Canada 2015: Jasper to Lake Louise, AB


Lake Louise

Late morning, we drove from the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a beautiful three-hour drive through Jasper National Park into Banff National Park. We were less than a mile from the Jasper lodge when I spotted something black out of the corner of my eye. Bear! David slowed down and pulled to the shoulder of the road. In a lush meadow, which sat about thirty feet below the highway, a lone black bear was foraging. He paid us no mind, busy searching for something to eat. We snapped photos, until six vehicles joined us. I was pleased to see that no one attempted to approach the bear. In fact, everyone spoke in low tones as to not spook him.

At the hotel check-in counter, there seemed to be a problem with our room reservation, so I waited in the lounge area with our roller bags while a guest service employee went to find the hotel manager. Soon thereafter, David waved me over to the registration desk. The manager informed us that since we had “suffered an issue” with the hotel in Vancouver and had booked exclusively with the Fairmont chain on our Canadian trip, they wanted to upgrade our room. David told him that the Fairmont had already done so in Whistler and there was really no need to upgrade us again. But he insisted.

Our impressive two-level accommodation was the Belvedere Suite on the top floor of the hotel, with over a thousand square feet and two private covered balconies—one overlooked the grounds and the other the lake. The spiral staircase in the penthouse suite led to a secluded bedroom, and the luxurious bath with glass walls opened to stunning views of Lake Louise and the Victoria Glacier.

After we settled into our room, we strolled the trails around the hotel and the lake. It pays to do your research before you go, I reminded myself, as I was quite surprised to see Lake Louise covered in ice in May. I learned much later that many visitors plan their trip in early June when the Rocky Mountain lakes thaw—the best time to snap pictures of the turquoise water. The striking blue-green color, also seen in New Zealand’s lakes, comes from silt-like rock flour carried into the lake by ice and snowmelt from the surrounding glaciers. The minute particles of silt become suspended in the water, refracting blue and green wavelengths of light.

Every year, the lake’s thawing is a highly anticipated event with many Fairmont Chateau employees participating in a lake-thawing lottery. Each employee places a small bet and picks a day and time, a.m. or p.m., when he or she thinks the lake will clear of ice. Depending upon the weather patterns, Lake Louise has cleared as early as May 30 and as late as June 17.

For dinner, we ate fondue at Walliser Stube in our hotel and watched the day slip into night over Lake Louise.







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Canada 2015: Quesnel, BC, to Jasper, AB

Early in the morning, we reboarded the Rocky Mountaineer for the ride from Quesnel to Jasper.

I planned to spend most of the day outside on the downstairs observation deck of our railcar, snapping photos, but it began to rain as we left the rail station and chugged past the lumberyards. Michael, one of our onboard crew and also a professional photographer, told me we still had a lot of climbing to do and the best shots were yet to come. He suggested that I go down to the dining car for breakfast, so I took his advice http://michaelbednar.com

The inclement weather followed us from Quesnel to Prince George as the train charted a course close to the Fraser River. The weather improved as we rolled into the quaint village of McBride, BC, and cleared as we crossed provinces—from British Columbia into Alberta. As we drew near the town of Jasper, we spotted a black bear minding his own business and not the least bit interested in the passing train, although the passengers burst into an uproar of “Bear, bear, bear.” And the cameras came out in a flash. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun. I was too slow on the draw and missed my shot, but I would get my chance later in the trip.

We disembarked in Jasper and boarded a bus to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Those passengers continuing on the train the next day were booked into the main building of the lodge. We planned to stay two nights in Jasper and had reserved a bungalow near the lake. When we checked in with reception, they advised us to stay clear of the roaming elk, as many females had young with them. In fact, we had to dodge three on the way to the room and wait while another moved away from the front door before we could unlock the bungalow. They were a pleasure to see.

We had reservations at the Moose’s Nook Northern Grill in the lodge, but it was closing as we arrived at the host’s desk. She apologized, but we really weren’t up for a big dinner, as we had certainly been well fed on the train. We sat in the Emerald Lounge, ordered a bottle of wine, and snacked on substantial appetizers as we sat near a roaring fire.

Pardon the glass glare on some of the photos taken aboard the train. Unavoidable, unfortunately.


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Canada 2015: Whistler to Quesnel, BC

Sunday morning we grabbed coffee at Starbucks and walked to church, a very long walk, but the hike got our blood pumping on the breezy morning. When the service ended, Theresa and Gordon, a couple from Vancouver Island, asked if we wanted a ride back into town. We accepted their offer and thanked them as they dropped us off in the village.
Famished, we ate lunch at Hot Buns, a cozy café famous for their cinnamon buns, but we ordered crepes—lemon sugar and apple cinnamon.

Go Fest, Whistler’s Great Outdoors Festival, was in full swing, and we spent a good hour touring a car show, snapping photos of vintage vehicles, and another thirty minutes talking to one car owner who had his senior giant schnauzer with him.

We shopped away most of the afternoon, picking up where we had left off the day before, and making some warm purchases—fleece. Afterward, we watched a group of hotshot snowboarders and skiers push the limits before we returned to our hotel for dinner.

We had reservations at the Grill Room. We started with oysters on the half shell; this was followed by Beef Tenderloin Neptune, beef tenderloin topped with Dungeness crab and sauce Charon; and Brome Lake Duck Duo, a pan-roasted duck breast and confit duck leg; and a side order of risotto. We enjoyed dessert in the Fairmont’s Mallard Lounge, sitting before a fire, nibbling a fine selection of sweets from the Chocolate Bar, and sipping a good port.

The next morning we boarded another Rocky Mountaineer train to continue our rail tour of the Canadian Rockies. This leg would take us from Whistler to Quesnel, BC. David had planned the train trip so we could get on the train to capture certain scenic routes and off for longer stays in specific towns, and this plan worked well for us.

For most of this blog series, I will let the photos tell the story—the beauty of the Rockies being soul-stirring and breathtaking to behold. And yes, I will set a Darcy McClain and Bullet thriller in Canada.

What struck me about this section of the train ride, besides the magnificent terrain, was all the logging. Of course, I knew Canada logged, but I was stunned by the extent of the industry. After doing more research, I was surprised to learn that British Columbia is the world’s largest exporter of softwood lumber, but not that the United States is the biggest buyer. In order of wood exports, close behind the US is China, Japan, Europe, South Korea, and India.

As a child and young adult, when we lived or traveled overseas, I always heard my father say, “Don’t be an ugly American” and “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Unfortunately, not everyone adheres to either one, never mind both. As soon as we boarded this leg of the rail tour, we had the pleasure of the ugly Americans across the aisle from us, and they soon linked up with the Aussie couple seated behind us. Loud and obnoxious, the four grew louder and rowdier as they drank more than their share of wine, starting at 11:00 a.m.

Behind the Americans sat a couple from Edinburgh, Scotland, and next to them a couple from Surrey, England. Both couples were a pleasure to be with and Mil, the woman from Edinburgh, was a real delight. The six of us moved to the rear compartment of the upper deck and enjoyed each other’s company for the duration of the trip. “There’s a reason for everything,” said Mil, motioning toward the boisterous foursome. We soon forgot them as Mil launched into her tale of living on the same street as J.K. Rowling before the Harry Potter author became famous. Mil also mentioned another writer who lived nearby and went on to become famous. The name escapes me, but I do recall Mil’s punch line: “We called our street . . . writer’s block.”

We pulled into the rail station in Quesnel, much later than anticipated due to work on the train tracks along the scheduled route and a wait while railcars hauling freight switched tracks. But no one seemed to care, me included, as a group of us stood outside on our railcar to enjoy the sunny day and to shoot photos. We were rewarded with a bear sighting. He appeared more interested in foraging for food than the train.

Our accommodations for the night, the Best Western Plus Tower Inn, wouldn’t rate even a four star, never mind a five, as someone on the train remarked. A true statement, but the room was clean and spacious, and the bed comfortable. We decided on room service but heard the hotel did not offer this amenity, so we headed downstairs to the dining room and asked a passing server to confirm this. She nodded, but quickly said, “Here’s a menu. Order whatever you’d like and we will box the meals to go.” We thanked her and the kitchen staff, who were most obliging.

We ate our French dip sandwiches in our room, washed them down with wine we had purchased the day before in Whistler, and critiqued our second leg of our rail tour on the Rocky Mountaineer—five stars being top-notch. The service and waitstaff easily won five stars—no debate there. The food, four stars, and as many of our train companions stated, “We didn’t expect the meals to be this good.”

We retired early, ready for our next rail adventure—Quesnel to Jasper, where we planned to disembark from the Rocky Mountaineer and spend two days exploring the area.



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