Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rocky Mountaineer Journey Through Canada

Vancouver, British Columbia - A cast of colorful characters from around the world, boarded the Rocky Mountaineer luxury train in Vancouver, British Columbia. Together we would ride the rails on the award winning train awarded the title "World's Leading Travel Experience by Train." It's reputation of providing exceptional service, elegant dining and an opportunity to see unspoiled natural areas of the Canadian Rockies and Canadian National Park, was upheld.

What the brochures didn't highlight was the added opportunity to see the backyards and junkyards of the cities and towns we passed through on our way to the incomparable beauty of Western Canada. These views added an interesting contrast to the entire experience, and showed that graffiti artists know no bounds. We traveled at a leisurely pace, most of the time, and were witness to sites that ranged from rusted cars and refrigerators to the majesty of glacier fed lakes and the tallest mountain in the Rockies. As we klickity-klacked along the rails we enjoyed the company of fellow travelers with toasts of champagne and gourmet dishes for breakfast and lunch. The ride in the multi-million dollar, two story glass domed car, was quiet and smooth. Two attendants kept us informed of upcoming areas of interest while delivering drinks, and snacks, until breakfast or lunch was served. On the dining level, located down the spiral staircase from the observation car, were two additional attendants and a chief who prepared meals that would be at home in any five star restaurant.

There are a number of Rocky Mountaineer train routes and daylight tours, ranging from 3 nights and four days to eleven nights. We chose the classic circle tour of 6 nights, seven days that took us full circle from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Kamloops, then on to Jasper, Alberta, Quesnel, Whistler, and back to Vancouver. We learned a little history and enjoyed the varying climates as we made the circle from city to high desert, into the rocky mountains and back down the Frasier Valley.

There is something very relaxing about train travel that must be experienced to understand. This trip was an all daylight tour which meant we stopped at a different city or town each night. The nightly accommodations, which are part of the vacation package, ranged from the best I have ever stayed in to a quaint no frills hotel. The Tower Hotel, located in Quesnel was the most modest of our stays, but had friendly service and clean rooms that rivaled the best places we enjoyed. There were two standouts as far as rooms, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, in Jasper, Alberta, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and crystal clear lakes and the Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler, British Columbia. Both had quality restaurants, top service and amenities that included an in room fireplace, heated bathroom floors, and natural views of mountains and lakes with plenty of natural wildlife.

Go for the scenery, if nothing else. The views along the way are breathtaking. Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 12,972 feet, loomed above the tracks and surrounding peaks for several miles as we entered Jasper. Most of the year the peak is obscured by the weather, but we were fortunate to have a clear day to see the entire mountain. The following day, as we left Jasper we saw the mountain from the rear of the train and were treated to a very different view as the top of the snow covered mountain was covered in clouds.

Along the journey we spent a lot of time on the observation deck, where we could feel the wind and hear the sounds of the train as we passed a variety of wildlife that included black bears, moose, mountain goats and eagles. As far as scenery goes there are some areas that, to me, where the most beautiful places I have seen on my travels. The looming Mount Baker in Washington State was visible in the distance as we traveled out of Vancouver and was quite a majestic sight. However the most enchanting location was Seton Lake, a crystal clear, green lake, surrounded by sheer cliffs and large mountains. As we entered this valley I felt we were entering one of the enchanted lands from the Lord of the Rings.

I couldn't help but compare the trip to the many songs, sayings and quotes about life being a journey and not a destination. A train vacation really is about the journey, who you meet and what you see as life passes by at 25 to 35 miles an hour. As in life, you can't see everything and the trip is much better with friends.

Thunderbirds Roar Over U.S. Capitol

ANDREWS AFB, MARYLAND - The world renown U.S. Air Force Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, roared into the skies over Maryland and Washington, D.C. today in preparation for Armed Forces Day. They are part of the 57th Annual Joint Services Open House Air Show, at Andrews Air Force Base. The three day event began today under overcast skies. The Air Show runs through Sunday May 17th. While some of the most unimaginable aerial stunts take place in the sky, there is plenty to see on the ground that include; static displays of airplanes, jets, helicopters, boats, missile launchers, and more. Representatives of all branches of government, flying clubs, and commercial vendors fill the nearby hangers and flight apron. The theme of recognizing the sacrifices and commitment of the U.S. Armed Forces was celebrated throughout the event.

Celebrating 56 years of precision aerial maneuvers, in front of countless audiences around the world, the Thunderbirds are one of the main attractions, along with the Army's premier parachute team, the Golden Knights. There are also daring aerial acts from the Red Bull sponsored MiG, flown by Bill Reesman, and the only civilian pilot to be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to perform aerobatics in a helicopter, Chuck Aaron. This helicopter demonstration has to be seen to be believed as the specially aircraft does flips, rolls and turns upside down.

One of the newer teams on the air show circuit is the Collaborators Formation Aerobatic Team, that brings 4 veteran pilots together in a high energy performance that is unforgettable. The performance put on by Sean D. Tucker, Eric Tucker, Bill Stein and Ben Freelove is fast paced and heart stopping with the close calls, engine stalls, spins and unusual attitudes.

The roar of the F-22 Raptor, the Air Force's newest fighter aircraft can be felt in your chest as it roars past the crowd, using only a fraction of its capability. The 44.5 foot wingspan looks like a ship from Star Trek with its sharp cuts and angles.

The world famous GEICO Skytypers Air Show Team was back again this year with their six SNJ planes, also known as the T-6 Texan by the Army Air Corp in World War II. This team from New York put on a great aerobatic demonstration that includes writing messages in the sky with letters as tall as the Empire State Building.

To commemorate the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and liberation of Europe the Liberty Jump Team is scheduled to drop both static line and HALO jumpers from a WWII vintage C-47 this weekend. The team made its first jump in France in 2006 and went on to form a larger group to perpetuate the remembrance of not only the brave men and women of World War II but all Veterans of all wars.

The U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight included several flybys of the F-22, P-51 Mustang and A-10 Wart Hog in formation. The WWII P-51 led the team and was a bit overshadowed with the power and size of its two wingman. The Heritage Flight was originally going to be a onetime flyby in 1997 to recognize the Air Force's 50th anniversary, but became so popular they have kept it in air shows ever since.