Tales of exotic adventures, humorous anecdotes,
and musings from The Traveler... The adventure awaits...
Ocotber/2003 * 10/28/03
The Montana Daylight train, riding the rails between Livingston, Montana and Sandpoint Idaho, might be called "the little engine that will."
Determined to bring the grandeur back to train travel in the American West, Montana Rockies Rail Tours (MRRT) are on a steadfast course. With top-notch service and a variety of touring options, I'd say they're nearly up that steep hill. Most of MRRT's vacation choices are based on the three day, two night signature tour on the Montana Daylight, a scenic route covering 470 miles. Whichever tour you select, the rail segment is the heart & soul of the journey.
The Montana Daylight is a 1950's era classic streamliner and you guessed it, she travels only during the day. In keeping with the nostalgia of the period, the 50s decor has been preserved. Updated for maximum comfort, the train offers three levels of service and continuous narration. Maybe I'm just a kid at heart, but I love trains and this one was no exception.
If you're from relatively flat terrain like me, the views of winding, clear steams and stately mountains of Montana take your breath away. They have no shortage of towering pine trees. The dark verdant blanket stretches for mile upon mile. I was repeatedly drawn to the vestibules between rail cars, where the fresh air made the landscapes all the more pleasing. We passed through towns of course, but a great deal of the territory is open, with little sign of man's intervention.
Beyond the rail time, passengers select from a range of different add-on tours. I selected one of their new tours for 2003, called Glacier Canada, lasting one week. The week consisted of two days on the train and five days by motorcoach. Having never been to B.C. (British Columbia) or Glacier National Park, in Northern Montana, this particular tour sounded appealing.
Once the Montana Daylight arrives in Sandpoint, passengers split off into their selected tours via motorcoach or self-drive. I was sad to leave that beautiful train and wished we could continue to Canada on the rails, rather than the roads. But, as one of my fellow travelers reminded me, more good things lie ahead. Certainly a highlight was the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel, located in Cranbrook, B.C. Having just ridden the Daylight, rail travel was still uppermost in our minds. It was a treat to see the vintage rail cars with their fine inlaid mahogany and stained glass. You have to admire the individuals who work to maintain these rail cars, particularly since most of them arrived in Cranbrook in less than mint condition. Unlike other rail museums, they focus on the architecture and social aspects of early rail travel.
Another of our stops was Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. We lunched at the famous Prince of Wales Hotel, which sits in a impressive position over Waterton Lake. This body of water and the park itself, straddle the border of both Canada and the U.S. The Prince of Wales Hotel opened in 1927 and has awesome views of both water and the Canadian Rockies. Mind you, awesome is not a word I use lightly. If you didn't know better, you'd think you were secretly transported to the Swiss Alps. I was so distracted by the incredible vista from the dining room, I hardly noticed my food. An afternoon lake cruise offered up more fine mountain scenery.
We spent one night at Glacier Park Lodge, built in 1912-13. Their lobby is an extraordinary place, not soon forgotten. Enormous Douglas fir tree trunks, bark still clinging, flank all sides of this rectangular space. You'll quickly realize why it's nickname is the Big Tree Lodge. I sat and stared for a good twenty minutes, just wanting to soak up the "outdoors brought indoors" sensation.
Ordinarily we would have taken the popular red jammer tour, on the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, but Mother Nature dictated otherwise. Fires were burning within the region, so our time was cut short. The highway we needed later that day was directly in the path of the fire and the alternate route added four hundred miles to our journey. Wisely, our escort decided it was better to be safe, than sorry as the old saying goes.
Near the end of our excursion we stopped at Wallace, Idaho, where every downtown building is on the National Register of Historic Places. In it's heyday, Wallace was a mining town and a few may remember a movie filmed there called Dante's Peak, starring Pierce Brosnan. We toured the Oasis Bordello Museum in Wallace. Not unlike walking into a time warp on Star Trek, it's a place frozen in a moment. That moment happened to be on a winter's day in January of 1988. The upstairs area, where the girls practiced their trade was abandoned as it stood. From the ripped paper bag of groceries on the kitchen counter to the half-full perfume bottles in each bedroom, time did stop at the Oasis. While in the kitchen I nearly reached out and touched the Quaker Oats, before reminding myself this was a museum--mustn't touch!
Apparently the owner expected to be coming back, but didn't. The museum placed a few scantily-clad manikins in the space and opened the doors. Still posted on the wall, a bit yellowed, is the handwritten price list. Money boxes, complete with padlocks and plastic kitchen timers, sit on a prominent shelf.
On a less frivolous note and because our general theme was railroading, we also had time to visit the Northern Pacific Depot Railroad Museum in Wallace. An elegant, chateau-styled depot houses the museum.
Our final day ended with an overnight in Spokane, in preparation for flight home the next day.
Some of the other tours in MRRT's repertoire include Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton, and a tour called Wyoming Trails for a thorough "old west" experience.
not too soon to be thinking about your vacation plans
for next year. The season for MRRT runs June to September.
For more information on Montana Rockies Rail Tours,
click on www.montanarailtours.com.
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