincial government has informed them that the rail service below our overnight point  will be suspended until further notice.  He informs us that we will be boarding small planes to fly us "over the fire" and to the next stop on our trip.
Although disappointed that our rail adventure is coming to an end a day early, and that some of the most spectacular scenery along the rails is going to be lost, we understand their decision.  The railroad is concerned for the safety of their customers, their employees and their train.  It really is the only decision that they could make, considering the highway is also threatened by the fires.  No motor-coach service available in this area for the same reasons.
So, we resolve to cooperate and move forward with our Canadian Adventure in good spirits.
Some of us joke that this trip has turned into as much of a challenge as the Hawaii trip of three years ago.  And in a way they are right.  Except, it is a testament to Holiday Vacations that they have partnered with the Rocky Mountaineer who have handled this so professionally, calm and orderly.  The change in transportation will be at no additional cost to us, additional meals will be provided and we might just gain some more time in Whistler as a result.  We might even get to see the fires from the air and see the scope of the problem!
The adventure continues!
 
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