Le Chic En Rose

Diaries of an independent traveller

 

I did a quick preview of our Alaskan travels just after we got back home here.

I’m now starting to collate and write up the stories of our travels there last August. By way of a superb photographic introduction I’m sharing a gallery of photos taken by an Italian girl named Cecilia who we met on a day tour of Denali National Park. She very kindly let me have some copies with permission to publish them on my blog. I don’t think any further words from me are necessary – grazie molto Cecilia!

 

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Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Having viewed the Kicking Horse Pass from the Spiral Tunnels Lookout point (see here), we stopped a little later to get a closer look at the river as it thunders through the Natural Bridge another tourist attraction in the Yoho National Park. It’s only a short distance off the Emerald Lake Road, west of Field and is well worth the little detour.

With spectacular rock formations eroded over time by the elements, the river passes through a narrow chasm in the rocks with incredible speed and a thundering noise!

 

 

 

I did take a short video, which gives you an idea of the immense power of the torrent of water. If you click on the start button the video does come out the right way despite appearances to the contrary!

 

 

 

Having taken time out to explore the Yoho National Park and its attractions, we were keen to get a move on to our overnight stop at Kelowna. We already knew that there was a wild fire near Revelstoke on both sides of the Trans-Canada Highway and whilst it was safe to pass through the area, the air was thick with smoke, which reduced visibility. Hence we didn’t take too many photos. The following map taken from Geology.com (link here), gives you an idea of the scale of the land. Banff, where we had been staying, is 126.8 km west of Calgary.

(Copyright information: The map on this page was composed by Angela King and Brad Cole and is copyright by Geology.com © 2008. This image is not available for use beyond their websites. If you share the map with others, please link to their page (link in previous paragraph) as per their request. The satellite image was produced using Landsat data from NASA and the map was produced using data licensed from and copyright by Map Resources © 2008.)

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It was interesting to journey through some of British Columbia’s lesser known places for example we stopped off for lunch at the quaintly named Golden with its history closely tied to the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway line. We had lunch on a little island in the river (reached by bridge).

 

 

Afternoon tea and a short stroll round the small town of Revelstoke.

 

 

 

And finally a drive along the Mara Lake and the lush pastoral region of the Okanagan as the sun was just starting to set in a smoky haze.

 

 

The next day we arrived back in Vancouver, having come full circle through the Rockies (Vancouver to Banff via Kamloops on the train and back on the road via Kelowna). You can read the full collection of Canadian posts here.

The following day we boarded our cruise up to Alaska – plenty more posts about our adventures there to come!

 

Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

 

 

Heading back along the Trans-Canada Highway towards Vancouver we stopped off for a break at the Spiral Tunnels look-out point west of Lake Louise. Now back across the border in British Colombia (clocks go back an hour to Pacific Time) we were retracing some of the journey we had made on the Rocky Mountaineer (see here and here).

One memorable part of the rail journey passes through a series of tunnels that twist and switch back on themselves as they wend their way under the appropriately named Big Hill. The Canadian Pacific Railway wanted to cut through Kicking Horse Pass in the Yoho National Park en route to the west coast. The “hill”, near the tiny settlement of Field, was by far the most difficult and treacherous part of the track and a decision was made to upgrade to a tunnel system in the early 20th century.

Why did the pass get its unusual name? Originally the area was explored by the Palliser Expedition between 1857 and 1860. An unfortunate incident occurred when Dr James Hector, the surgeon to the expedition, was out and about and somehow got himself kicked by his horse. Believing him to be dead his fellow adventurers dug a grave for him but he regained consciousness at the 11th hour (well that’s what he told everyone later)! Maybe the horse had got totally fed up with having to ride through the dense and mountainous terrain and vented its frustration on its master. Anyway the moniker stuck and it remains Kicking Horse Pass to this day.

Journeying in the train it reminded us of the switchback system used on many of the Swiss railways we’ve travelled on where you go into a tunnel in one direction and come out again going the opposite way – somewhat disorientating! From what our guides told us on the Rocky Mountaineer, the Swiss engineering system was indeed the inspiration. You get a sense of the achievement when you look out across the pass that appears almost impassable when viewed from above.

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Despite the improvements the Kicking Horse Pass area remains a challenging route for trains till this day. I was quite shocked to read the following whilst researching this post (taken from the Wikipedia article on the Big Hill and Spiral Tunnels that I’ve linked previously).

The most recent derailment occurred on February 4, 2019, when Canadian Pacific train 301 was proceeding westward to Vancouver. 99 cars and 2 locomotives derailed at Mile 130.6, just outside of the western portal of Upper Spiral Tunnel. The train crew consisted of a locomotive engineer, a conductor and a conductor trainee. The three crew members were killed.

One can only admire the efforts and sacrifices made by the pioneering rail engineers all those years ago.

 

Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Having taken the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Banff (see here), we took the road option for the return journey via the Trans-Canada Highway. The road hugs the side of the rail tracks for quite a bit of the route and winds through some spectacular scenery along the way.

Unlike the train journey we were free to stop off and explore some of the sights at our leisure. First stop out of Banff was Lake Louise – world famous for the picture perfect calendar and postcard shots of the pristine lake surrounded by the magnificent Rockies.

 

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However unless you choose to stay in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise you’ll find it quite hard to get easy access to the lake.  Lake Louise Village is actually situated a couple of kilometres or so down the road from the lake itself and we didn’t have time to park and walk from there. We continued on by road up to the lake area but found parking impossible (you probably need to arrive first thing in the morning to get a spot). There is no way of seeing even a glimpse of the lake from the road. Packed with tourists, it was something of a disappointment. I did manage to get a couple of shots of the hotel from the car as we drove along!

 

 

However we had more luck further along the highway. Crossing over the border to British Columbia, we came across the turn off for Emerald Lake, which had been highly recommended to us. As we drove up to the parking area we fully expected it to be full. Although reasonably crowded we were able to get a spot only a couple of hundred metres or so from the lakeside. A bridge led out onto the trail at the head of the lake. Part of the Yoho National Park, Emerald Lake is the largest of the 61 lakes in this region. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful – the turquoise/green waters reflecting the dense foliage of the trees, the mountains in the background and the air surprisingly pure despite the post wildfire smoky haze in the distance.

 

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The first path led up to a luxury lodge  – one could hardly imagine a more perfect setting on the shores of the exquisitely emerald waters of the eponymous lake. Apparently the distinctive hue is caused by the effect of powdered limestone being swept into the waters as the snow melts and it is particularly stunning in July though it didn’t look too bad in August! The lake is frozen from November to June owing to its high altitude.

 

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A 5.2 kilometre trail (the first half suitable for wheelchairs) wends its way right round the lake though we were on a tight schedule and couldn’t stay too long. Again, as we found in all the parks we visited in Canada, there was plenty of information about the flora and fauna, the climate and sensible precautions to take in the event of bear encounters or snow season (avoiding avalanches for example).

 

 

 

Although we had to get going I did have time to have a quick look inside the well stocked gift shop and enjoy a last long lingering gaze across the beautiful lake.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

 

Lake Johnson a few kilometres out of Banff was, according to guide books, well worth a visit. A short drive out of town, it has a good walking trail round the lake. As it is at a reasonably low elevation it is usually snow free from April onwards though that wasn’t a consideration for us on a sultry August day.

With Banff being rather hot and smoky we were looking forward to the chance to walk in slightly clearer surroundings. 3.5 kilometres (2.2 miles) in total, the walk was relatively straightforward, a little uphill in parts though not particularly strenuous. For much of the trail you can enjoy lovely views back across the lake to Cascade Mountain.

 

The path also passes through spruce forests, crosses over a few mountain streams and winds through several glades where an abundance of juicy looking red berries were growing. We weren’t sure whether they were edible for humans but they would certainly appeal to the local bears. We knew that around late summer the bears are particularly keen to eat as much as possible to sustain them through the long barren winter months. Hence we went a little gingerly through the clearings full of ripe berry bushes (which our friend described as a “bear smorgasbord”) not wanting to come between any hungry bears and their afternoon snack!

 

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No sightings however and we wended our way back unscathed to the picnic and recreation area at the entrance to the lake. Evidently this was a very popular spot with the locals – many families were enjoying picnics (we were a little surprised given the abundance of bear warnings round the place) or kayaking and swimming in the cooling waters of the lake.

 

 

Information panels gave us more insight into the eco system and environment in this part of the world.

 

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Although there were quite a few visitors to the lake, for much for our walk along the trail we felt we had the place to ourselves. The lake was pristine and we had some respite from the smoky air caused by the drift from the wildfires further north. A peaceful and serene place, Lake Johnson is a lovely spot for a gentle hike.

 

 

Restless Jo does a wonderful job of writing up her regular walks in her new home in the Algarve Portugal (and prior to that out and about in the UK). She collates both her own and other people’s walking posts in her weekly “Monday Walk” – well worth checking out for ideas, inspiration and virtual travelling!

Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

January has flown by and the long summer holidays are officially over – school went back this week and as seems to be tradition the weather has heated up!

We’ve spent the past month or so out and about most days with several overseas visitors enjoying the (up to now) milder summer weather and also taking advantage of the summer film festivals and another favourite of ours the Perth Fringe Festival.

I have still been taking photos though not blogging as much, so by way of a recap here is a photo montage of January summer days (see here for various previous posts I’ve done about Perth and its environs).

 

 

I’ve set myself the challenge of finishing my Canada and Alaska series before we head off again to the northern hemisphere at the end of April!

 

Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

One of the tourist highlights in Banff is to take the Banff Gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain to enjoy the spectacular views of Banff, the Bow Valley and the surrounding Rockie mountains afforded from the summit.

However any thoughts of stunning vistas and breathtaking scenery were put to one side as Banff was blanketed for our entire visit in the smoky haze drifting from an enormous wildfire burning some distance away in the national park beyond Lake Louise.

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However we were only in Banff for 3 nights, had no idea when we might be back again and it seemed a pity to miss out completely on such a treat – well for me anyway. Monsieur hates heights and so he left me and one of our travelling companions to go up in the gondola on a hot, smoky August morning whilst he headed back into town with the other.

It definitely pays to get there as early as possible in the morning before the crowds arrive. Even on a day when visibility was poor and warning signs were in place about the lack of views and the possible smoke effects, there was a surprisingly large number of people at the summit. Children also go free before 10 am so it is well worth it for families to take up that option as it certainly isn’t cheap. Also a 10% discount applies if you book 48 hours or more in advance.

At the summit there are a number of retail outlets and cafes including the Northern Lights Cafe where we had a late breakfast before setting out on the self-guided Banff Skywalk. Despite the reduced view, the walk was actually very interesting in itself. Up a series of interconnected boardwalks, regular information signs tell you about the flora and fauna of the mountains. For example the increasingly rare Whitebark Pines still grow here, an endangered species since 2012.

 

Wending your way to the top of the walk you reach a craggy cairn known as Sanson’s Peak. The name commemorates Norman Sanson, curator of the Banff National Park Museum from 1896 to 1932, who not only collected a myriad of specimens for the museum during his lifetime but also recorded meteorological data for many years, regularly climbing up the peak to obtain data.  Sanson’s Peak is also the home of the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site , a scientific station set up as part of International Geophysical Year in 1957-1958. Canadian scientists were an integral part of the data collection studying cosmic rays and space particles entering the atmosphere. The station was closed in 1978 and so this rocky memorial perched above Banff is all that remains today.

 

I did hesitate whether to include the Banff Gondola in my Banff series of posts (see here and here for the others) as it was hardly the best day to see the usually stunning views. However travelling doesn’t always go to plan – there will be delays, inclement weather and other glitches. The photos hopefully still give you a flavour of what Sulphur Mountain would be like on a clear day. In addition to the boardwalk trail there are also hiking trails criss-crossing the mountain. It wasn’t really the day though to be lingering outside too long – we started to get itchy eyes and tickling throats from the effects of the smoke so headed back down the mountain again after a short while.

 

Later that day we drove out to the other side of the valley near the site of the Banff Centre (an arts and creative centre affiliated with the University of Calgary) where you can look back towards Sulphur and Rundle Mountains and normally enjoy a wonderful view. In the late 19th century hot springs were discovered in the area and today there is a large hotel and spa complex in the valley, which you can just about make out in the haze!

 

 

 

Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

A very happy New Year to everyone!

We have had a busy Christmas and New Year with family visitors including our daughter, Mlle, from London for 3 weeks and my cousin from New Zealand for a few days. All this has taken precedence over blogging!

We have done outings to the zoo where the highlight for our granddaughters was Zoorassic Park, following the dinosaur trail, though we also had an unexpected treat when we literally nearly bumped into Tricia, the 61 year old matriarch of the Perth elephant herd, on one of her daily walks round the zoo.

Cafes, restaurants, outings up the coast to Yanchep Lagoon and inland to the wineries of Swan Valley plus a cricket game at Optus Stadium have taken up our time too. The weather is pleasantly mild – am hoping it stays that way as I much prefer the cooling effects of the strong coastal breeze.

Hope everyone else has had a good holiday period and very best wishes for 2019!

 

 

 

Copyright © 2019 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

 

We arrived in Banff on an extremely hot August day. The heat and prevailing winds had unfortunately fanned the spread of wildfires in a national park to the north west of Lake Louise and the Rockies were blanketed in thick smoke for most of our visit (clearer in the mornings but drawing in more as the day progressed).

Nevertheless we managed to get out and about even if the scenery was somewhat obscured and the air heavy with the smell of smoke. Accommodation is at a premium in the Banff area and as we were there at the height of the summer season, we stayed at the Inn of the Rockies in self-catering apartments off the road out to Canmore (a more affordable option). We had pre-arranged to hire a car the day after our arrival in Banff. So we used the local taxis to get around initially, which we found efficient, reasonably-priced and the drivers friendly and helpful. There are also plenty of buses in the Banff area and environs if you prefer that option (tricky when you are arriving with a month’s worth of luggage as we were!).

 

 

The next morning we headed into town and strolled round the centre gathering our bearings. Banff is in a very pretty setting surrounded by mountains such as Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain and on the banks of the Bow River, which in summer was meandering gently through the town. Certainly it must be a place of strong seasonal contrasts. When we were looking round the many souvenir shops in the centre, we noticed underground arcades that all seemed shut up but apparently in winter they come alive as people seek shelter from the biting cold at street level.

 

 

Being both a summer and winter resort Banff must always be a hub of activity. We came across a great holiday program that the town was running in conjunction with the local Blackfoot First Nations people. We were attracted by the sound of the drums and went to take a look – it was a wonderful program of song and dance, storytelling and learning about the Blackfoot Culture, a great activity for the summer school holidays. On a different note we also saw the memorial to Armistice Day in 1918 and discovered a charming colonial era church.

 

 

The visitor centre is down near the river and it is also the site for a farmers and craft market (the Banff Farmers Market) which meets every Wednesday. Happily for us we were there on the right day. Not only was it a great place to pick up some supplies such as fresh fruit and vegetables but a good place to indulge in some souvenir shopping – there were a myriad of stalls selling jewellery, prints, gem stones, art work as well as edible produce.

 

 

In the afternoon we headed a few kilometres out of town to Lake Minnewanka, a glacial lake largely man-made where you can hike, take a picnic or head out on a cruise on the pristine waters. Just a note that you need a permit to drive into the national parks – you can pick these up at the visitor centre in town. Originally the Stoney people called this beautiful place “Minn-waki” which means “Lake of Spirits”. Even though the smaller natural lake has now been flooded to provide water for an electric power plant down the Cascade River, the area still has a feel of unspoilt beauty and charm. On a stiflingly hot and smoky day a boat trip was a very refreshing way to spend part of the afternoon. The mountains nearby are home to many wildlife species such as elk and black and brown (grizzly) bears – not that we saw any that day, most probably they were all seeking the shade too!

 

 

 

On a more poignant note, I’d like to dedicate this post to the memory of a special fellow blogger, Joy from Joy Loves Travel who very sadly passed away at the end of November after a long illness.  Some of you may have read Joy’s wonderful blog – full of inspiration about overseas travels she took with her beloved husband and son but also activities and outings nearer to their home in North West England. I never met Joy in person but she shone through as such a warm, friendly person in her writings and she was an avid and generous reader of other blogs. I will miss her comments and friendly chats on each other’s blogs as I know will many others. Her husband Paul and son Reuben hope they may carry on Joy’s blog in time. They have bravely posted an update on Joy’s blog recently if anyone would like to post their own tribute there. Rest in Peace Joy.

 

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Copyright © 2018 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

One of the highlights of our North American trip was taking the famous Rocky Mountaineer train from Vancouver to Banff. This route is one of the company’s most popular and its name, “First Passage to the West” aptly describes its links with the past. Following in the footsteps (well actually on board a luxury train) this route helps you to understand the building of modern Canada. At Craigallechie we saw the memorial where the “Last Spike” was placed to finally join up the rail tracks coming across from the east to the west.

A few key points to note:

The Rocky Mountaineer is a privately-run railway company. In fact, no other passenger trains go along the tracks we took though there are plenty of large cargo trains (who usually get precedence for passing rights).

It is run with great precision and organisation. Our rail coach had a couple of hosts and a cook. Our hosts not only acted as wait staff but provided a full commentary on the many points of interest. We learnt about the First Nations people, the traditional owners of the land, who still retain fishing rights along the salmon runs, the early colonial explorers who charted unknown territories such as the Fraser River (named after Simon Fraser) and the famous Kicking Horse River and Spiral Tunnels (the latter an engineering feat designed to cope with the problems of negotiating the steep inclines of the Rockies).

It is not a cheap option. Our 2 days and 1 night (you get bussed to a hotel at the mid point in Kamloops) cost about 60% of the cost of our 7 day cruise up to Alaska.

You will be plied with food and drink at every available opportunity. By day 2 we had learnt to pace ourselves!

Taking photos from a moving train, albeit one going fairly slowly, is not that easy though they do “slow downs” at some of the exceptionally scenic spots.

On balance I would recommend travelling during the cooler months at either end of the season (it runs from April to October). It was unfortunate that our 2 days coincided with an incredible heatwave and by the time we reached Kamloops on the first day the outside temperature was around 38 degrees centigrade and the air conditioning in our carriage was struggling to cope.

We took the Silver Class option, which although very comfortable, means you don’t have access to an outside viewing deck like they do in Gold Class but you can still take photographs from the open windows between the carriages.

On our return journey a few days later, we drove from Banff back to Vancouver (this time via Kelowna). We retraced our steps for the first part of the journey as the road runs alongside the train line. Therefore I’ll cover some of the locations we passed through in more detail in later posts.

In the meantime here is a pictorial overview of our train ride. We passed through lush verdant countryside nearer to the coast, crossed the Coast Mountains and headed into a semi-arid rain shadow area, saw amazing rock formations, gorges and gushing rivers and passed through some places with interesting names such as Salmon Arm, Golden and Revelstoke.

On Day 2 as we headed up the Kicking Horse River into the Rockies we also began to see some wildlife: some fine-looking horned sheep were the only ones I managed to photograph, but we did see a black bear scampering behind a rock to hide from the train and a handsome elk munching away on some bushes in the early evening sun.

By the time we arrived in Banff (in Alberta an hour ahead of Pacific Coastal Time) we were naturally pretty tired but it had been a memorable couple of days!

 

 

Copyright © 2018 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

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