Sunday, August 12, 2007

Vacation, part 4: Vancouver, BC

(See July 21 & 27, August 1 for parts 1-3)

Our last day in Vancouver

At 7:30 a.m. we walked across the street to the Sheraton where we were picked up by a motor coach and driven through downtown, Stanley Park and to the train station located in North Vancouver. As we boarded the train and found our seats in the Glacier Dome car, our anticipation was that this would be a good day, one to sit back, relax... no one had to drive, and we would all enjoy the beautiful scenery. The three smiling and friendly attendants in our car served us orange juice with a little "sparkling", and at 8:30 as the Whistler Mountaineer began its forward motion, we all toasted to the beginning of the day's adventure and our climb into the mountains toward Whistler.

The attendants commented throughout the journey, offering historical facts and figures relevant to the various landmarks as we passed under the Lion's Gate bridge (the suspension bridge fashioned after the Golden Gate in San Francisco), over the Capilano River, into West Vancouver and through the waterfront Ambleside Park, one of Vancouver's original parks.

The tracks tightly paralleled the eastern shoreline of Howe Sound among the closely situated homes and condominiums which hugged the hillside within the smaller communities. As we snaked our way along the waterway, people walking, jogging, having their morning breath of fresh air from the overhanging patio, waved us passing through. The BC ferry quietly pushed its way across the glacially carved inlet of Howe Sound, and as we looked toward the water, the more densely wooded areas permitted only a fleeting glimpse of any home nestled among the towering Douglas fir trees.

The sheer rock cliffs allowed us to edge our way along the inlet, over trestles and highways, through wild and tamed, yet untamed... past hillside walls of twisted Ipomoea, those white morning glory blossoms, tangled, however prevailing, among the mounds of blackberry vines feral and unattended.

There was no room to breath between the side of the train and those sheer black walls as we passed through the darkness of Horseshoe Bay tunnel and began our ascent at the beginning of Howe Sound. Civilization gave way to stands of Doug firs, western red cedar, hemlock, shore maples... and the Buddleia (butterfly bushes) interspersed among the evergreen, made us feel comfortably at home.

As we rounded the bend the haunting sound of the train whistle gave notice. The highway followed above us, and about 11 kilometers north of Horseshoe Bay we passed through Lion's Bay, a small community of about 1400 people, a municipality with its own mayor, but no gas station, and whose name is well known for their mountain search and rescue team.

Halfway to Squamish, we passed Deak's Creek (mile 21), a place not on the map and whose waterfall is present only due to run off from the large amount of snowfall this past year. Mile marker 25, a campground... and Porteau Cove lends itself to scuba diving due to the artificial rubber tire reef and sunken ship which attract marine life. Furry Creek sports 2 golf courses, and the once booming copper mining town of Britannia, population 100, holds the BC Museum of Mining and is now showing signs of life with construction, as they begin preparation for the 2010 Olympics.

As we begin leaving Howe Sound and head toward the mountains, a giant granite monolith, Stawamus Chief Mountain rises stalwartly, perpendicularly 2300 feet (702 m) into the clouds and beyond our view but within our imagination.

We pass through Squamish. It is estimated that the current 15,000 population shall double within the next several years as it will become a bedroom community for Whistler and the 2010 Olympics.

Around mile 52 we begin our 2.2% grade climb (almost 2000 feet) into Cheakamus Canyon, where daises, foxglove, mullein, wild filbert and ferns
paint their welcoming ways along either side of the train track, and a bald eagle soars overhead as if to greet and delight.

As we approach Brandywine Falls and enter the temperate rain forest, I was fortunate to quickly capture this 1000 foot waterfall, and as the train steadily and slowly ground its way up the mountain... much to our surprise, was happening upon these friendly faces in the wilderness.

We arrived at the end of the train ride and were shuttled to Whistler village. It was recommended that if we were not spending the night, we might consider taking a gondola ride, but the several hours we had there afforded a casual stroll along the cobblestone streets, admiring the quaint European influenced architecture, a happy visitor, some light lunch, and a return to the bus which took us back to the train.

The entire day was cloudy with intermittent showers, but as we awaited the boarding of the final passengers, the sun broke through the sky's cover...
a mid-afternoon salute, a smile to bid us safe journey back down the mountain.

We passed Daisy Lake which provides hydroelectric power for Whistler, and I was calmed by the milky jade green of its waters.

As we again approached the Cheakamus Canyon, the panoramic basalt walls and columnar peaks stood firmly as they rose from the river and guided us across the bridges.

We had one last look at the canyon and depth before us.

Four o'clock and it is time for afternoon tea. Jasmine Butterfly for me, thank you. We were served lovely sandwiches: cucumber, cream cheese and watercress; salmon and cream cheese; a little ham; grilled red pepper.

Then the sweets arrived: strawberries dipped in chocolate; a lemon tart; a biscuit, strawberry jam and thick cream. Oh my! Reminiscent of being in England and partaking of the popular and sinful ;) clotted cream tea. Just the thought of it puts pounds on my thighs, but there is no sign of wavering during the ever so palatable experience. If you have never had this and you travel to England, it is a must to try.

As we approached the Lion's Gate bridge, we looked up to see a lady sitting at her window and waving as we passed by, perhaps thanking us for visiting and being a part of her afternoon.

It was a wonderful experience... panoramic views of spectacular scenery, excellent on board service, and a day of total relaxation and enjoyment of one another. We hope you enjoyed the journey with us.

Of interest:

* June 1792 Howe Sound was named after Lord Howe, Admiral of the British Navy
* Whistler tourism site: