The Canadian Rockies, along the border of BC and Alberta, are home to some of the most unspoiled land in North America, and last month I traveled right to the heart of it—Jasper National Park.
The trip was with Rocky Mountaineer, a luxury rail sight-seeing service, and my presence was to serve as videographer/segment producer for my good friend Mike Siegel, who travels all over the world with his Travel Tales Podcast.
I got my Ansel Adams on as much as I could between my videographer duties, and I even took my Polaroid Land 104 camera and my dwindling supply of discontinued and expired film, figuring if any of my upcoming trips were “film worthy” it was this one. In fact, I was delighted to find out one of Ansel Adams’ first big trips photographing mountain landscapes was with the Sierra Club to this very part of the Canadian Rockies.
The trip started in Vancouver, BC, a city I had yet to visit, and the day I landed I was treated to a sunny respite from the usual, rainy, Pacific Northwest climate. Mike and I had time to explore the city (which he knew well after staying in Vancouver between several Alaskan cruise ship gigs) and we hit the enormous Stanley Park, explored the West End and downtown Vancouver. The next day I ventured out on my own to explore Gas Town and some more of the West End.
It was in Robson Square, near the University of British Columbia’s skating rink, that I had an eerie sense of déjà vu. When I saw the geodesic domes on either end of the lower-level rink I felt I had not only seen the park, but that I had been in that space before. After a moment I realized I had—sort of. I had “skated” through the park on the Vancouver level of Tony Hawk’s Underground, a skateboarding game for PS2 that I had played extensively back in 2004 or so. It’s amazing (and a little frightening) to realize that a game—and technology—from over a decade ago made a strong enough impression on me that an unseen, real location felt familiar. I can only imagine what kind of mind bending the improved VR technology will visit upon us.
The first train leg of the journey started from a private station in Vancouver and began to make its way along the Fraser river, destined for Kamloops, a town in the high desert interior of British Columbia. We trekked through the lush and misty coastal range and took in amazing views of Hell’s Gate, a rocky narrowing of the river that creates rapids and eddies, and Cisco Crossing, where Canada’s two major rail lines criss-cross the river on a series of bridges.
The high desert town of Kamloops, next to Lake Kamloops (I just like writing “Kamloops”) has about 100,000 residents and is the biggest town for about a hundred miles. It’s where Rocky Mountaineer has their operations headquarters and guests of the company we were treated to a tour of their shop and warehouse, which may sound boring until you realize you get to see the giant locomotives up close and personal.
During the next day’s journey from Kamloops (yeah!) to Jasper the air got cooler and we started to see snow-topped mountains as we began to climb through the high desert into the Rockies. The main sights of the day were Pyramid Falls, which descend mere yards from the train and can only be seen via rail, and Robson Peak, the tallest peak in Canada, which was shrouded in clouds. The base was still pretty impressive.
The train journey ended in Jasper, a small town in the center of Jasper National Park, in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. From the quaint downtown you can see stunning peaks in every direction. We stayed at a mountain lodge on a small lake, geese and ducks flying and floating, and deer just… hangin’ out between cabins.
Growing up in northeastern Illinois (a state so flat people from barely hilly Wisconsin call us “flatlanders”) I am always awestruck in the presence of mountains. A full day sight-seeing around Jasper was both exhilarating and peaceful as we stood by glacier lakes, tall mountains, and took a two-mile hike from downtown back to the lodge.
The entire trip was an amazing and beautiful experience, and I can’t thank Mike, Travel Tales, and Rocky Mountaineer enough for letting me tag along. Follow Mike on twitter and instagram to see and hear more about the trip, and stay tuned for the upcoming videos!